Van den Berghe, Pierre

Van den Berghe, Pierre

Bio: (1933-2019) Belgian-American sociologist and anthropologist. Pierre van den Berghe received his Ph.d. from Harvard University and taught at the University of South Africa and the University of Washington. He has conducted field ethnographic research in South Africa, Mexico, and the Middle East.

Van den Berghe was one of the first representatives of the sociobiological perspective in sociology, although he used the term "biosocial perspective" before this approach became more widely known as sociobiology. He believes that human sociability is a genetic predisposition acquired during evolution. In the past, sociability has increased the chances of survival and reproduction of the human species, so genes that promote sociability have increased the genetic fitness of the species. Human sociability functions through three mechanisms: 1) kinship selection - helping those with whom we share genes; 2) reciprocity - long-term relationships of mutual assistance and 3) coercion - a relationship between persons who are not genetically related, in which one person increases his chances of survival, at the expense of another person. Van den Berghe uses a sociobiological approach to explain many social phenomena: class solidarity, family relations, ethnicity, sexual selection, etc. However, he believes that our innate predispositions can be modified by environmental or cultural factors such as ideology or technology. In modern society, culture has extremely great power, so it can act against maximizing the genetic fitness of the species.

In his book The Ethnic Phenomenon (1981), Van den Berghe presents a theory of ethnicity, based on the organization of our mind, and supported by genetic and paleoanthropological evidence. Our mind still functions at the clan level, to give us answers to key life questions: who am I ?; who are those who belong to my group ?; who are the foreigners? Since we do not live in small clans today, our mind finds an alternative substitute for a clan in the concept of ethnic group or nation. Our mind is looking for some common characteristics - historical, cultural, biological - that will serve for ethnic identification and demarcation from other nations.


Main works

Caneville: the Social Structure of a South African Town (1964);  

Africa: Social Problems of Change and Conflict (1965);

Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective (1967);

Academic Gamesmanship: How to Make a Ph.D. Pay (1970);

Intergroup Relations: Sociological Perspectives (1972);

Age and Sex in Human Societies: A Biosocial Perspective (1973);

Power and Privilege at an African University (1973);

„Bringing Beasts Back In: Toward a Biosocial Theory of Aggression”, in American Sociological Review (1974);

Man in Society: A Biosocial View (1975);

Race and Ethnicity in Africa (1975);

Inequality in the Peruvian Andes: Class and Ethnicity in Cuzco (1977);

Inclusive Fitness and Human Family Structure (1977);

Human Family Systems: An Evolutionary View (1979);

Liberal Dilemma in South Africa (1979);

South Africa, a Study in Conflict (1980);

The Ethnic Phenomenon (1981);

State Violence and Ethnicity (1990);

The Quest for the Other: Ethnic Tourism in San Cristobal, Mexico (1994);

Multicultural Democracy: Can it Work? (2002).

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