What’s Biological about Biocultural Research? (Part 1)

Reposted from Anthropology News February 2015 column.

Jason DeCaro
Jason DeCaro

Our January column from Bill Dressler harkened to 2005 when, concerned about the absence of an explicit theory of culture in much biocultural research, Bill had written a piece in Ethos entitled “What’s Cultural about Biocultural Research?” While not all of us follow Bill’s approach to the letter, his perspective has been influential in our Biocultural Medical Anthropology PhD program.

One could ask a parallel question: What’s biological about biocultural research? I attend theHuman Biology Association (HBA) meetings on a near-annual basis and encounter more researchers there who consider themselves biocultural than at the American Anthropological Association (as a percentage and a raw number, despite the fact that HBA is much smaller). Nearly all human biologists consider their work biocultural whether or not it hews to Bill’s definition, because human evolution is irreducibly biocultural, and human biologists are interested in that. And, being human biologists, they rarely feel the need to prove that they’re biological enough.

Yet the Biocultural Medical Anthropology program at UA historically has followed a different pathway. If one were to put my doctoral students to date into a box, for instance, it would be labeled psychocultural in caps, with biological in lowercase. Transacting across such boundaries creates a wonderful environment in which someone like me, whose scholarly roots are in biocultural human biology, can advise great students whose topics include HIV-related cultural models in adolescents, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the stress of migration, and how food security is reinforced or mitigated through social networks. This has been a positive experience for all of us, frequently sans biomarkers or explicitly evolutionary hypotheses. (Our program’s very strong tradition of group mentorship and co-advising has a lot to do with this too.)
The inclusion of biomarkers does not by itself make a study biocultural any more than the inclusion of a question about someone’s ancestry or “traditional foods and dress” makes it biocultural.

In short, as I see our students develop, a question that I continually turn over in my mind is: what does it mean to refer to biology here? First, let’s do some debunking.

  • Biocultural research is not necessarily about biomarkers. I have seen biomarkers thrown into studies for their own sake with no significant development of biocultural theory. I have seen them thrown into studies because it was fashionable. I have seem them thrown into studies because they are falsely understood as a shortcut that circumvents all the challenges of assessing stress or some other nebulous concept, by observing and talking to people. The inclusion of biomarkers does not by itself make a study biocultural any more than the inclusion of a question about someone’s ancestry or traditional foods and dress makes it biocultural.

    The inclusion of biomarkers does not by itself make a study biocultural any more than the inclusion of a question about someone’s ancestry or “traditional foods and dress” makes it bioculturalBiomarkers are a method, a tool. They are only as useful as the study design and underlying theory make them. If they don’t make sense in a given study design and are not called for by theory, they should be omitted. They’re neither a sufficient element to constitute a project as biocultural, nor are they necessary. Consider Daniel Lende’s (USF) work in substance use in Colombia or most of the other recent work in neuroanthropology. Not a biomarker to be found in many cases—but careful is paid attention to underlying neurological mechanisms that influence and are shaped by subjective experience.

    Our Lady of Guadalupe can be a focus of biocultural research (Altar in a market of Mexico City by ProtoplasmaKid. CC BY-SA 4.0).
    Our Lady of Guadalupe can be a focus of biocultural research (Altar in a market of Mexico City by ProtoplasmaKid. CC BY-SA 4.0).
  • Biocultural research is not necessarily about genetics (or genomics). This is an extension of an older false equivalence: biology = genes. Biological phenotypes are complexly determined through multi-level interactions among genes, developmental systems, physical and social/cultural environments. The “biology = genes” fallacy is common in discussions with a “nature vs. nurture” tone. Such discussions often take the form of “Is X trait/phenotype biological or cultural,” where “biological” = “genetic” and “cultural” = “anything remotely social or experiential.” In such discussions, the developmental systems that actually produce the phenotype are ignored. Genotypes can be quite helpful in biocultural research, depending on the question, but they also are neither necessary nor sufficient.
  • Biocultural research is not limited to work drawing from evolutionary theory. This one is perhaps more controversial among researchers in my circles, most of whom approach their work from the standpoint of evolutionary theory and hypotheses drawn from it. Much of my work does as well.  Yet it is not necessary to chart the evolutionary history of a physiological system to usefully study it. Again, sometimes developmental theory is more helpful. Sometimes stress theory. Sometimes eco-cultural theory. Denying the importance of the evolution of these systems to their current variation and functioning is a non-starter, but it’s sometimes useful to study the current endpoint of a long process of evolutionary change without explicit reference to how and why we got there. Conversely, there’s danger of evolutionary tokenism. Mentioning Paleolithic diets does not a biocultural study make (even when it’s not blatant misrepresentation or over-interpretation of the Paleo-human data).

