This review aims to explore the relationship between anthropology and genetics, an intellectual zone that has been occupied in different ways over the past century. One way to think about it is to contrast a classical “anthropological genetics” (Roberts 1965), that is to say, a genetics that presumably informs anthropological issues or questions, with a “genomic anthropology” (Pálsson 2008), that is to say, an anthropology that complements and relativizes modern genomics (on the model of, say, medical anthropology and legal anthropology).1 This review argues that a principal contribution of anthropology to the study of human heredity lies in the ontology of genetic facts. For anthropology, genetic facts are not natural, with meanings inscribed on them, but are instead natural/cultural: The natural facts have cultural information (values, ideologies, meanings) integrated into them, not layered on them. To understand genetic facts involves confronting their production, which has classically been restricted to questions of methodology but which may be conceptualized more broadly. This review is not intended as a critique of the field of anthropological genetics, but as a reformulation of its central objects of study. I argue for reconceptualizing the ontology of scientific facts in anthropological genetics, not as (value-neutral) biological facts situated in a cultural context, but instead as inherently biocultural facts.

Keyword(s): DNAevolutionhuman heredity

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  • Article Type: Review Article
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