A New Sociobiology

Immunity, Alterity, and the Social Repertoire

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
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  • 1 University College London d.napier@ucl.ac.uk
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The relation between biological processes and social practices has given rise to a sociobiology heavily defined through experimental, cause-and-effect theorizing, applying biology to society, culture, and individual action. Human behaviour is largely understood as the outcome of biological processes, with individual autonomy and survival, and social order and stability, prioritized. Building on an argument first made about selfhood in 1986, and about immunology from 1992 onwards, this article argues that advances in science reframe our understanding of the boundaries between self and other ('non-self'), and thereby also our awareness of the importance of risk and danger, and the social contexts that encourage or discourage social risks. Because the assimilation of difference is not only crucial to survival, but critical for creation, the argument here for 'a new sociobiology' is for a less biologically determined sociobiology. Difference can destroy, but it is necessary for adaptation and creation. A new sociobiology, therefore, must prioritize organic relatedness over organic autonomy, attraction to 'other' over concern with 'self', if the field is to advance our understanding of creation, survival, and growth.

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