Home | RBHS | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
About Us Divisions Centers & Programs Faculty & Staff Publications Events

All Publications

What's Normal?: Reconciling Biology and Culture

Allan V. Horwitz

Oxford University Press
Since the emergence of Western philosophy and science among the Classical Greeks, debates have raged over the relative significance of biology and culture on an individual’s behavior. Today, recent advances in genetics and biological science have pushed many scholars past the tired nature versus nurture debate to examine the various ways in which the natural and the social interact to influence human behavior. This brings a fresh approach to this emerging perspective. Rather than try to solve these issues universally, the text demonstrates that both social and biological mechanisms have varying degrees of influence in different situations. Through case studies of human universals such as incest aversion, fear, appetite, grief, and sex, the book first discusses the extreme instances in which biology determines behavior, in which culture dominates, and in which culture overrides basic biological instincts. It then details the variety of ways in which genes and environments interact—for instance, the primal drive to eat and store calories when food supplies were scarce and behavioral patterns in a society in which food is abundant and obesity is stigmatized. Now that it is often easier to change our biology rather than our culture, an understanding of which behaviors and traits are simply normal or abnormal, and which are pathological or necessitate treatment, is more important than ever.

Allan V. Horwitz. What's Normal?: Reconciling Biology and Culture, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.