Sunday, February 21, 2010

Neuroanthropology - A collaborative weblog on brain, body and culture

For a greater understanding of the encultured brain and body

Neuroanthropology is a collaborative weblog created to encourage exchanges among anthropology, philosophy, social theory, and the brain sciences. The aim is to explore the implications of new findings in the neurosciences for our understanding of culture, human development, and behaviour. What is neuroanthropology? Sometimes it’s straight-up neuroscience, sometimes it’s all anthropology, most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle. It is about intersections and convergences, about meshing the insights of neuroscience and anthropology into a more cohesive whole. Often with some psychology, philosophy, evolution and human biology thrown into the mix.

In general, according to the web contributers, cultural anthropology has not kept abreast of new research in the neurosciences so that our theories of culture do not sufficiently take into account what we now know about the brain. A more open exchange is likely to produce a cultural anthropology that is not only more scientifically plausible, but also much more scientifically engaged with those interested in cultural variation (although they might not call it that) in a host of fields. We may find new evidence to work with on cultural theory, but we may also find new collaborators and new audiences, as long as we learn to speak their languages.

They also believe that neuroanthropology will help shape biological anthropology, where scholars have become increasingly interested in biocultural and integrative approaches. A firm grounding in neuroscience aids in the examination of behavior; in understanding how the environment, including culture, impacts people; and in developing novel approaches to human evolution. With links to social, cultural, and psychological anthropology, neuroanthropology also brings a critical perspective on how biological ideas are often used to essentialize and naturalize what are largely sociocultural processes.
"Neuroanthropology is a broad term, intended to embrace all dimensions of human neural activity, including emotion, perception, cognitive, motor control, skill acquisition, and a range of other issues. Unlike previous ways of doing psychological or cognitive anthropology, it remains open and heterogeneous, recognizing that not all brain systems function in the same way, so culture will not take hold of them in identical fashion. Although we believe that human neural structure is biological and the product of evolution, we also recognize that the development processes shaping each individual include a host of other forces as well, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others."

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