Relationship of biology with culture

Thesis Statement

Biology and culture are closely related to each other and significantly impact on our learning process and mutual interaction and learning new patterns through communication. for this paper, my research question is “what is the relationship of biology with culture” and I will offer my arguments on the basis of ethnographic analysis of male homosexuality drawn from two different societies.


It should be clear that biology and culture are not distinct rather are closely related. According to Ingold, “the incorporation of human social life into a unified theory of organic evolution will require nothing less than a paradigm shift within biology and culture itself” (1999: p. 208). He further asserts that the essence of all life, most particularly social life, is process, the process of contiguous socialization and cultural development. According to Ingold, man is a unique creature characterized of biological evolution that makes man truly a creature apart from all other species.

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Initially, anthropologists believed that culture was a product of biological evolution, and that cultural evolution depended exclusively on physical conditions. Today’s anthropologists no longer believe it is this simple. Neither culture nor biology is solely responsible for the other.

What makes man a unique creature is its ability to be cultured. However, it is not easy to explain what makes behavior cultural.  According to Goldschmidt (1993) all the mankind is programmed to have culture. He further stresses that ‘behavior can be seen as potentially cultural to the degree that is motivated by situation factors and to the degree that these situational factors are learned’. But culture, he continues, means the systematization of such learned situational motivations (p. 342). The theory of relationship of biology with culture presented by Goldschmidt (1990) explains that through the gradual learned process, the genetically programmed behavior has been either extinguished or over-ridden. After reaching a critical mass, the learned behavior became systematic and at this point we may say that our ancestors had acquired culture. However, culture depends, to a great extent, on communication and interaction within the race and with other species. This evolution process of acquiring culture is well explained by Hans Kummer (1971) who explained the relationship between genetic programming and learned behavior among baboons. What distinguishes Hamadryas from other baboons is that they have one male band in which the females are closely herded. While conducting his research, Kummer introduced animals from on species with the other one to see how they might mutually interact and what behavioral patters might be formed. This experiment revealed that the animals introduced to other species first behaved according to their own species. However, after persistent interaction they adjusted their behavior according to that of its counterpart. From the experiment Kumar concluded formation of this behavioral pattern as dominated by genetic programming which is modified by learning factor. Thus, it can be said that our genetic programming can be modified through interaction and communication. This is the way, particular cultural norms and patterns are developed.

Sample Thesis | Relationship of biology with culture
Sample Thesis | Relationship of biology with culture

In the following sections, I will analyze the relationship between biology and culture and explain how cultural pattern are influenced by biological programming of men’s nature and how human biology impacts the human culture. As Ingold (1990) has explained, biology is the science of living organisms; anthropology is the science of living people. Anthropology, in his words, falls entirely within the domain of biology (p. 208). For this purpose, I will rely on the ethnographic analysis of male homosexuality from two different societies so the sexual relationships can be explained in different cultures.

Gender, Sex and subjectivity

In order to understand the phenomena of male homosexuality, I will focus my attention of Butler’s work on gender and sexuality. In her best know work Gender Trouble (1990) Butler argues against the line of thinking originally advanced by Simone de Beauvoir, and celebrated in the identity politics that informs much of second wave feminism. Butler takes issue with de Beauvoir’s famous dictum that, “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (1989: p. 267) and causal relationship between a presumably stable, pregiven biological sex and a cultural/socially constructed gender implied by this statement. On Butler’s view gender is not simply a cultural artifact constructed on the bedrock of two distinct, unconstructed sexes that exist as uncontestable biological categories. On the contrary, she advances that sex is “always already” gender:

And what is “sex” anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such “facts” for us? …. Are the ostensible natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests? If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this constructed called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all (1990: p. 7).

From this perspective, de Beauvoir’s notion of “becoming” a woman implies an a priori sexual subjectivity that is then “gendered” through a socialization process. This is precisely the assumption that Butler wishes to challenge. “it would make no sense, then, to define gender as the cultural interpretation of sex, if sex itself is a gendered category” (7). Through a critical reading of Foucault, most notably his treatment of the hermaphrodite Herculin Barbin (93), Butler suggests that  the sex/gender binary may be culturally and temporally specific. “Gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a pregiven sex; gender must also designate the very apparatus whereby the sexes themselves are established” (7).

