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Senior Research Seminar: Professor Christina Toren

When Nov 20, 2015
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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Professor Christina Toren
(University of St Andrews)

Human ontogenies as historical processes: lessons from ethnography

Anthropology, broadly conceived, is the study of how we humans become who we are, thus an understanding of ontogeny as an historical process should be at the core of anthropological comparisons across time and place. In this view, it makes no sense to distinguish between nature and nurture, between internal versus external sources of human variation. Rather, our attention is turned to comparison of the historical processes that go on and on differentiating us from one another. Each one of us lives the history of our particular, always unique, ontogeny, which ceases only with death. Our personal continuity through time is given in human autopoiesis: everything about us transforms over time but it does so as a function of an autonomous self-regulating system that has sociality at its core. From the outset, relations with others inform who we are and we inhere along with others in an historically transforming environing world of which we are at once products and producers. The project of comparison that is anthropology suggests, to this writer at least, the necessity for jettisoning ‘human nature’ as an analytical category because it carries with it the twinned assumptions that ‘nature’ makes humans similar to one another and ‘culture’ is what differentiates us. The paper draws on ethnography to show the pragmatic value for biologists, as well as for psychologists and anthropologists, of conceiving of the developmental systems that describe human life cycles as microhistorical processes.

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