Sociology Index


Atavism is a tendency to reproduce ancestral type in plants and in animals; to resemble one's grandparents or great-grandparents more than parents. In popular speech, atavism means a ‘throw back’. Atavism is the tendency of animals or plants to revert to an ancestral type. Resemblance to more remote ancestors rather than to parents.

This concept of atavism was used by Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) to describe a type of criminal he called the born criminal. The atavistic criminal was one representing an earlier stage of human evolution (thus representing the ancestral type more than the parental type). This ancestral type was identified by Lombroso through several stigmata or physical characteristics - including the length of ear lobes and fingers and the bone structure of the head.

This supposed physical degeneracy was associated with moral degeneracy and thus more frequent criminal behaviour. These physical stigmata were not found to be especially associated with criminals and this particular theory of criminality was rejected.

Atavism (Latin atavus, a great-grandfather's grandfather) denotes the tendency to revert to ancestral type. Atavism is an evolutionary throwback, traits reappearing which had disappeared generations ago. Atavisms occur because genes for previously existing phenotypical features are often preserved in DNA, though the genes are not expressed in some or most of the organisms possessing them.

In biology, atavism is generally understood as a biological phenomenon which brings to sight a recurrent phenotypic character which was lost for extinct generations. Phylogenic evolution of homo sapiens demonstrates today that the first plantar ray in tetrapods has always been a very stable ray and the lateral foot experienced a progressive adduction to the talo-metatarsal axis, together with a remodeling of the lateral column of the foot and a progressive valgus of the calcaneus beneath the talus. Osteotomies seem less secure in severe cases on the long run. In conclusion, Hallux valgus cannot be considered as an atavism because clinical history and findings do not correspond to the archaic prehensile foot and its evolution, but rather do correspond to a weak spot on a (still) fragile, often overloaded, phylogenetically young organ. - PMID: 15354748 - - Hallux valgus, an atavism? - Klaue K. - Article in German - Reparto di Chirurgia Ortopedica, Clinica Luganese, sede Moncucco, Lugano.

Ethno-nationalism in process: ethnicity, atavism and indigenism in Riau, Indonesia - Author: Wee V.
Source: The Pacific Review, Volume 15, Number 4, 1 December 
Abstract: Fifty-five years ago the Republic of Indonesia was founded on the motto Bhinneka tunggal ika (unity in diversity). Today unity has all but disintegrated as separatism and ethnic conflict tear at the nation's political and social fabric. This paper briefly highlights Riau accounts of the struggle for independence (1945-65), shows how atavism and indigenism have been symbolically and ritually realized on the ground (1965-97) and examines some key developments in Riau after the fall of Suharto (1997-2001).