So far, I’ve outlined negatives but no positives. If the biological in biocultural research is not per se about biomarkers, genetics, or evolution, then what is the biology?

In our next post, I’ll explore this question in more detail, making the argument that biocultural research is about integrative transactions across theoretical frameworks combined with methodological opportunism. Those methods are chosen from an interdisciplinary toolkit to fit specific hypotheses and research questions rather than a pre-set, unchanging, conventional inventory. I’ll argue that how we operationalize human biology is less important than how we understand it to work. I’ll outline the value of developmental perspectives, without claiming all biocultural research must lean on human development, and the importance of measurable outcomes with biological implications, even when biology is not directly measured to achieve this.



2014 was an interesting year for the concept of culture. Merriam-Webster declared ‘culture’ the most important word of the year, in that more people looked up its definition online than any other. Then, on the website edge.org, the question was posed: what scientific idea should be retired? No less luminaries than Pascal Boyer and John Tooby responded: culture. Hmmm…E._B._Tylor_portrait._Folk-Lore,_vol._28EB Tylor – author (arguably) of the first true anthropological definition of ‘culture’

I will declare first that I belong to the ‘culture-is-too-important-a-concept-to-be-jettisoned’ wing of anthropology. And, I think a useful concept of culture is well within reach.

My perspective is that the concept of culture ought to do something. Concepts are tools, after all, and a tool needs to be useful. It has work to do. Culture must be put to work in the service of research and explanation. Culture as a concept must function both in a network of theoretical constructs to account for some phenomenon, and in a network of operational constructs that enables us to reach into the world and capture phenomena in observation.

Curiously, though, in much work culture as a term may not appear at either level. Culture often occurs as little more than an orienting construct, indicating to a reader what direction an argument will (or won’t) take. At some level we are all crypto-Tylorians. If culture is ‘that complex whole,’ than we just declare that’s what is important, and then we go on to talk about class, gender, race, or whatever, because it’s all culture (right?).

In 1934 Sapir wrote that a less comprehensive, more focused concept of culture “…will turn out to have a tougher, more vital, importance for social thinking than the tidy tables of contents attached to this or that group which we have been in the habit of calling ‘cultures,’” although he didn’t specify precisely that focused concept.

I propose that five questions must be adequately answered (note ‘adequately,’ not ‘ultimately’) to get the tool I want, and perhaps the ‘tougher, vital’ construct Sapir envisioned. These five questions have bedeviled culture theory since Tylor, although there certainly are others as well. But I think these need answers in order to move our endeavor forward. They are:

(1) What is culture made of? In highfalutin’ terms this is the issue of ontology. Key explanatory terms must reach into the world to latch onto phenomena that are epistemically observer-independent (i.e., knowledge of which does not depend on the mind of a single observer). And, as John Searle argues, an ontological account of culture must be consistent with what we know about the rest of the world (like cognitive neuroscience, language, and human information processing). We don’t get to invent a new order of reality.

(2) Is culture a term that refers to aggregates or individuals? This is the part-whole problem debated in social thought for quite some time, in various guises. Another way to approach this is: what is the locus of culture, the group or the person? I think it is both, but a satisfying account of that must explain how, not merely assert that it is so.

