In this course, we will investigate the multi-disciplinary study of biocultures. Readings and discussion will address the philosophical, social, economic, and political implications of the overlap of the cultural and the biological. How is nature culturally constructed? How does the conception of what is natural change over time and place? How do the stories we tell about nature impact the way we lead our lives both individually and collectively? Conversely, how does nature function as the material ground for culture itself?
The course is divided into three units. First, A Brief History of Biology and Its Relationship to Culture, considers the works of Charles Darwin and their broad-based impact on a range of fields from religion and philosophy to education and social thought. Our second unit, Gender, Race, and Political Economy, pairs philosophical texts by Simone de Beauvoir, Franz Fanon, and Michel Foucault with approaches drawn from the disciplines of anthropology, genetics, and behavioral economics. The third unit, Borderlands, examines four key interfaces of the biological and the cultural: natural/human-made environments (specifically the case of New Orleans); the study of primate behavior and the politics of its application to human behavior; the practice of techno-humanity or wired life; and the cognitive science of the embodied mind.
Finally, our three course units are bookended, up front, by Leonard Davis and David Morris’s “Biocultures Manifesto” (2007), which will help to situate our discussion at the crossroads of the biological and the cultural. We will conclude our readings for the semester with a selection of poems by Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Charles Baudelaire who present a range of visions—from enchantment to ambivalence to despair—of the human relationship to the natural world.