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The use of the concept of adaptation in Antropology: a historical-epistemological analysis

Grant number: 13/07258-3
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Scientific Initiation
Effective date (Start): December 01, 2013
Effective date (End): November 30, 2014
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Anthropology - Theory of Anthropology
Principal Investigator:Rui Sérgio Sereni Murrieta
Grantee:Larissa de Rezende Tanganelli
Host Institution: Instituto de Biociências (IB). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


The central objective of this research is to do a preliminar historical reflection about the concept of adaptation in anthropology. Considering its origin as being directly associated to the biological sciences, the idea that form, physiology and behavior would have an adaptative function in the human societies have being part of the occidental phylosophycal reflection. One of the most important characteristic of the concept of adaptation is its polisemicl use, interpreted and exposed in the most diverse ways in this 150 years of evolutionary biology history. Some of the questions concerning to the uses rest in the high implementation of the teleological thought when thinking of applying the concept, which most evident consequences were the adaptationist program; the possible categories of its use, when it is possible to think them as occurring in the levels of the individual or population (of the species); the methodological difficulties to measure the adaptability of a trait, or the same when determining what is an "advantage"; the target upon the natural selection acts , establishing an antagonism between the categories of genotype and environment, its origin thought as being historical or non-historical and, at last, the question if it is possible to understand them as a result of a process or as a process itself. The appropriation of the concept by the anthropology since the 40's bring to this discipline a lot of questions composing some of the major teorical and epistemological controversies of the evolutionary biology. It is not simple to know when a behavior or a trait can or cannot be considered adaptative, or even to know if it is possible to consider the use of this concept to designate human behaviors and culture. Although the concept have been much relevant in Anthropology, specially the American one; in Brazil have been made just a little discussions about the specifications and the relevance of the concept in the discipline. Besides that, there is a growing interest in the use of this adaptationist teorical matrix in the socio-cultural anthropology, particularly in the socio-ecological, socio-environmental and socio-evolutionist orientations. Thus, this research proposes the beginning of the debate about this subject. With this, we hope to rescue an important teorical instrument that is still important and needs more historical-epistemologycal elucidation in the context of the Brazilian socio-cultural anthropology. (AU)

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