Donnerstag, 13. November 2014, 18:30 - 20:00 iCal

Departmental Seminar - Richard B. Lee

Hunter-gatherers and the Human Nature Debate: A Critique of the “Bellicose School”

Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie, HS A
Universitätsstraße 7, NIG 4. Stock, 1010 Wien

Antrittsvorlesung, Public Lecture

In writing about human behavioural evolution there has been a recent resurgence of theories that posit an unbroken species history of violence, beginning from our primate ancestors, through the Pleistocene, and continuing through the Neolithic to the present era. Books by such authors as Richard Wrangham, Lawrence Keeley, Steven LeBlanc and Steven Pinker make this their core thesis. While acknowledging that the era of states, empires and imperialism has been characterized by massive fatalities from warfare, the paper will raise serious questions about the key assertion of unbroken continuity. Through the 200,000 years of the evolution of Homo sapiens, hunting and gathering represents 95 percent of the history of our species. The archaeological and ethnographic evidence for this way of life clearly demonstrates low levels of violent conflict for historically nomadic foragers, and this is in marked contrast to Neolithic and subsequent stages of human history. This finding exposes serious flaws in the theories of human evolution presented by authors I have labelled the “bellicose school” and highlights the urgent need for theories built on alternate premises.


Richard B. Lee is a University Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He has held academic appointments at Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia Universities, and research positions at Australian National and Kyoto Universities. His research interests include human rights and indigenous peoples, ecology and history, AIDS, the politics of culture and the anthropology of state societies. He is internationally known for his studies starting in 1963, of hunting and gathering societies, particularly the Ju/'hoansi-!Kung San of Botswana and Namibia. His works include “Man the Hunter” (1968) edited with Irven DeVore. “The !Kung San” (1979), “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers” (1999 [2004]) edited with Richard Daly, and “The Dobe Ju/’hoansi Fourth Edition” (2013), as well as over 130 articles and book chapters. Honours include Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), and past-presidency of the Canadian Anthropology Society. Lee holds honorary Doctorates from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Guelph University for his research and advocacy on behalf of indigenous peoples.


Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie


Mag. Marie-Therese Hartwig
Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie