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Culture, Nature, and History: The Case of Ancient Sexuality

  • Kyle Harper (a1)

This article analyzes the configuration of biology, anthropology, and history over the last generation by taking the sub-field of the “history of sexuality” as a case study. The history of sexuality developed at a particularly important site of engagement with neighboring disciplines. I argue that the concepts of nature and culture that came to prevail among historians of sexuality were deeply influenced by the debate between a particular strand of evolutionary biology, namely sociobiology, and its critics, who were committed to cultural hermeneutics. This debate encouraged a formulation of nature and culture which is effectively dualist and which remains present within the sub-field. By focusing the analysis on the study of ancient (classical Mediterranean) sexuality, I seek detailed insights into the reception of this debate within a specific domain of historical investigation, one whose stakes have been particularly high because of the intervention of Michel Foucault. The article closes by arguing that biologists and anthropologists in the last two decades have advanced the study of culture as a part of nature, and that historians have much to gain by engaging with more recent models. The institution of monogamy is highlighted as an emerging theme of investigation that can only be approached with the unified insights of history, anthropology, and biology.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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