SC2218: Anthropology and the
Lecture 3: Human Diversity
(It’s Not in Our Genes)
Eric C. Thompson
Semester 1, 2010/2011
The Course and Where We are Going
• What is Anthropology?
– The Anthropological Perspective, Strangers
Abroad, Race, Culture
• What do Anthropologists study?
– Kinship, Gender, Economics, Community
• Current debates & trends in Anthropology.
– Representing Others, the Poetry of Culture,
Where Are We Going?
• Part 1: What is Anthropology?
– Strangers Abroad
• Part 2: What do Anthropologists Study?
– Kinship, Gender, Economy, Community
• Part 3: Current Debates and Trends
– Representing Others
– The Poetry of Culture
– World Anthropologies
From Last Week:
Boas’ Basic Questions for
“Why are the tribes and the nations of the
world different and how have the present
We will be addressing this question over the coming weeks.
Why are People Different?
Three General Theories
• Geography (“Environmental Determinism”)
– 19th century idea; uncommon now
• Race (“Biological Determinism”)
– 19th century idea; still common
• Culture (“Cultural Relativism”)
– 19th to 20th century idea; popular now
In this lecture…
• Rethinking “Race”
– What is Race?
– Do Races really exist?
• The Journey of Man… and Woman
– How did we all get here?
• “The Form is Fixed and Culture Takes Off”
– What is the “Big Bang” of Culture?
• What is Evolution?
What is Race?
• Race vs. Species
– Functional Definition: Members of the same
Species can mate and have viable offspring.
– Human beings (Homo sapiens) are one
• Race (or Sub-species)
– Members of the same species, but distinctive
in some way. Racial classifications are
arbitrary and non-functional.
Race: Essentialist Categories
Ethiopian Malayan Mongoloid American Caucasoid
Blumenbach’s Classification (1775)
Based on “Coherence” of Traits
Originally included Cultural & Biological Traits
Nations, Races, Peoples
“Old fashioned concepts of race are not only
social divisive but scientifically wrong…”
• The Idea of Race is
based on “coherence” of
traits (esp. biological).
• Traits do not cohere.
• 94% of biological/ genetic
variation occurs within
• 6% occurs between
(Example of Biological and Cultural Traits)
“African” and “European” men wearing “Asian” batik.
(Example of Biological Traits)
Trait 1: Skin Color Trait 2: ABO Blood Group
Trait 1 varies North-South
Trait 2 varies East-West
Coherence of Traits:
Race and Ethnicity
• “Race” is interpretation of Biological Traits
• “Ethnicity” is interpretation of Cultural Traits
• Racial Theory and Primordial Ethnic theory are
based on an assumption of within-group
“coherence of traits”.
• Biological and anthropological (sociological)
research indicate that traits do not cohere
enough to make racial or primordial ethnic
theories valid or useful.
Race and Ethnicity:
Folk Categories / Scientific Categories
• More often than not, “folk categories” (used in
everyday life) conflate race and ethnicity (i.e.
they use biological characteristics and cultural
characteristics at the same time).
• Example 1: Americans use mostly (but not only)
biological traits to categorize people by “race”.
• Example 2: When Malaysians (and
Singaporeans?) use the word “race” they mean
something closer to what anthropologists call
Example 1: American use of “race”
• Barak Obama is first “Black” nominee for
president of a major political party.
• Some people question if he is “really black”; NOT
mainly because of biology, but because of culture
(e.g. the schools he went to; the way he talks).
Children have to learn how to
classify people “correctly”
Example 2: Malaysian use of “race”
• Who is “Malay”?
• What counts as “Malay”?
Reflectivity of Skin?
30 26 4 3
ABO Blood Type?
Type B Type A Type O
Do Races Exist?
• People can be classified based on biology.
– Skin color
– Blood Type
– Y-lineage or mtDNA-lineage
– Factor Analysis (see Thompson 2006 reading)
– Patrilineage (CMIO in Singapore)
• Does this make Race real?
– Race can be an important social reality.
– Race is meaningless outside of society.
Conclusions about Race
• Race is not a scientifically useful scheme
for categorizing human diversity.
• Biological traits do not cohere enough to
make race useful.
• Mental & attitudinal traits (e.g. IQ) cohere
• Race is a set of social and cultural
categories; Race is “socially constructed”
For a more detailed contemporary view of
“race” by professional anthropologists, see the
1998 “Statement on Race” of the American
Journey of Man
• Why does Spencer Wells describe his research as tracing the
journey of Man?
• What is meant by the comment in film that “After 50,000 years ago .
. . the form is fixed and culture takes off.”?
• What were the major routes taken by humans out of Africa? What
are the significance of the Kalahari, Australia, India and Central Asia
in understanding the “journey of man”?
• How does Spencer Wells’ interest in and portrayal of San people in
the film compare to that of Lee, Wilmsen and others we will read
about in this course?
• Why does the Wells argue that “Old fashioned concepts of race are
not only socially divisive but scientifically wrong”? If he is correct,
what are the implications for societies like Singapore? How do we
explain difference without the concept of race?
Journey of MAN:
Tracing the Y
Tracing Genetic Ancestry
• Y-chromosome: Paternal (Father) Lineage
– Only Men have Y-Chromosomes (XY vs. XX)
– Y-Chromosomes pass down from father to
son without recombining
• Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA): Maternal
– Everyone has mitochondria (a microscopic
organism that lives in our cells)
– We inherit our mitochondria from our Mothers
– Mutations in mtDNA reveal Maternal Lineages
~45,000 years ago
Coastal Migration to
~45,000 years ago To
~5,000 years ago
“Out of Taiwan” (Malayo-Polynesian)
• “Out of Taiwan”
~5,000 years ago
• Broadest Ethno-
prior to 1500 C.E.