(3) How do we account for variability? This is the issue of ‘intracultural diversity,’ and a description of variability must apply to both the part and the whole.

(4) What is the relationship of culture and behavior? In anthropology culture has been thought to: cause behavior; result from behavior; be abstracted from behavior. This needs to be sorted out systematically (frankly it’s probably ‘all of the above,’ but there has to be an account of that).

(5) What is the relationship of culture and other theoretical constructs—like ‘value,’ ‘belief,’ ‘attitude’—that are thought either to be subsumed by or to compose culture? These social-psychological terms appear prominently in explanations of human behavior, and if culture is a part of those explanations, how does it relate to those other constructs?

A contemporary cognitive theory of culture can adequately address each of these questions. To wit:

(1) Culture is the knowledge we use to function in a given social system. As Searle has shown, that knowledge is of a special kind, generated by a certain class of speech acts.   These speech acts, that Searle refers to as ‘constitutive rules,’ literally construct the world around us. And, this is an ontological account consistent with what we know of our biological and evolutionary history.

(2) Cultural consensus theory and its associated formal model have shown that there is indeed an aggregate culture in the sense of a knowledge-set that cannot be found in any single person’s mind. Nor is this a pious pronouncement that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but rather empirically demonstrable. At the same time, each of us carries around versions of that knowledge-set that place us more proximate to, or distal from, the aggregate knowledge-set. In a non-mysterious way, culture is a term that applies to both individuals and aggregates.

(3) Culture is variable within a social group in the sense that there may be multiple models, even in the context of an overall cultural consensus (again, empirically demonstrated). And of course culture is variable in the sense that any subset of people have varying degrees of idiosyncratic biographical influence on their personal configuration of that knowledge.

(4) Culture as a variably shared knowledge-set gets variably translated into behavior. This is what I have called ‘cultural consonance.’ Just because you know something doesn’t mean you get to act on it, and variation in cultural consonance is both systematic and can have profound effects.

(5) This knowledge-set called culture underlies other social-psychological constructs. Your understanding that, for example, the American cultural model of marriage is beginning to extend to same-sex partners doesn’t explain your beliefs, values, or attitudes about that understanding.

This thumbnail sketch of a culture theory that works is just that—a sketch. Fortunately, there is a growing body of empirical studies that demonstrate its utility, and perhaps this culture theory provides both the toughness and vitality that Sapir envisioned.

Why Being Consonant With Your Personal Model Cannot Explain the Effect of Cultural Consonance

The central plaza of Ribeirão Preto, Brazil (photo by author)
The central plaza of Ribeirão Preto, Brazil (photo by author)

At the beginning of the semester and my class, “Culture, Mind, and Behavior,” I started thinking about this topic, because this class is devoted to cognitive culture theory, including the concept of cultural consonance. Cultural consonance is the degree to which people incorporate into their own beliefs and behaviors the cultural prototypes for belief and behavior encoded in shared cognitive models. In other words, it’s how closely people match up with the culture around them.Over a number of years of research, my colleagues and I have reliably identified shared cultural models in a number of domains (e.g., family life in Brazil), and we have found that higher cultural consonance–that is, people actually, for example, believing that their own family matches the prototypical Brazilian family–is associated with better health status (such as lower stress and depression, and lower blood pressure).

Whenever I lecture about or teach this material, inevitably there is somebody who raises some form of the following objection: well, what about people who reject the shared cultural model and follow their own personal model of how life is to be lived? Sometimes it’s a student who, I often suspect, is offended by the notion that he or she is not all that “special,” i.e., that what he or she thinks or does is actually a variant of what a lot of other people are thinking and doing, simply because they are all working from the same template. Other times it’s a more principled objection from anthropologists who are taken with the notion of personal agency and (mistakenly) think that I think that people are what the Brits charmingly call “cultural dopes,” i.e., we are all cookies stamped out by the cultural cookie cutter. Of course, the concept of cultural consonance is completely compatible with an agentic perspective, and in fact I’ve got at least one paper planned for the future to explore how that works in some detail. In any event, however it is framed, there are people who object to the notion of cultural consonance because they think that personal, individual models would trump the influence of cultural consonance were I to measure and incorporate them into my analyses.

