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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF HUMAN BIOLOGY 18:1–9 (2006)

Pearl Memorial Lecture Biocultural Approaches in Human Biology
DARNA L. DUFOUR* Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0233

ABSTRACT 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 HumanBiological 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 biologicalthan 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 approachesand then illustrate some of the challenges that these approaches present with examples from my own research on nutrition and # 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc. energetics as well as that of other practitioners. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 18:1–9, 2006.

Human biology is an interdisciplinary field centrally concerned with understanding human biological variability and the mechanisms responsible for that variability.Researchers represent a variety of perspectives, particularly those that are comparative, developmental, ecological, and/or evolutionary. Within each of these perspectives, biocultural approaches are those that explicitly recognize the dynamic interactions between humans as biological beings and the social, cultural, and physical environments they inhabit. They focus on understanding variabilityin human biology as a function of responsiveness to the larger (social, cultural, and physical) environment. Biocultural approaches have a long history in human biology and biological anthropology, a closely linked scientific community. They can, however, be very challenging approaches to implement, perhaps in part because we are more experienced in measuring the biological than the social orcultural. Some of the challenges include (1) defining precisely what we mean by constructs like socioeconomic status, poverty, social support, etc.; (2) operationalizing key variables so that they can be measured in ways that are replic-

able as well as ethnographically valid; and (3) defining and measuring multiple causal pathways. In this paper, I briefly review the history of bioculturalapproaches and then illustrate some of the challenges that these approaches present with examples from my own research on nutrition and energetics.

A BRIEF HISTORY It is difficult to know where to begin, but because this is the Pearl Memorial Lecture, it is fitting that we start with Raymond Pearl. Although Pearl is best known for his contributions to biostatistics, he clearly understood the impact ofthe social and cultural environment on human biology and employed culturally defined variables in many of his analyses. The importance Pearl attributed to the social and cultural environment is clear in the following passage:
*Correspondence to: Darna L. Dufour. E-mail: Darna. Dufour@colorado.edu Received 29 August 2005; Accepted 19 September 2005 Published online in Wiley InterScience...
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