Beyond the biological and the social: anthropology as the study of human becomings

Gísli Pálsson (University of Iceland)
Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen)
Deborah Heath
Invited workshops
Arts Theatre 1
Start time:
26 August, 2010 at 11:30
Session slots:


Nominally, anthropology is the study of humanity. Yet historically, the very concept of the human has come to epitomise the existential dilemma of a creature that can claim to know itself as a species of nature only by way of its attainment to a condition of being that transcends this very nature. This dilemma has been both the source and the stumbling block for anthropological attempts to differentiate and integrate the 'social' and 'biological' dimensions of human existence. To break the deadlock, this session aims to resituate the human within a philosophy of becoming rather than being. Anthropology, then, is the study not of human beings but of human becomings. We can imagine every becoming as a way of life, a path through the world along which activities are carried on, skills developed, and knowledge and understandings grown. These becomings are biological, in the sense that they involve processes of organic growth, development and decay. And they are social, in the sense that they are entwined and mutually responsive. In the anthropological study of human becomings there is, then, no division between the biological and the social. Both are rather ways of describing the same process, that of life itself.