Review of Seligman & Brown, "Theory and method at the intersection of anthropology and cultural neuroscience"
by Vanessa Marshall
“Theory and method at the intersection of anthropology and cultural neuroscience” by Rebecca Seligman and Ryan Brown builds the idea of cultural neuroscience as the marriage of cultural anthropology and neuroscience. The ideas presented are very similar to the ideas that have been discussed in class: combining aspects of anthropology observational research with more scientific experimental methodologies. Anthropologists’ contributions are built around the idea of embodiment – the way that socio-cultural factors influence form, behavior, and subjective experience of human bodies. Social cognitive neuroscientists’ contributions are built around revealing the mechanisms of embodiment by investigating the neural underpinnings and consequences of social experience. Embodiment in culture is recognized as lacking biological and cognitive mechanisms through which to process bodily function and experience via social processes. Biological anthropologists are acknowledged as having made use of sophisticated measurements, but the results are static outcomes of social forces rather than indicators of how physiological systems function dynamically within the realm of social experience.
The authors specifically build on three “interconnected domains of inquiry in which the intersection of neuroscience and anthropology can productively inform our understanding of the relationship between human brains and their socio-cultural contexts: the social construction of emotion, cultural psychiatry, and the embodiment of ritual.” They also advocate the development of field studies that use portable measurement technologies to connect individual patterns of biological response with socio-cultural processes.