I'm a Human Ape. Confessions of a Primates Researcher

Volker Sommer

12.05.2009 19:00

Evolutionary biology is still radically changing our understanding of ourselves. Research is particularly focusing on our nearest relatives, monkeys and apes, because distinctions between "man" and "animal" are being fundamentally called in question.


Volker Sommer
Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, University College London


Volker Sommer's main research interests include the evolution of social and sexual behaviour in primates, cognition, and rituals. He has been involved in on-going long-term field studies of the eco-ethology of langur monkeys in Rajasthan, India and of white-handed gibbons in the Khao-Yai rainforest, Thailand. He is also the founder and director of the "Gashaka Primate Project", a research and conservation programme in Nigeria that focuses on monkeys and chimpanzees.
He is amongst the best known science journalists in German-speaking countries, regularly featured by magazines (GEO, Natur, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung), on radio and national television. Upon invitation, he has delivered more than 200 scientific and public talks. He has published more than 100 articles - scientific as well as popular - and more than a dozen books, including novels and poetry:


Die Affen. Unsere wilde Verwandtschaft (Apes. Our Wild Relatives, 1989); Wider die Natur? Homosexualität und Evolution (Unnatural? Homosexuality and Evolution, 1990 [= Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective?]); Lob der Lüge. Täuschung und Selbstbetrug bei Tier und Mensch (Praise of Lies. Deception and Self-Deception in Humans and Animals, 1992); Feste - Mythen - Rituale. Warum die Völker feiern (Festivals - Myths - Rituals. Why Nations Celebrate, 1992); Heilige Egoisten. Die Soziobiologie indischer Tempelaffen (Sacred Egoists. The Sociobiology of Indian Temple Monkeys, 1996); Menschen und andere Tiere. Essays zur Evolutionsbiologie (Humans and Other Animals. Essays on Evolutionary Biology,1999); Das grüne All. Ein Poem aus dem Regenwald (The Green Universe. A Poem from the Rain Forest, 2002); Darwinisch denken. Horizonte in der Evolutionsbiologie (Darwinian Thought. Horizons in Evolutionary Biology, 2007); Schimpansenland (Chimpanzeeland, 2008).


Volker Sommer is on the editorial board of primatological journals ("Primates", "Folia Primatologica"), and is member of the "Section on Great Apes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission". He also participated in the steering committee of the London-based "Centre for Ecology and Evolution" (1996-2006), and serves on the council of the German-based "Giordano-Bruno Foundation for Evolutionary Humanism" which is dedicated to the promotion of a scientific and secular worldview in the tradition of the enlightenment.


Volker Sommer, born in 1954, studied biology, chemistry and theology in Germany. Ph. D. in anthropology (1985) and habilitation in anthropology and primatology (1990) at the Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen, Germany. Heisenberg-fellow of the German Research Council (1991-1996). Research associate at the University of California in Davis, USA (1992-1994) and Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand (1994-1996). Volker Sommer joined the Department of Anthropology, University College London, in 1996.



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