The strange survival and apparent resurgence of sociobiology

History of the Human Sciences 31 (1):19-35 (2018)
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A recent dispute between Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson concerning fundamental concepts in sociobiology is examined. It is argued that sociobiology has not fared well since the 1970s, and that its survival as a ‘scientific’ perspective has been increasingly tenuous. This is, at least in part, because it has failed to move forward in the ways its developers anticipated, but also because it has not seen the developments in natural history, genomics and social science it was relying upon. It is argued that sociobiology has become a purely utilitarian perspective, a way of looking at things, reliant increasingly on studies of the behaviour of social insects for its scientific credentials. The dispute between Dawkins and Wilson is then reconsidered in this light, and it is argued that – regardless of which position prevails – sociobiology’s parlous state as a means of explaining action is now difficult to disguise.



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Alex Dennis
University of Sheffield

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