At the outset, I would note that conceptualizing and measuring the concept of “personal consonance” or “individual consonance” is a much thornier issue than you might think. Remember that to measure something people have to be presented with the same stimuli, or, in our business, asked the same questions. If you are committed to the idea that people have individual or personal models, then logically each individual would have to be asked about their model only and how they are committed to it. How could that be turned into a comparable measurement from one person to the next? You might present an alternative to identifying each individual model that involves asking people questions like “I always try to do what is most important to me,” and having them respond on a Likert scale. Well, congratulations, you have just re-invented 1950s social psychology and the psychological construct of self-efficacy! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of incorporating a psychological construct like this into this research, and seeing how it might alter the effect of cultural consonance (it doesn’t). But my main point is that measuring something that people mean by personal or individual models is very, very difficult.

Let’s assume, however, that consonance with an individual model, or “IC” (for individual consonance) can in fact be measured, and hence both IC and cultural consonance (or “CC”) can be examined as influences on health outcomes (“HO”). What would happen? At this point I’m going to digress briefly to reiterate something one of my favorite bloggers, Paul Krugman, has written from time-to-time, and that is the importance of your theoretical model in thinking through a problem. It’s one thing to say, for example, well, somebody’s IC could be more important than their CC. This is on a par with saying, “well, I could learn to levitate.” Yes, maybe, but if your theoretical model of the world includes something called gravity, then you have to think more complexly about this levitation business. It’s the same in anthropology. Yes, somebody’s IC could trump their CC in influencing HO, but what is likely to happen given a particular theoretical model of how the world works?

Here is a theoretical model:  New slide

This theoretical model says that CC is associated with HO, and IC is associated with HO, and in some way, CC and IC are correlated. To simplify things, let’s assume that HO is measured in terms of positive health—like better self-reported health or positive affect—so that being culturally consonant and being individually consonant are associated with feeling better, so the association is in a positive direction.

This simple exercise clarifies things a bit. We already know that CC is associated with higher HO (this has been replicated many times by multiple investigators). The question is what happens when IC is introduced into the picture? Well, it depends, and it depends exclusively on how you conceptualize the correlation between CC and IC. What kind of operational or statistical model can we use here? I’ve already been talking about correlation, so that’s my operational model. When, in looking at the correlation between CC and HO, I take into account the correlation of IC with HO, and of IC with CC, what happens?

In somewhat more technical terms, what we want to do is to remove the effect of IC on CC, and remove the effect of IC on HO, and see what is left over in terms of the correlation of CC and HO. Or, put differently, we want to look at the correlations of the residuals among all of these variables.

That sounds like a statistical mouthful, but it actually can be understood very simply by looking at just the numerator of a partial correlation coefficient (which, I might add, is the same as the numerator of a partial regression coefficient; the only difference is in the denominator, or by what you are standardizing). Here’s the numerator, spelled out in prose:

[Correlation of HO and CC] – [(correlation of IC and CC) X (correlation of HO and IC)].

What this says is that if we want to control for, or otherwise get rid of, the influence that IC has in looking at the correlation of CC and HO, we have to subtract out the product of the correlation of IC and CC and the correlation of IC and HO. You don’t even have to be all that much of a statistical heavyweight to get this. Correlation = co-variation. To “purify” the co-variation of CC and HO, we have to get rid of the co-variation of HO and IC, and the co-variation of IC and CC (see the model above).

And, it depends exclusively on the correlation of IC and CC, and frankly has nothing much to do with the correlation of IC and HO. Think about the simplest case, where the correlation of IC and CC = 0. If you multiply the correlation of HO and IC by 0 (zero), that second term in the equation above becomes 0, and the correlation of CC and HO is completely independent of the correlation of IC and HO.

