Following the discussion in these two posts, and various conversations after a plenary talk of Pascal Boyer at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society Conference last summer, I decided, together with Alex Mesoudi, to write a paper comparing some aspects of cultural attraction and “standard” cultural evolution. (This is, by the way, my current main research interest, and I hope to have more to say about it in the future).
The paper reviews the two theories, in particular analysing one aspect, i.e. the fact that cultural attraction proponents see cultural transmission mainly as a reconstructive process, in which cultural traits are each time re-created by the individuals involved (think about the oral transmission of a story), while “standard” cultural evolution proponents see cultural transmission mainly as a preservative process, faithful enough to consider cultural evolution as a process of selection between variants (think about the choice of a baby name). We tried to clarify the two positions, and our main message (I hope I can talk for Alex) is that they are not in contradiction, but they focus on different aspects of the process of cultural transmission. The disagreement, “far from representing a deadlock for cultural evolution studies, can inspire new empirical studies and draw attention to details of transmission not yet explored” (from the paper).
The paper was accepted by Biology & Philosophy the 12th of February, but, for mysterious reasons, is having a very tormented production process (I spare here the details, but I want to express my disappointment towards Springer), so here you can find the uncorrected proofs. I do not think the published version will change much (apart from adding, for example, my new affiliation, the Philosophy & Ethics group at the Eindhoven University of Technology). Any comment is more than welcome!
Update 3.06.2015. The final paper is now online:
Acerbi, A., Mesoudi, A. (2015), If we are all cultural Darwinians what’s the fuss about? Clarifying recent disagreements in the field of cultural evolution, Biology & Philosophy