It’s worth the fuss. For a plurality of approaches in cultural evolution

Andrew Buskell is organising an excellent two-day (13-14 December) conference in Cambridge, New Directions in Evolutionary Social Sciences, exploring current developments and debates in cultural evolution.

The program is on the website, and it is possible to register until the 4th of December. I strongly approve the choice of the speakers, all “young” (for academic standards) and hopefully enthusiastic academics. I am part of it, so my evaluation is clearly biased.

Anyway: my abstract is below. See you in Cambridge?

It’s worth the fuss. For a plurality of approaches in cultural evolution.

I characterise some recent debates in cultural evolution as exploring two main issues: (i) the degree to which cultural transmission should be considered a preservative process, where traits are copied with relatively high fidelity and errors are random, or a transformative process, with low copying fidelity and “errors” oriented toward attractors; and (ii) the relative importance of domain-general context biases (such as conformity or prestige bias, etc.) versus stable, domain specific, and mainly cognitive, biases.
I have previously argued that these views are not incompatible, but they reflect an interest in different aspects of cultural dynamics. Far from representing an impasse for cultural evolutionary studies, these debates can suggest new researches. Here I will present two ongoing empirical studies. The first concerns the relation between cultural complexity and demography in a cultural domain in which cognitive attraction may have an important role: folktales. The second study examines how context and content biases interact in determining preferences for “famous” quotes.


[The King’s College Chapel from Wikipedia. It has nothing to do with the conference, apart from being in Cambridge. Why is it here then? Because posts without any image, when shared, have an ugly empty placeholder]

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