The potential relevances of biology to social inquiry

Jeremy Freese*, Jui Chung Allen Li, Lisa D. Wade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Sociologists often react with hostility to explanations that evoke biology, and some critics of the discipline contend that this "biophobia" undermines the credibility of sociology and makes it seem increasingly irrelevant in larger public debates. The negative reactions are many times diffuse and undiscerning of the different endeavors lumped together whenever one speaks broadly of biological (or "biosocial") explanations. We seek to introduce greater awareness of these distinctions with a review organized in terms of some of the distinct ways that the biological can be asserted to be relevant to the conduct of social inquiry. The review has three sections. First, we discuss assertions of the relevance of the human evolutionary past for understanding the character of human nature, for which evolutionary psychology currently receives the most attention. Second, we consider the work of behavioral genetics and the assertion of the relevance of genetic differences between persons for understanding differences in behaviors and outcomes. Third, we consider assertions of the relevance of particular proximate bioindicators for understanding how the biological and social interact, focusing particularly on studies of testosterone and the prospects of developments in neuroscientific measurement. We do not believe that developments in these fields will force sociologists to acquire considerable biological expertise to pursue questions central to the discipline, but we do advocate further efforts from biologically minded sociologists to articulate understandings of the relationship between sociology and biology that will continue to push us past the commonplace view that biological and sociological explanations are inevitably opposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-256
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - 2003


  • Behavioral genetics
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Neurosociology
  • Sociobiology
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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