What happens if the correlation of IC and CC is positive? In this case, the second term in the equation would become negative, and the correlation of CC and HO would be reduced in proportion to the size of the IC/CC correlation (again, it doesn’t have much to do with the IC/HO correlation).

Finally, if the correlation of IC and CC is negative, the correlation between CC and HO would increase in proportion to the magnitude of the IC/CC correlation (remember that in this case the second term in the equation would be negative, and then you would be subtracting a negative number, which makes it positive).

To summarize: when the IC/CC correlation is zero, no effect. When the IC/CC correlation is negative, the CC/HO correlation goes up. Only when the IC/CC correlation is positive would the CC/HO correlation potentially go down, and then only in proportion to the magnitude of the IC/CC correlation.

This little exercise should help skeptics of cultural consonance re-think their critique. What do they really mean to say? If they are saying that an individual can have his or her own cognitive model of the world that sets them apart—and this is, I think, what most of them are trying to say—then it turns out that it does not alter the effect of cultural consonance. Another way of thinking about this is in terms of the scatter of data-points around a regression line in a scatterplot. If the plot is of the correlation of CC and HO, we will see that many people cluster around the regression line, i.e., as their cultural consonance goes up, their health outcome improves. The people farther from that regression line are the people who, perhaps, are adhering more closely to their individual model. If we take that into account, we are reducing the noise in the data, and the effect of cultural consonance on health outcomes becomes more clear (technically, the standard error of the regression coefficient will go down). Or, IC and CC simply become independent influences on health.

Alternately, skeptics might be saying that IC and CC are negatively correlated. This would be equivalent to saying that overall, people who adhere to their own individual models do so and explicitly respond in the opposite direction to questions about shared cultural models. Well, maybe, but think about this explicitly. In Brazil, for example, the cultural model of social support says, in part, that in response to many problems, you start by seeking help and assistance from your family and friends, and then you gradually seek help in less intimate relationships of work, church, and ultimately professional supports like doctors and lawyers and such. The “IC and CC are negatively correlated” position would argue that in describing how you follow your own model of social support, you also describe yourself in relation to the cultural model of social support in the opposite direction, i.e., you never ask family and friends for help, and you exclusively ask strangers and professionals for help. OK, if one or a few people answer like this, it’s just the wacky nature of humans. But for it to affect the correlation of CC and HO, you would have to have a set of people systematically responding in this way. Hmmm…and of course, even it you want to believe this, it is in this case that controlling for IC would cause the CC/HO correlation to go up.

The third position is that IC and CC are positively correlated. If this is so, it calls into question the whole notion of an individual model and individual consonance, since it (individual consonance) would turn out to be some version of the cultural model and cultural consonance. Actually, some skeptics fail to appreciate that, in one sense, cultural consonance is the personal, lived model, formed as people knit together a life for themselves in the context of the environment of shared meanings (the cultural model) and the various factors that enable them to act, or constrain them from acting, on those shared meanings. A super skeptic—like a full-blown psychological reductionist—could argue that the whole theoretical construct and measurement of cultural consonance is epiphenomenal to individuals, with individual models, making individual decisions, of how to live based on those models. They just turn out to be similar from one individual to the next, probably based on some neurocognitive module selected for in evolution, or some basic personality construct, or whatever. This seems highly implausible, however, given that the construct of cultural consonance is based on a well-developed, well-articulated cognitive culture theory, along with a well-understood measurement model. The full-blown psychological reductionist would have to argue that the theory and method to derive cultural consonance is a social scientific version of reading chicken entrails. They may believe that, but it seems pretty implausible.

So, to me the most plausible way that a consonance with individual models would work in this process is the independence of individual consonance and cultural consonance. If this is the case, bringing individual consonance into the theoretical model would not alter the influence of cultural consonance on health outcomes, except in the relatively trivial sense that controlling for individual consonance would increase the statistical significance of the coefficient assessing the effect of cultural consonance (because the standard error would go down). Where I’m skeptical is in regard to the measurement of individual consonance. I have difficulty envisioning a truly satisfying measurement.

