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Be an Anthropologist, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1237

Essay

From the perspective of physical anthropology, evolution is a definitive conceptual framework with which to explain the biological changes in the human species over time. Hence, evolution is a theory which accounts for the differences in the human, insofar as opposed to other theories which maintained the constancy of the human physical form, biological change becomes a natural feature of human existence.

Evolution is applicable to all living organisms and thus describes their biological differentiation. An efficient way to think about evolution is to understand its distinct processes, which can be summarized in terms of mutations, gene flow/genetic drift, and natural selection. (Name of lecture notes professor, 2012, p. 3)  These processes refer to the specific manner in which evolution describes “the actions of the natural processes that have affected every…living organism.” (Name of textbook author, year, p. 36) Natural selection entails the process of adoption between a species and environment, gene flow/genetic drift denotes how differences in the genetic makeup of a specific species, such as human beings, are distributed through phenomena such as hereditary, whereas mutations demarcate new genetic variations that occur within a species. (Name of lecture notes professor, 2012, p. 3)

Accordingly, physical anthropologists may study phenomena such as gene flow within the aforementioned evolutionary process. More specifically, gene flow looks at how populations of a species develop specific genetic markers. The physical anthropologist could potentially map the gene flow of a particular population, understanding how genetic traits may have developed in isolation, for example, because the separations created by natural geography and differences in cultural normativity. The importance of such work to the studying of evolution is lucid, since particular changes between populations may be noted, allowing one to grasp why certain human populations within the greater species differ genetically from other populations. In other words, it entails a study of how species themselves become more diverse and undergo change.

Hence, physical anthropologists such as Dupanloup, Schneider and Excoffter (2002) note that geographical features and cultural forms may contribute to so-called “genetic barriers between…groups.” (p. 2571) In such an approach, these genetic barriers are isolated with the help of genetic research, after which the latter is matched up to existing “physical or cultural barriers.” (Dupanloup et al., 2002, p. 2572)

An article such as that of Dupanloup et al. is useful in studying evolution because it fleshes out the greater evolutionary processes that are work. There is an important link between gene flow, the environing world and culture that is often overlooked by merely concentrating on genes. Such a viewpoint reminds us that the human being is a part of the world and that the study of physical anthropology is not only a genetic study. Genetic developments need to be examined in relation to a world that is outside of the parameters of genetics so as to fully understand evolution. As Dupanloup et al. (2002) note in their particular paper, such research can help understanding how particular populations emerged. (p. 2576) Furthermore, the authors of this particular text propose a new method to examining this phenomenon, whereby the usage of an algorithm can help uncover “maximally differentiated groups” (p. and thus “predefined genetic barriers.” (Dupanloup et al., 2002, p. 2571)

A related subfield of anthropology related to the study of genetic flow and genetic barriers is therefore that of cultural anthropology. In this subfield, the explanation of flow and barriers is primarily approached through cultural norms. Hence, various cultural customs, such as differences between two populations’ world-views, may prevent a population from interbreeding, and thereby enhance genetic differentiation between them.

In this subfield the study of factors such as religious, mythological, and legal codes therefore become crucial. The study of evolution moves away from the purely genetic towards the social constructs that all human populations create. Insofar as the human environment is one that is as much constituted by relations among human populations as it is by relations between the human and nature, the social nature of such relations becomes crucial to understanding evolution. Evolutionary changes, in this sense, can be affected by a multiplicity of factors; at the same time, this entails that our social customs are as much a part of nature as life on the biological level.

Hence, Tom Abel (1998) argues that an interdisciplinary approach to evolution is needed. Namely, if one merely concentrates on the biological aspects of phenomena such as gene flow, we will miss the social and cultural factors that affect the process. The concentration on the merely biological aspect of evolution is, for Abel (1998), “experimental, reductionist, and narrowly disciplinary.” (p. 6) In contrast, such an integrative approach is “historical, analytical, comparative, and experimental at appropriate scales” (Abel, 1998, p. 6), meaning that all resources of scientific thought should be employed to understand the complexity of the changes in human population demonstrated by the theory fo evolution.

Accordingly, cultural anthropology and physical anthropology share a common interest in the differences between populations of the human species. Both fields address the notion of change in the human species. At the same time, cultural anthropology employs methods that are traditionally viewed as less scientific than physical anthropology, because the former relies less on experimentally collected data than the latter. Physical anthropology is based upon empiricism, whereas the emergence of cultural phenomena such as religion – phenomena which can have a great impact upon gene flow and other areas of evolutionary science – are more interpretative as we speculate about how to understand their origins. This is not to say, however, that in the more “scientific” branch of physical anthropology isses of interpretation are not present. Someone still must interpret the scientifically colleted data and make definitive statements about their meaning. Yet in this regard a further similarity between cultural anthropology and physical anthropology is that both are consistent with the basic framework of evolution, since the latter recognizes change in the human species and differences amidst human populations. Furthermore, phenomena such as culture may have a significant effect on barriers that prevent gene flow: culture is a part of the natural environment that surrounds us and since adaptation to environment is a crucial part of evolutionary theory, there is no reason why such culture would not impact species change.

Physical anthropology is heavily based upon the science of biology and the possibilities this science offers. However, what I have learned about evolution is the importance of non-biological factors that seem to affect this purely biological process. When we consider how phenomena such as so-called genetic barriers exist and thus how they affect genetic flow, we expand our view of how change in the human species is created. At the same time, we also break down anthropocentric viewpoints, since we understand that the separation between man and nature (i.e., the separation between culture and nature) is an illusion. However, this is not to over-emphasize cultural anthropology at the expense of physical anthropology: rather it is precisely such interdisciplinary methods (Abel, 1998) that appear most suitable to understanding evolution in its totality.

References

Abel, T. (1998). Complex adaptive systems, evolutionism, and ecology within anthropology: Interdisciplinary research for understanding cultural and ecological dynamics. Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology, 2, 6-29. Retrieved at: http://shell.cas.usf.edu/jea/PDFs/abel.pdf

Dupanloup, I., Schneider, S., & Excoffier, L. (2002). A simulated annealing approach to define the genetic structure of populations. Molecular Ecology, 11, 2571-2581.

Author of Textbook. (Date). Textbook name. City: Publisher. Teacher’s Last Name, Teacher’s First Initial. (2012). The Processes of Evolution. Powerpoint lecture presented in ANTH1000, College, Location.

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