I’ve been interested in the interdependence of biological and social processes for a long time now, without nearly as much to show for it as I’d like. The empirical work in this area has a long way to go, but it’s as plain to me that as much of the problem is conceptual: the point where sociology has the potential to be the best social science is always in terms of the big picture, and the big picture for biological and social interdependence is extremely difficult to think or theorize effectively about.
Of course a big hurdle is the ugly history of using biological arguments for social injustices, as whatever steps one tries to take here so morally and politically freighted that it feels like trying to theorize through a minefield. It’s not like you can be a sociologist and just spitball ideas about this stuff in a seminar.
Sometimes I do throw out vague statements, with as wise-sounding intones as I can muster, like “genetic causation always happens in social fields” and “genetic causes and social causes are interdependent in ways that go so far beyond just saying that they ‘interact’.” Ugh. Painfully unsatisfying; makes me feel like an impostor.
Awhile back, though, I devoured the single most intellectually stimulating work about any of this that I’ve ever read: The Sports Gene, by David Epstein, a sportswriter. The book has all kinds of scientish-particulars about muscle fibers and ankle widths and whatever, swaths of which one should expect will be overturned. None of that is the point. What’s inspiring about the point is all the different ways its examples bring the biological and social into contact.
This has me on a broader kick of reading about elite sport, and thinking about its potential as a model phenomenon. The idea is basically to consider elite sport as not as a substantive end in its own right, but as a lever toward trying to obtain a more complete way of talking about processes of biological-social interdependence.