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. 2006 Jan;18(1):1-9.
doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20463.

Biocultural Approaches in Human Biology


Biocultural Approaches in Human Biology

Darna L Dufour. Am J Hum Biol. .


Biocultural approaches recognize the pervasiveness and dynamism of interactions between biological and cultural phenomena, and they explicitly strive to integrate biological, sociocultural, environmental, and other kinds of data. They have been part of human biology at least since 1958, when Frank Livingstone so elegantly explained the linkages among population growth, subsistence strategy, and the distribution of the sickle cell gene in West Africa. These approaches developed further with the advent of human adaptability studies in the 1960s as part of the Human Biological Program and have become increasingly focused on understanding the impacts of everyday life on human biological variation. Biocultural approaches generate explanations that are intuitively appealing to many because they offer a kind of holistic view. They can, however, be very challenging approaches to implement, perhaps in part because we are more experienced in measuring the biological than the cultural. Some of the challenges include (1) defining precisely what we mean by constructs like socioeconomic status, poverty, rural, and urban; (2) operationalizing key variables so that they can be measured in ways that are ethnographically valid as well as replicable; (3) defining and measuring multiple causal pathways. In this paper, I briefly review the history of biocultural approaches and then illustrate some of the challenges that these approaches present with examples from my own research on nutrition and energetics as well as that of other practitioners.

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