When evolutionary biology stretched out a tentacle called sociobiology and began to probe human behavior back in the 1970s, there was no room for neutrality. Advocates of the new science hailed the dawn of a new era in our understanding of human behavior, while opponents wrung their hands with concern over the new field’s potential to transform and even destroy anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences. Twenty years later, little has changed. Anthropology and its sister disciplines are still intact and thriving, though they seldom make use of insights from evolutionary biology. Cultural anthropology in particular has recoiled from the biological threat by moving away from the sciences and toward the humanities. During that same time, a new generation of scholars in biological anthropology, psychology, and other fields has made great progress by using evolutionary theory to understand human behavior, applying it to everything from mating and parenting to the study of mental illness. The success of this research program is threatened, however, by its lack of a serious role for the concept of culture.That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior is an effort to develop a scientific study of human behavior that is at once evolutionary and cultural. In a lively, readable style, it deals with such serious, scholarly issues as how to best define culture, the question of whether culture is present in other species, human universals and human diversity, the relationship between culture and behavior, and cultural and moral relativism. It covers existing models of the relationship between cultural and biological evolution, including the concept of the meme and the new science of memetics, as well as the author’s own work on the role of culture in human communications that draws upon the study of animal signals.
Cronk (anthropology, Texas A&M U.) constructs links between the evolutionary theory increasingly being used by behavioral and social scientists without a good sense of culture, and the interpretive and humanistic understanding of culture developed by anthropologists with no appreciation of evolutionary biology. He discusses how culture is best defined, how it influences human behavior, and the limited but important role of cultural relativism. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)