Gilbert Herdt

American anthropologist (born 1949)

Gilbert Herdt (born February 24, 1949) is an American cultural anthropologist who specializes in sexuality and gender identity-based cultures. His studies of the "Sambia" people — a pseudonym he created — of Papua New Guinea analyzes how culture and society create sexual meanings and practices.

Quotes edit

  • Both social and biosocial factors are necessary to interpret crosscultural studies, with the general proviso that one's research interest determines which elements, in what combinations, are significant for the provision of understanding.
    • "Bisexuality and the Causes of Homosexuality: The Case of the Sambia"
  • Social and cultural factors very broadly channel and limit sexual variation in human populations. Sexual laws, codes, and roles do restrict the range and intensity of sexual practices, as far as we can judge from the cross-cultural literature (Herdt and Stoller 1990). Kinsey lent his support to this view; Ford and Beach (1950) documented it in surveys; and Margaret Mead (1961) did so in her ethnographic studies. But biosocial, genetic, and hormonal predispositions also broadly limit and channel. Each culture's theory of the combination of these social and biological constraints we could call its theory of human sexual nature. Yet none of these broad principles, nor the local theory of human sexual nature, entirely explains or predicts a particular person's sexual desires or behaviors. A sexual behavior, that is, does not necessarily indicate an erotic orientation, preference, or desire. The homosexual is not the same as the homoerotic; whether in our society or one very exotic, I will claim, we can distinguish the homosexual from the homoerotic, as Oscar Wilde's case first hinted.
    • "Bisexuality and the Causes of Homosexuality: The Case of the Sambia"
  • The difficulty with our bisexual construct is that it locates the origin and meaning of preference too much inside the lone individual and not enough in the social surround. The notion of sexual preference, with its linking conception "sex object choice," requires an individual difference psychology of choice and free will that may correspond to the reality of philosophers, but seldom does for ordinary mortals. Our sexual development is driven and regulated by extraordinary forces, intrinsic and extrinisic, which include our genes, hormones, early parental relationships, peer pressures, cultural training for categories and language, and out-and-out social sanctions and physical force. We seldom are free to choose freely, but entertain the enchantment that we can.
    • "Bisexuality and the Causes of Homosexuality: The Case of the Sambia"

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