In the final analysis, here, I return to the wisdom of Paul Krugman. Your theoretical model is of paramount importance. It is through your theoretical model that you can sort out the implications of various alternatives, just as I have done in this post. Models of every variety—theoretical scientific models, shared cultural models, personal models—are good to think with.


The influence and passion of George Armelagos

This morning a giant of our field passed away.

George Armelagos was a pioneer of biocultural anthropology from a political economic perspective, and one of the earliest, strongest, and most consistent voices against scientific racism among the old guard of physical anthropology. He was one of those people whose personality and intellect could fill a room even when he spoke at little more than a quiet rumble. His bioarchaeological contributions fundamentally altered our understanding of human adaptation and of population health. And his students are everywhere carrying on his work in the classroom, in the laboratory and the field, and in public advocacy.

I just don’t know how to state this more strongly except to say there are only a tiny handful of scholars as influential as this within our discipline in a whole generation.

Soon I’ll write a full length piece reflecting on his importance in laying the intellectual foundation for a program like ours. In the meantime, rest in peace, my friend, and thank you for all you have done for our discipline and for the world.

A New Look at an Old Method: Ethnography as Essential to Good Work, or How Doing Should Start with Being

The inaugural meeting of the University of Alabama Department of Anthropology Journal Club was held Friday January 18th at 2:00 p.m. Attendees were grad students Tina Thomas, Becky Read-Wahidi, Anjelica Callery, Achsah Dorsey, and Greg Batchelder; undergrads Brittany Brooks, Samantha Sloan, and professors Kathryn Oths, Dick Diehl, and Ian Brown.

With me (Kathy Oths) moderating, a lively discussion ensued regarding a recent piece in Social Science and Medicine (SSM), On sitting and doing: Ethnography as action in global health by Stacy Pigg [99:27-134(2013)], the previous editor of Medical Anthropology. She relates scenes from her fieldwork among International Health (now Global Health) and NGO personnel who were attempting to introduce HIV/AIDS prevention education in Nepal in the late 1990s. As she sat and listened ‘between the cracks’, it emerged that a word-play exercise that encouraged participants to shout out ‘sex’ words was antithetical to a Nepalese aversion to discussing sex (much less with strangers!). While the health workers realized this, they felt obligated to carry out the mandates of the program’s international funders. A classic case of vertical programming. Or, since it ‘worked’ (really?) in Uganda, it should work everywhere. By means of much listening and many intense discussions with perceptive nationals, Pigg adroitly led her colleagues in developing a slightly altered exercise that used word about sexual relations instead of sex. Aid workers were thrilled, and across several months met and pre-tested the new exercise. It was a smashing success with the intended audience, and they self-published educational brochures using the concept, yet the higher up administrators were too wedded to the received wisdom of the international programs to pay any heed. While the revised exercise failed to be implemented, it succeeded in identifying a better way to reach a population. Many years later, Nepalese health workers were still talking about the wisdom of their strategy.

Somewhat surprisingly, SSM devoted an entire issue to ethnography, a topic that seldom receives attention anymore—especially in the medical social sciences literature—perhaps because it seems the method is uncomplicated and all that needs to be said about it has already been. I chose the Pigg article for its reminder that all good scientific work starts with reflection, observation, listening, being, mindfulness–the lesson being, “just sit there, don’t do anything (at least to start with).” The insight and hypothesis-generation that sitting and listening can engender is qualitative, and at one and the same time the crucial first stage of any systematic, scientific endeavor. I am concerned that mixed-method training in biocultural medical anthropology, while the best and most comprehensive approach (IOHO here at UA), can tend to focus on the clearly essential ‘hard stuff’—statistics, computer programs (such as SPSS, Anthropac, GIS, ATLAS.ti, UCINET…), lab analysis, measurement tools (anthropometry, cortisol, blood pressure….) and sometimes slight the ‘soft stuff’ like participant-observation, leaving it to chance. This emphasis is entirely understandable, as most of the complex tools are best learned in a classroom setting, whereas the art of fieldwork seems more idiosyncratic. This division in training is not at all unlike the case with medical education, where technological competence wins out over the art of care, even though both are vital to effective therapy (see Good and Good “Learning Medicine” in Knowledge, Power, and Practice, 1993).

