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  Sociobiology, a discipline which straddles anthropology, the life sciences and sociology, is the study of interaction in biological systems. It concentrates on explanations of how instances of social behaviour have evolved, and to what extent social behaviour is prescribed in the genes. It has been of interest since the early 1970s, and in particular since the publication, in 1975, of Sociobiology: the New Synthesis, by the US zoologist Edward Wilson. Until this time, although an evolutionary continuity between other animals and human beings had long been recognized, most biologists had tended to emphasize the distinctive qualities of the human species. Wilson and others challenged this assumption, claiming by contrast that there are innumerable parallels between human behaviour and that of other animals. For example, some species of animals have elaborate courtship rituals, leading to sexual union and reproduction—and according to sociobiologists, human courtship and sexual behaviour involve similar rituals, similarly based on inborn characteristics.

The aspiration of sociobiology is to bring together aspects of anthropology biology and sociology into a single scientific discipline, studying (for example) social insects and social primates with an emphasis on particular types of behaviour (such as aggression and altruism). Genetic determinants are one area of study; others are the behaviour of a given group and the elements which make it up: age, communication, division of labour, organization, sex ratio, size and so on. But although scholars with biological training tend to be sympathetic to its claims, anthropologists and sociologists are usually more sceptical. There is also a fundamental (and perhaps less territorial) objection: that the discipline is inescapably anthropomorphic, that it is impossible for human observers to avoid colouring their researches with reference to their own societies. Sociobiologists have begun to address this issue, but the discipline is too recent, and perhaps too controversial, for an agreed methodology to have become established. DA RB RK

See also ethology; gender; sexuality; social construction of reality.Further reading K. Bock, Human Nature and History: a Response to Sociobiology; , Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene; , J.F. Eisenberg and , W.S. Dillon (eds.), Man and Beast: Comparative Social Behaviour.



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