J. I. Staley Prize

Since 1988, the School for Advanced Research has presented the J. I. Staley Prize to a living author for a book that exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries within anthropology and reach out in new and expanded interdisciplinary directions.

The prize, which carries a cash award of $10,000, is presented at an award ceremony hosted by the School for Advanced Research during the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding

The 2012 J. I. Staley Prize was awarded to:

Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding

by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Harvard University Press, 2009

Citation by the 2012 Staley Prize Selection Panel:

Hrdy’s sophisticated and provocative book delivers a fundamental rethinking of the emergence of uniquely human social behavior. Her transformative analysis marshals paleontology, primatology, ethnology, and evolutionary science to argue for a complex emotional capacity among hominins that evolved well before the emergence of Homo sapiens. The reproductive success of the hominins relied on cooperative parenting and the singular capacity of infants to elicit affective bonds with those who nurtured them. Mothers and Others demonstrates convincingly that cooperative parenting played a key role in the emergence of prosocial tendencies, which underlies what Hrdy calls the “emotionally modern human.”

In clear, powerful, occasionally humorous prose, she demonstrates how evolutionary theories of human behavior can be articulated and consonant with a broad range of anthropological scholarship. The book casts new light on contemporary understandings of parenting, family, and community and challenges us to question assumptions about the primacy of the Western nuclear family.

The following paragraph from the book launches Hrdy’s theory and the question upon which her research is based: Why us and not them?

I will propose that a long, long time ago, at some unknown point in our evolutionary history but before the evolution of 1,350 cc sapient brains, and before such distinctively human traits as language (the hallmark of behaviorally modern humans), there emerged in Africa a line of apes that began to be interested in the mental and subjective lives—the thoughts and feelings—of others, interested in understanding them. These apes were markedly different from the common ancestors they shared with chimpanzees, and in this respect were emotionally modern.

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