I also noted that Pigg’s zen-like approach generalizes to all the anthropological work we do, such as data collection and writing (and as Dr. B noted, to everything we do in life, really). It is essential when doing ethnography to drop one’s expectations of what is the ‘right’ answer. We can unconsciously convince ourselves beforehand what it is we will ‘hear’ from an attachment to our hypothesis, e.g., we could subtly be thinking “because a girl is rural, has a single mom, goes to a poor high school, therefore…” and be expectant of a response before it emerges, thus causing us to filter what the girl really is saying. The article resonated with Tina’s dissertation fieldwork experiences. She noted that the African-American girls she is studying in Tuscaloosa regarding their perception of HIV risk “take me to places with their comments” and bring up unexpected connections, such as the 2011 tornado. Tina cautioned that “we can lose context if we focus too narrowly.” Becky notes that we should be keenly aware of “what are our goals versus those of our informants.” From Achsah’s reading of the text, she perceived that “aid workers accept that the answers will be different from one culture group to another, but maybe not that the way to ask needs to be different also,” that one needs to re-do the whole process. Dr. B, an archaeologist, could easily generalize the article’s lesson to his cemeteries class in which on the first day he has his students “just walk around and observe” to soak it all in and generate ideas. Invariably, the student who immediately starts writing does not do well and becomes frustrated, as they focus too intently on the details to see the larger patterns. Greg was impressed and grateful that the author had written about the importance of ethnography. “By doing ethnography, we can focus on ‘insider meanings’ instead of imposing our agendas and ‘mining’ for data which supports our hypotheses. Through ethnography, we allow ourselves to be open and attend to aspects of culture which we may not have been prepared for or looking for.” For further reading Greg recommended Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, by Robert M. Emerson et al., to which Kathy added Learning How to Ask, by Charles Briggs

A special thanks to Tina Thomas for organizing the series, and to Sarah Szurek (PhD Alabama), Post-Doc at the University of Florida, for providing us a model of how the UF journal club functions. We’re looking forward to the next meeting!

Join our Biocultural Medical Faculty!

We are seeking a  cultural anthropologist with research interests in medical anthropology that converge with a biocultural focus.  Topical and geographic specialization are open.  Knowledge of both quantitative and qualitative research are expected.  Teaching responsibilities include specific core undergraduate and graduate level class and courses of one’s own development.  Please visit our Biocultural Medical Program and Anthropology Department pages for more information.

The Department of Anthropology of The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track Assistant Professor position in cultural anthropology beginning Fall 2014. Ph.D. in Anthropology is expected to be in hand at the time of the appointment. We seek a cultural anthropologist with research interests in medical anthropology that converge with the biocultural focus of the department. Topical and geographic specialization are open, although the applicant should complement existing specialties in the department and be well-versed in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The successful applicant will have research skills and interests that contribute directly to our undergraduate and graduate programs, with particular reference to our Ph.D. program and its focus on biocultural medical anthropology. The proposed faculty member will have teaching responsibilities that include specific core undergraduate and graduate level classes and courses of their own development.

To apply, go to http://facultyjobs.ua.edu and complete the online application. Attach a letter of application (outlining research interests, plans, and relevant experience) and a curriculum vitae. Send names of three potential referees and examples of manuscripts (for submission as publications and/or published articles; PDF format is desirable) and teaching evaluations, if available, directly to Dr. William W. Dressler, (wdressle@as.ua.edu), Cultural Anthropology Search Committee, Department of Anthropology, Box 870210, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, 35487-0210. Review of applications will begin December 15, 2013, and will continue until the position is filled. Members of the department will be attending the American Anthropological Association meetings in Chicago in November and will be available to answer any questions of prospective candidates.