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Why a theory of human nature cannot be based on the distinction between universality and variability: Lessons from anthropology

  • Rita Astuti (a1) and Maurice Bloch (a1)


We welcome the critical appraisal of the database used by the behavioral sciences, but we suggest that the authors' differentiation between variable and universal features is ill conceived and that their categorization of non-WEIRD populations is misleading. We propose a different approach to comparative research, which takes population variability seriously and recognizes the methodological difficulties it engenders.



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Astuti, R. & Harris, P. L. (2008) Understanding mortality and the life of the ancestors in Madagascar. Cognitive Science 32:713–40.
Astuti, R., Solomon, G. E. A. & Carey, S. (2004) Constraints on conceptual development. A case study of the acquisition of folkbiological and folksociological knowledge in Madagascar. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 69, Serial No. 277; 69(3):vii135.
Bloch, M. (2005) Where did anthropology go? Or the need for “human nature.” In: Essays on cultural transmission, ed. Bloch, M., pp. 119. Berg.


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