Human Nature and Anthropology


This was put up as a post and I preserve it here for the helpful comments below. For the updated material–and any additional comments–please visit Anthropology and Human Nature – Anthropology 1.1.

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  • Karl Reisman

    My overall reaction is – too abstract. Last time I taught it – depends to whom – 70% of the class, in spite of all the slogans, still thought that real different customs were so ‘savage’ etc
    that there was no way to take them seriously.
    I like to start with Cliff Geertz’s presentation of a 19th cent. Balinese widow burning description (1973 “Lost in Translation: Social History of the Moral Imagination. ln Local Knowledge)
    and run a discussion from there – and try to establish whatever the framework is that you want to set up to consider anthropological knowledge and ideas.
    My feeling is that anything less immediate – or historical or evolutionary before the confrontation – just passes over their heads and turns into words on an exam.


    • Jason Antrosio

      Hi Karl,
      Thank you for the comment and suggestion. I definitely agree that this piece is far too abstract for assigning to my Intro class and I probably could have been more specific that I was revising it based on teaching other things. The Geertz description is definitely a great suggestion and I’ll consider it.
      Thanks again,

  • Diego camelo

    About ontogenetic indeterminism I highly recommend Richard Lewontin’s Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA

    • Jason Antrosio

      Thanks Diego for reading and for the suggestion. I very much like Lewontin and will think about this as a resource. Unfortunately–very unfortunately in fact–his work has been under attack and so must be carefully considered and defended.

  • This is very well-written, and perhaps too much for the beginning of an intro class, but I think it would work at the end, and maybe some of the better students would get it. It is important in all of this discussion to drive home that all conceptualizations of human nature have an agenda that can be attached. Is is possible to stimulate discussion among the students: “Who would like this idea of human nature? Who would bristle at it?” Perhaps start with some of the more enduring EvoPsych ideas on sex and get them to see how the ideas support ideologies.

    • Jason Antrosio

      Hi Lillian,
      Thank you for the comment–I do indeed use this more as an end or supplement. But I do like your idea of stimulating a discussion about who might like or bristle at certain ideas around human nature.

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  • Thank you everyone–I’m closing this thread, but please visit Anthropology and Human Nature – Anthropology 1.1 for updates and additional comments.