(~500 years ago)
• Spread of genes,
and technology –
BUT all together?
• Language and Culture
Spread from Taiwan
• Farming Technology
spread from Taiwan &
Papua New Guinea?
• People (genes) mixed:
– ~20% “Out of Taiwan” • People (genes),
– ~20% from Coastal Language, Culture and
Technology do not all
– ~60% “Indigenous” and
other Sources spread together
For more information, see the
Director of Research
“The Form Is Fixed . . .”
• 2.5 Million Years Ago – Homo habilis (the “handy man”)
• 1.8 Million Years Ago – Homo erectus (first out of Africa)
• 200,000 to 50,000 years ago – Modern Homo sapiens*
*Wells calls this “the Great Leap Forward” and “First Big Bang” in modern Human cultural evolution.
Marking a qualitative difference between Homo sapiens and others; like Homo erectus. (pp.151)
“. . . and Culture Takes Off”
• Biological change in humans has been
largely & literally superficial for 50,000 years.
• Human diversity is primarily cultural not
physical or racial.
All Humans have the Same
Capacity for CULTURE
• Culture is a cognitive capacity for concept formation.
• All mammals (and some other species, like birds)
share this capacity.
• Human’s just have an extremely more complex
version than other species.
• All humans alive today; and all humans who have
lived for the past 50,000 to 100,000 years have the
same capacity for Culture – i.e. all !Kung San, all other
Africans, all Europeans, all Chinese, all Malays, all
Indians . . . Everybody.
Humans are to Culture what They have
Giraffes are to Necks connections
head and body
… but is that
really a NECK?
Do animals Animals think and
have culture conceptualize…
like people? but is that really
What is Evolution?
• Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/):
– a process of change in a certain direction
– a process of continuous change from a lower,
simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better
– a process of gradual and relatively peaceful social,
political, and economic advance
• These are all BAD definitions according to
contemporary scientific research in the field
“A Certain Direction”
• Evolution DOES NOT proceed “in
a certain direction”. (Error of
“teleology” or assuming that
because something did happen
that it had to happen).
• Example: Marsupials (mammals
with pouches; like kangaroos) are
the predominant mammals in
Australia. Other sorts of mammals
are more common other most
parts of the world. It could have
happened the other way around.
“Lower, Simpler, Worse… to
Higher, More Complex, Better”
• Contemporary evolutionary thought does look at emergence of
complex systems out of simpler ones. But…
• “Lower to Higher” and “Worse to Better” are value judgments,
• “Complexity” only means “more working parts”; NOT “better”
“Survival of the Fittest”
• “Survival of the Fittest” does
not mean “best” in an
abstract way (e.g. strongest,
smartest, fastest, etc.)
• Fittest is better thought of as
“that which fits the best” (like
a puzzle piece)
• Fitness depends on context.
“Survival of the Fittest”
“Survival of the Minimally Adequate”
• Both mean the same thing (though the
second may be slightly more accurate)
• They have different social implications (the
first has been used in justifying eugenics
in ways the second might not).
“Gradual and Relatively Peaceful
• Much evidence shows that evolution may
proceed through “punctuated equilibrium”:
periods of relative stability punctuated by
relatively rapid change.
• Evolutionary change may be “peaceful” but may
be very violent.
• “Advance” is yet another unscientific value-
judgement (i.e. “advanced” civilization vs.
So… What is Evolution?
• Change in a system
over time resulting in
• The qualitative
difference may or
may not entail greater
Some Examples of Evolved Systems
• Biological Species
• Bird Songs
• Settlement Patterns
• Modes of Production
• Kinship Systems
Recent Human Evolution?
• Human evolution in the past 50,000 years?
• Biologically – No (not substantially)
– Biologically, humans are not qualitatively
different from each other or from humans alive
50,000 years ago
• Socially and Culturally – Yes
– Some aspects of human society and culture are
qualitatively different than human society
50,000 years ago.
(a.k.a. Neolithic Revolution)
• 10,000 – 5,000 years
• Humans start routinely
planting and harvesting
• Surplus production
(especially of grains –
*Wells calls this the “Second Big Bang”
rice, wheat, etc.) (The Importance of Culture, pp.150-151)
Agricultural & Surplus provide
1. Settled Populations
2. Specialization in
interdependence Complex Social Networking
4. Increased trade and
5. Hierarchy and State
Representation of State Power
First Urban Revolution
• From 5,500 – 2,500 yrs ago
• Urban Centers appear in:
• Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley (5,500-4,500 y.a.)
• China (3,800 y.a.), Central & South America (2,500 y.a.)
Second Urban Revolution
First Urban Revolution was
associated with the
(about 10,000 years ago)
Second Urban Revolution is
associated with the
(since about 200 yrs ago)
Some call this “Modernity”
Population Explosion from
about 1800 C.E.
10,000 y.a.: 8 million
1750 C.E.: 800 million
1820 C.E.: 1 billion
1930 C.E.: 2 billion
1960 C.E.: 3 billion
1976 C.E.: 4 billion
1987 C.E.: 5 billion
2002 C.E.: 6.3 billion
A few final thoughts on social and
cultural complexity . . .
• Are greater complexity and all evolutionary
changes a “good” thing?
– Militarism? Hierarchy? Patriarchy?
– As Wells points out, settled agriculture actually
reduced quality of life for most individuals (e.g. more
disease, less autonomy, warfare)
• Is everything in industrial society more complex
than a foraging society?
– Compare Ju/’hoansi knowledge and reckoning of
kinship to that of the average Singaporean?