Sc2218 lecture 3 (2010)


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Lecture 3: Race and Human Diversity

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Sc2218 lecture 3 (2010)

  1. 1. SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition Lecture 3: Human Diversity (It’s Not in Our Genes) Eric C. Thompson Semester 1, 2010/2011
  2. 2. Overview 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, World Anthropologies
  3. 3. Where Are We Going? • Part 1: What is Anthropology? – Strangers Abroad YOU ARE – Race HERE – Culture • Part 2: What do Anthropologists Study? – Kinship, Gender, Economy, Community • Part 3: Current Debates and Trends – Representing Others – The Poetry of Culture – World Anthropologies
  4. 4. From Last Week: Boas’ Basic Questions for Anthropology: “Why are the tribes and the nations of the world different and how have the present differences developed?” Anthropology, 1907 We will be addressing this question over the coming weeks.
  5. 5. 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
  6. 6. 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?
  7. 7. What is Race? • Race vs. Species • Species – Functional Definition: Members of the same Species can mate and have viable offspring. – Human beings (Homo sapiens) are one species. • Race (or Sub-species) – Members of the same species, but distinctive in some way. Racial classifications are arbitrary and non-functional.
  8. 8. Race: Essentialist Categories Ethiopian Malayan Mongoloid American Caucasoid Blumenbach’s Classification (1775) “Scientific” Approach Based on “Coherence” of Traits Originally included Cultural & Biological Traits Nations, Races, Peoples
  9. 9. “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 human populations • 6% occurs between populations
  10. 10. “Incoherent” Traits (Example of Biological and Cultural Traits) “African” and “European” men wearing “Asian” batik.
  11. 11. “Incoherent” Traits (Example of Biological Traits) Trait 1: Skin Color Trait 2: ABO Blood Group Trait 1 varies North-South Trait 2 varies East-West
  12. 12. 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.
  13. 13. 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 “ethnicity”
  14. 14. 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).
  15. 15. Children have to learn how to classify people “correctly”
  16. 16. Example 2: Malaysian use of “race” • Who is “Malay”? • What counts as “Malay”?
  17. 17. Racial Categories? Reflectivity of Skin? 30 26 4 3 ABO Blood Type? Type B Type A Type O
  18. 18. 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.
  19. 19. 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 even less. • 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 Anthropological Association.
  20. 20. 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?
  21. 21. Journey of MAN: Tracing the Y chromosome
  22. 22. 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 (Mother) Lineage – Everyone has mitochondria (a microscopic organism that lives in our cells) – We inherit our mitochondria from our Mothers – Mutations in mtDNA reveal Maternal Lineages
  23. 23.
  24. 24. Populating Land and Seas: How People Came to Southeast Asia
  25. 25. ~45,000 years ago
  26. 26. ~45,000 years ago
  27. 27. ~45,000 years ago SUNDALAND Coastal Migration to Sundaland
  28. 28. To Polynesia (Fiji, Hawaii) ~45,000 years ago To To Micronesia Coastal Migration Madagascar ~5,000 years ago “Out of Taiwan” (Malayo-Polynesian)
  29. 29. Malayo-Polynesian Expansion • “Out of Taiwan” ~5,000 years ago • Broadest Ethno- Linguistic Dispersal prior to 1500 C.E. (~500 years ago) • Spread of genes, language, culture and technology – BUT all together?
  30. 30. Malayo-Polynesian Expansion • 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 Migration Technology do not all – ~60% “Indigenous” and other Sources spread together
  31. 31. For more information, see the National Geographic Genographic Project: https://genographic.nationalgeogr Spencer Wells Director of Research
  32. 32. “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)
  33. 33. “. . . 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.
  34. 34. 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.
  35. 35. Humans are to Culture what They have stubby Giraffes are to Necks connections between their head and body … but is that really a NECK? Do other animals, have necks? Do animals Animals think and have culture conceptualize… like people? but is that really CULTURE?
  36. 36. What is Evolution? • Merriam-Webster Dictionary ( – 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 state – 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 of evolution!!!
  37. 37. “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.
  38. 38. “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, NOT science. • “Complexity” only means “more working parts”; NOT “better” Progress?
  39. 39. Survival of the Fittest… (Darwin Revisited)
  40. 40. Which of these is Best? (Which is “FITTEST”?)
  41. 41. “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.
  42. 42. Which of these is Best? (Which is “fittest”?)
  43. 43. “Fitness” is a meaningless concept without a Context
  44. 44. Context (e.g. environment) determines “fitness”
  45. 45. What is “fittest” in one context…
  46. 46. … May be “unfit” in another context
  47. 47. … May be “unfit” in another context
  48. 48. … May be “unfit” in another context
  49. 49. “Survival of the Fittest” versus “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).
  50. 50. “Gradual and Relatively Peaceful … Advance” • 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. “primitive” civilization).
  51. 51. So… What is Evolution? • Change in a system over time resulting in a qualitatively different system. • The qualitative difference may or may not entail greater complexity.
  52. 52. Some Examples of Evolved Systems • Biological Species • Language • Bird Songs • Ecosystems • Settlement Patterns • Modes of Production • Kinship Systems
  53. 53. 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.
  54. 54. Agricultural Revolution* (a.k.a. Neolithic Revolution) • 10,000 – 5,000 years ago • Humans start routinely planting and harvesting food • Surplus production (especially of grains – *Wells calls this the “Second Big Bang” rice, wheat, etc.) (The Importance of Culture, pp.150-151)
  55. 55. Agricultural & Surplus provide conditions for: 1. Settled Populations 2. Specialization in non-agricultural production 3. Increased interdependence Complex Social Networking 4. Increased trade and exchange 5. Hierarchy and State Building Mesopotamian Ziggurat: Representation of State Power
  56. 56. 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.)
  57. 57. Second Urban Revolution First Urban Revolution was associated with the Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 years ago) Second Urban Revolution is associated with the Industrial Revolution (since about 200 yrs ago) Some call this “Modernity”
  58. 58. Population Growth 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
  59. 59. 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?