Biological Anthropology Section
Central States Anthropological Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Biological normalcy is a new conceptual framework advanced to better understand human biological variation from a biocultural perspective. Specifically, it considers the relationships between normative social views of, and statistical norms for, human biological variation. Populations are characterized by statistical norms for biological traits, i.e. measures of central tendancy and variance, and these co-exist in societies with ideas about what constitutes “normal” human bodies, i.e. normative views about what bodies “should” be like. While statistical norms for biological traits presumably carry no explicit evaluative weight, the question arises as to how they are related to judgements about what is “normal” or “abnormal.” In her 1947 paper on the psychosomatic approach, Margaret Mead grappled with this: “normal…may refer to the statistically usual in the culture – usually without any recognition that this is culturally relative – so that the statistically usual is identified with the basically human….” Despite her observations over seventy years ago, little has been done on this topic, yet such work promises new insights into the relationship between biology, here described at the population level (rather than individual genetic characteristics), and culture. In this introduction we outline the ways in which an examination of the two definitions of normal sheds light on how observations of others in a population may influence individuals’ perceptions of what is “normal” (Mead’s “basically human”), lead to normative judgements about what human biology “should” be (“ethno-biocentrism”), and potentially feedback to mold the biological characterisics of a population (through medical treatments, mate selection, etc).