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Chimpanzee Culture WarsRethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists$
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Nicolas Langlitz

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691204284

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691204284.001.0001

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Multiculturalism beyond the Human

Multiculturalism beyond the Human

(p.55) 2 Multiculturalism beyond the Human
Chimpanzee Culture Wars

Nicolas Langlitz

Princeton University Press

This chapter offers a historical account of the chimpanzee culture wars. Scientifically, the debate pitted field biologists against experimental psychologists, and proponents of human–animal continuity against those interested primarily in what set Homo sapiens apart from other primate species. Chimpanzee ethnographers struggled with the question of whether they had to exclude genetic and ecological explanations to determine the cultural nature of behavioral differences. Politically, challenges to the dualist ontology of one nature and many human cultures became part of a much larger battle over biological humanism that had emerged after World War II to rein in the excesses of Nazi racial ideology. In the culture wars, a new ethnos-centered left broke with this false universalism in the name of multiculturalism. In the chimpanzee culture wars, cultural primatologists suggested extending multiculturalism beyond the human. But just as they adopted the culture concept, many cultural anthropologists decided in the late 1980s to write against culture. They now suspected that talk about cultural differences served the very racist “othering” that it had been meant to replace. Alienated by the moralism of their colleagues in the humanities, cultural primatologists continued their exploration of chimpanzee cultures in a positivist vein.

Keywords:   human-animal continuity, human cultures, biological humanism, culture wars, multiculturalism, cultural primatologists, cultural anthropologists, cultural differences, chimpanzee cultures

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