The Relationship of Human and Non-Human Modes of Social Transmission to Culture

Friday, February 15, 2013
Room 300 (Hynes Convention Center)
Robert W. Sussman , Washington University, St. Louis, St. Louis, MO

The germs of racism began even before the Spanish Inquisition.  Early in European history different peoples were thought of as either Pre-Adamites or as degenerates.  Pre-Adamites were biologically fixed in their characteristics and could not be changed by living conditions or by education.  Those who believed that “others” were degenerates assumed that these peoples were born of god but could be improved by changing their habits and environment, they could be missionized.  These ideas persisted until the time of Darwin and similar ideas persist even today. Pre-Adamite theory was reinforced by Mendelian genetics, Eugenics, and Social Darwinism. However, in 1911, Franz Boaz showed that skull shape could change in human immigrants by changing their environment and he developed the anthropological concept of culture.  The idea that how and what humans thought mainly was related to their life history, education, and socialization was new to science.  Human societies were not inferior or superior to one another but rather were different because of their different histories.  I will discuss the importance of recognizing the concept of Culture within all fields of anthropology and within science generally.  As Clifford Geertz stated: Without men no culture, certainly; but equally and more significantly, without culture no men.  However, I will argue that without anthropology no culture, but, more significantly, without culture no anthropology.  I will also discuss the difference between social transmission in non-human animals, including chimpanzees, and the concept of culture as developed and traditionally used in anthropology and the importance of distinguishing between these phenomena.