Critics have charged that while this theoretical reconfiguration opens up exciting avenues of thought, it leaves the concept of gender largely undefined. Mary McIntosh remarks that “If, as Butler claims, ‘The ostensible natural facts of sex are discursively produced by various scientific discourses,’ what follows is not that sex was “gender all along,” but that both “sex and “gender” are meaningless” (McIntosh 1991: 114). Butler responds by arguing that gender is only meaningless in terms of substance; indeed, one of her central claims is that gender is all surface and no substance. It consistently presents itself as the natural consequence of biological sex. Butler’s point is that gender’s apparent interiority is derived not from nature, but from performativity.

Innovation and  experimentation that characterize many gay male cultures more closely associates them with the ars erotica tradition rather than with scientia sexualis. The body’s pleasures, rather than expert authority, is the final arbiter of  the “truth of sex within many of these cultures. The temporary escape form normalizing judgments implied here extends to gender, although not  absolutely. For the most part, gay sexual cultures have liberated bodily pleasures that in traditional contexts have been thoroughly feminized – e.g., pleasures of the anus and nipples. However, one has to go beyond the individual body, considered in isolation and restricted in its capacities for pleasure by a gendered logic that puts certain areas of the body “off limits” to get full picture.

Concept of male homosexuality in Western Society

The Western scientific discourses of sexuality involves categorizing and taxonomizing people according to “normal” and “deviant” sexual characters. Scientific sexology initiates a project of “constructing” sexual identities within the bounds of labels and deviant identities promulgated by experts claiming institutional authority. In an influential version of this theory, Michel Foucault singles out the “homosexual” label as an example of a type of “sexual species.” Foucault thus understood homosexuality as the product of authoritative discourses that were never merely descriptive, but instead served as a tool for discrediting some people on the grounds of a degenerate “sexual nature” believed to be “internally inscribed.” Individuals who accepted this discrediting identity with little resistance participated in their own self marginalization.

Those who internalized the aberrant qualities said to be associated with a deviant sexual type could find themselves acting in accordance with the expectations of self-debasement and personal pathology. Thus, according to the Foucaultian critique, the concept of sexuality is a means of social control, inscribed from the top-down by bureaucratically legitimated authority figures. He conceived of sexual identity as disempowering to those who submit to its conceptual power – those who fail to resist or question it.

The sex market model emphasizes greater freedom of self-determination and personal agency than the constructionist analysis. Sex markets come into existence, in the first instance, when a large enough number of individuals with complementary erotic interests seek each other out. In urban centers, the sex markets come to form a critical mass in which the supply of an erotically valued category of potential partners is large enough to meet the demand for such partners. People with erotic demands that are not easily fulfilled in the sexual marketplaces in smaller, rural or suburban settings migrate to an urban center, or, if they have the means, even to a foreign country. Many Western men, seeking to participate in the gay lifestyle, migrate to urban centers order to seek out a sex market where their erotic fantasy is more readily available and their personal value on the market is higher. Greater selection of potential love objects and greater erotic capital of the “buyer” functions to lower the cost of search in such markets. Migration to even more exotic sex markets, where the calculus of what is valued and devalued can vary in the traveler’s favor, has generated a sex tourist industry among older Western gay men.

Asian Perspective of Homosexuality

The sexual marketplaces in Hong Kong and Thailand arise in response to the personal erotic demands of individual actors, both locals and visiting tourists. The sexual marketplaces form an officially tolerated, commercially and informally supported network of businesses and noncommercial meeting places. As a product of collective action, constructed in part by entrepreneurs to meet a market demand, the sexual marketplaces are not dictated by some authoritarian power structure, such as scientific or legal discourses designed to debase or “discipline bodies.” By the Western standards which Foucault saw as disempowering, Thai men’s bodies are remarkably undisciplined. Homosexual relations between Thai men and foreign tourists are often supported by families of the young men who enter sexual relations with foreign men, and male sex workers are generally ignored by the police, in the context of a relative absence of authoritarian pronouncements. Many Westerners interpret this official indifference to the homosexual behavior of men as a sign of a “tolerant” society, free of homophobic Western influences. In fact, Thais are motivated to indifference and tolerance toward Western gay tourists because of the positive externalities these sex markets generate; too many people indirectly benefit as third party stakeholders from the money, business, and patronage relations the gay tourists bring into the country for there to be widespread intolerance or serious condemnation. Thais generally appear tolerant and accepting of many public behaviors Thais would avoid in other contexts. Plainly homosexual couples are prominently visible in most public spaces and upscale businesses. Because the locals are interested stakeholders in the money and business the gay foreign tourists bring in, the attitude is one of polite tolerance and even facilitation and support. The relationships are tolerated and even catered to because of the positive social externalities they generate.

