Neuroanthropology vs. Cultural Neuroscience
The social, affective, and cultural neurosciences largely overlap with one another as well as with neuroanthropology and transcultural neuroimaging (Domínguez Duque et al. 2009, 2010; Han and Northoff 2008; Lende and Downey 2012a); labels such as “sociocultural neuroscience” are forged to underline interconnections (Wajman et al. 2015). At the same time, these emerging disciplines are engaged in dynamics of differentiation. In particular, neuroanthropologists have emphasized the differences between their approach and that of cultural neuroscience (Domínguez Duque 2012, Lende and Downey 2012a). While, in their view, cultural neuroscience wishes above all to provide brain-level explanations, neuroanthropology aims to combine such explanations with an ethnographic perspective.
To the extent that neuroanthropology draws its main concepts and questions from cultural anthropology, it emphasizes fieldwork as its empirical basis and is as a consequence less inclined to use neuroimaging, which requires an experimental setting. That is why most neuroanthropological studies limit themselves to citing brain research and juxtaposing it to other kinds of materials, drawn directly from the study of cultural settings and situations [...].
In contrast to neuroanthropology, cultural neuroscience uses neuroimaging so systematically that it is often described as “cultural neuroimaging.” This is not to say that neuroanthropology would benefit from turning to neuroimaging but that imaging methods have so far been the chief way of going empirically beyond merely juxtaposing the neurobiological and the cultural. The question is whether they satisfy the stated purpose of illuminating culture.
A question that could be raised at this point is: why is there a need for neuroanthropology when cultural neuroscience is already addressing issues of concern for neuroanthropology? My colleagues and I have dealt with this question in some detail (Domínguez et al. 2009a, 2009b). Here I will highlight the fact that cultural neuroscience operates exclusively in terms of explanation and shares the shortcomings of purely objectivistic disciplines. Neuroanthropology is necessary because, by integrating understanding and explanation (as well as research methods from anthropology and neuroscience; chiefly, but not only, participant observation and brain imaging), it will be in a better position to move back and forth between the neural, the phenomenal and the cultural domains.Domínguez Duque, Juan F. 2012. Neuroanthropology and the Dialectical Imperative. Anthropological The...Domínguez Duque, Juan F. 2010. Neuroanthropology: A Humanistic Science for the Study of the Culture-...