Category Archives: Seminar Fall 2008

Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Dec 1

This week we'll look at the popularity of "culture" in behavioral ecology.

First, a review article (and letters responding to it):


Étienne Danchin et al. 2004. Public Information: From Nosy Neighbors to Cultural Evolution. Science 305:487.
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Second, a specific case study of putative socially-transmitted tool use in dolphins.


Krützen et al. 2005. Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins. PNAS 102:8939.
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Culture for Skeptics: Reading for Nov 24


Just one reading for this week. It's long enough itself, and it has some commentary you should read, too.

Scott Atran, Douglas Medin, Norbert Ross, Elizabeth Lynch, Valentina Vapnarsky, Edilberto Ucan Ek’, John Coley, Christopher Timura, and Michael Baran. 2002. Folkecology, Cultural Epidemiology, and the Spirit of the Commons (with Commentary). Current Anthropology 43:421-450.
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Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Nov 17

This week we'll consider a special empirical domain of cultural variation: baby names. Given names change in frequency across generations, for many reasons, all poorly understood. The two papers below address different aspects of the dynamics of names (and their consequences).

Hahn and Bentley. 2003. Drift as a mechanism for cultural change: an example from baby names.
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Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Nov 10

Ethnicity is another of those "contested" concepts that causes fights and posturing. This week, we'll read the most-cited (and still often-cited) essay in social anthropology on the topic. (Apologies for the marked-up scan.)

Fredrik Barth. 1969. Introduction. In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, F. Barth ed.
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Second, to get a broader idea of approaches to ethnic and other kinds of social groupings, here's a recent Science paper that describes a theoretically-motivated set of experiments on how norms and ethnic-like markers can co-evolve. One of the motivating models is my own, so I have some stake in this stuff, but I am by no means convinced that this is an important process in real societies.

Charles Efferson, Rafael Lalive, and Ernst Fehr. 2008. The coevolution of cultural groups and ingroup favoritism. Science 321:1844.
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Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Nov 3

Continuing from the lively discussion last week, we will finish discussing:

Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson. 2005. Solving the Puzzle of Human Cooperation, In: Evolution and Culture, S. Levinson ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, pp 105-132.
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I'm adding to this three VERY SHORT readings. The first two are a pair: a Science magazine paper and its accompanying (and politely critical) commentary. While Bowles argues for genetic group selection in humans, you'll see he might need cultural institutions of some kind to get there. You may be surprised that this paper actually examines some DATA.

Samuel Bowles. 2006. Group Competition, Reproductive Leveling, and the Evolution of Human Altruism. Science 314:1569.
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Robert Boyd. 2006. Perspectives: Evolution: The Puzzle of Human Sociality. Science 314:1555.
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The third is an Evolution commentary considering cultural group selection and the possibility that current human cooperation is something of a "stalled" evolutionary transition.

Stephen C. Stearns. 2007. Are We Stalled Part Way Through a Major Evolutionary Transition From Individual to Group? Evolution 61(10):2275-2280.
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Viva la selección de los grupos!

Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Oct 27

Can "culture" produce novel evolutionary processes and thereby explain the unusual pro-sociality of our species? If so, then evolutionary ecologists need to get cultural, just as much as cultural anthropologists need to get evolutionary.

There is a lot I could assign here. I've picked two readings. The first is a section of my book that attempts to teach the multilevel selection approach. The pages are small and the math takes up a lot of space, so there isn't so much to read here as you might think at first. I encourage you to SKIP THE MATHS (unless you want to work through it, of course).

Richard McElreath and Robert Boyd. 2007. Selection Among Groups. In R. McElreath and R. Boyd, Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed, pp. 223-260. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press.
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The second reading addresses human cooperation specifically, closing by explaining the hypothesis that "culture" makes group selection more likely for human societies.

Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson. 2005. Solving the Puzzle of Human Cooperation, In: Evolution and Culture, S. Levinson ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, pp 105-132.
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Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Oct 20

This week visits the primal debate about the role of language in shaping thought and different "cultural" worldviews. The classic citation for the so-called Sapir-Whorf hypothesis first:

Benjamin Lee Whorf. 1941. The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language. In Language, Culture, and Personality: Essays in Memory of Edward Sapir.
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Next, two recent experimental studies of the interaction between linguistic differences and cognition. The first is brief but dense. The second is long but more sparse. Both produce experimental evidence of "Whorfian" cognition.

Daniel B. M. Haun, Christian J. Rapold, Josep Call, Gabriele Janzen, and Stephen C. Levinson. 2006. Cognitive cladistics and cultural override in Hominid spatial cognition. PNAS 103:17568 –17573.
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Silvia P. Gennari, Steven A. Sloman, Barbara C. Malt, and W. Tecumseh Fitch. 2002. Motion events in language and cognition. Cognition 83:49-79.
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Culture for Skeptics: Readings for Oct 6

Back to the tribe of science of this week. Here are two articles that orbit a debate about the role of innate cognitive structure in patterning "culture."

The first is an experimental and observational study of evidence for the view that our cognitive structure makes some ideas easier to remember than others, influencing the stability of alternative cultural forms.

Ara Norenzayan, Scott Atran, Jason Faulkner and Mark Schaller. 2006. Memory and Mystery: The Cultural Selection of Minimally Counterintuitive Narratives. Cognitive Science 30:531-553.
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The second is a numerical-philosophy (modeling) paper that argues that the existence of such cognitive structure does not obviate the need to understand and theorize about the more epidemiological aspects of "culture."

Joseph Henrich and Robert Boyd. 2002. On Modeling Cognition and Culture: Why cultural evolution does not require replication of representations. Journal of Cognition and Culture 2:87-112.
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