Western Influence of Homosexuality on Asian Culture


The gay role as an ideal type provides the background assumptions that Western men bring to their social and sexual interactions with Thai men. These assumptions and expectations about erotic love between men are frequently a source of cross-cultural confusion and misunderstanding for Westerners confronted with the anomalous behavior of the Thai men who have sexual relations with other men, yet fail in other ways to fully conform to gay role expectations.


In order to understand the ideology of the modern, Western gay role at the end of the twentieth century, I will first give a brief summary of the modernizing forces that changed the nature of heterosexual marriage, courtship, gender roles, and sexual relations in the industrialized West. Much of the Western assumptions of what it means to be gay developed simultaneously alongside and in contrast with the dominant suppositions of what it means to be straight. The marked “deviant” category “homosexual” and the unmarked “normal” category “heterosexual” can thus be said to constitute a mutually constructing set in the West. I rely on the historiography of Barry Adam (1985) and John D’Emilio (1983) in sketching the following broad summary of the recent development of heterosexuality and homosexuality as personal identities with implications for proper intimate human relations and gender role performance in the modern West.

Radical changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns in the twentieth century industrialized world contributed to the restructuring of heterosexual relations. Sociologist Anthony Giddens (1992) analyzes these changes in the courtship and marital relations between men and women in his book The Transformation of Intimacy. Some of the trends that Giddens implicates in changes in human sexual relations in the West include the decline in the ideology of procreative duty, advances in birth control technology, and increasing popularity of the romantic ideal of companionate marriage.

Giddens indicated increased freedom from kin obligations as a fundamental shift in the structure of heterosexual relations in the West. Unlike contemporary societies such as Japan where the tradition of interested third parties playing a central role in arranging marriages between young men and women continues to this day, the selection of a marriage partner in Western societies became increasingly a matter of personal choice, and less of a concern of one’s extended kin group. Because young unmarried people were faced with the new responsibility of finding their own mate, the institution of dating developed.

In the context of dating, the ideology of romantic love as essential to spouse selection grew in popularity. Fantasies of finding one’s “true love” or romantic love match also extended into the marital relationship, so companionate marriage increasingly gained favor over the more pragmatic duties of a traditional marriage as a heterosexual ideal.

Technological innovations in birth control minimized some of the risks of premarital sexual experimentation, and corroded the cult of female virginity in the Protestant West. Birth control technology also made it increasingly possible for married couples to choose to limit or delay childbirth; demands of professional advancement and long-term career planning made such a choice increasingly reasonable among the middle class. The phenomenon of small families or childless couples further reinforced the ideology of companionate marriage, in which the affectionate bond between the husband and wife were a primary justification of the marriage, and the absence of affectionate bonds a reason for the dissolution of a marriage.

The new ideal of the companionate marriage placed value on the mutual emotional investment of the spouses as the measure of a marriage’s success. This modern view of wedlock conceived of marriage as an institution structured primarily by emotional investment in the spouse, rather than an obligation to one’s parents or extended kin group, fulfillment of compulsory procreative duties, or even obligation to the children.

The companionate marriage ideal in some ways opposes the traditional marriage ideal. The earlier non-companionate, or pragmatic, model of marriage conceives the provision of a stable home environment in which to rear children as a central purpose of the institution. This pragmatic model of marriage geared toward childrearing is still favored among some social conservatives and some religious groups in America today. The institution is structured by a gendered division of labor, in which the husband was assigned the role of breadwinner, and the wife the role of homemaker. The companionate marriage, which increasingly grew in favor over the pragmatic marriage among the educated, urban, and professional classes in the industrialized West over the course of the twentieth century, promoted a more equitable division of labor between the spouses, and prized the ideal of mutual emotional investment between married partners as a key measure of the success of the marriage.