Rethinking reproduction in human evolutionary research
BirthRites Independent Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
In this talk I would like to critique and try to reframe the way that evolutionary researchers approach human reproductive behavior. Master narratives of human evolution have long promoted a naturalized, eco- logically determinist account of reproductive decision-making: these are usually narrowly tied to resource acquisition and to the energetics of re- production. Concepts like ‘natural fertility’ raise more problems than they address. Problematic dichotomies between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ so- cieties are often based on the number of children people have, or on how individually ‘calculated’ reproductive decisions are, or on the use of so- called ‘modern’ contraceptives, all of which obscure how central cultural dynamics are to reproduction. Tacitly assuming reproduction is a private or a domestic activity, generally limited to women, also neglects the fact that it is often a public and a political domain. These conceptual slip- pages and shorthands can make the cultural influences on reproduction invisible, in both the past and the present. Drawing on my own research on the dynamics of fertility decline as well as on broader work in cul- tural evolution, cultural anthropology and anthropological demography, I would like to reframe reproduction as a central activity around which culture and demography co-evolve.