Interaction of Physical Maturation and Cultural Practice in Ontogeny: Kikuyu Adolescents

Essay Excerpt

This study suggests the potential created by fusing physical-physiologic with ethnographic-cultural data for advancing the understanding of human ritual and patterns of socialization. Biological processes are perhaps too often viewed in their role as constraints on social goals, whereas they may more frequently act as dynamic potentials that are culturally tracked and modulated to advance social goals. Moreover, an unwillingness to scrutinize biocultural interactions in ontongeny may have led anthropologists to underestimate the evolutionary importance of social context for determining patterns in both later (not only early) physical development and gender differences. (Worthman, 37)

About the Author

Although the lines of inquiry in which she is actively involved are diverse and several, they are unified by a central focus, upon the biocultural interface. Biocultural dimensions of the human condition remain largely uncharted and represent immense opportunity for anthropological investigation, for the empirical, theoretical, and pedagogical formulation of new ways to understand what it is to be human. Human development and reproduction each represent arenas in which the interplay of biology and culture are especially central, so these form major themes in her research and teaching. Study topics have included causes and consequences of variation in maturation schedules, applications of life history theory, determinants of infant feeding and birth spacing, and variation in male life history and reproduction. Other areas, such as behavioral biology, arousal and attention regulation, developmental epidemiology (including of risk for psychiatric disorders), and comparative ecology of human sleep, are emerging areas of intensifying research and theorization. All this work is not only my personal, individual endeavor, but also intercalates with and relies on outstanding collaborative colleagues and students as well as others in the US and abroad in the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology. Her research is animated by more than a passionate interest in understanding the human condition, though that is a central moving force. Rather, it aims to contribute to intelligent human being-in-the-world, based on a conviction that how we understand human nature and culture influences and legitimates our behavior, values, and decisions. Hence, her goals are as much practical as intellectual, aimed to illuminate the pathways to differential human well-being and thereby to both critique existing social conditions and point the way toward redressing and forestalling distress and inequity. Unlike many human biologists, then, she is concerned as much with psychological as physical development and health. Like many biological anthropologists, she also sees biology as a lens through which we can gain fresh insight into culture and its large but bounded roles in human behavior and experience.

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