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SOCIAL EVOLUTION FORUM
Another Mysterious Hominin Ancestor? Not So Fast
A new tool allows scientists to model the scenario of our ancestors having sex with Neandertals and Denisovans, rather than just one or the other.
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                    [post_content] => The two-part essay by David Sloan Wilson and Harvey Whitehouse, “Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution” presents compelling applications of field research methods and evolutionary theory that make clear the value of their combination.  Wilson’s Binghamton Neighborhood Project (BNP) and Whitehouse’s studies in Papua New Guinea and then in the AnthroLab field sites are not only models for research on cultural evolution but also examples of how to investigate fundamental questions about the social world within a scientific program of theoretically-guided research.  My commentary on the essay will focus on the implications of these models for research in sociology and on the persuasiveness of the authors’ arguments from a sociological standpoint.

Three recommendations underlie the “field site” vision elaborated in David Sloan Wilson’s part, although the first recommendations are subsumed within the third: (1) Use field study as a methodology; (2) Use evolutionary biology as a theoretical framework; (3) Apply field study methods within the theoretical framework of evolutionary biology in order to explain cultural variation and change.  The first recommendation is the easiest for a sociologist to accept, since as Wilson points out, there is a strong tradition of field research in sociology. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from reviewing this tradition and considering its current status and challenges.  The second, theoretical recommendation requires overcoming what Wilson aptly characterizes as sociology’s historical disinclination to adopt an evolutionary perspective, and so I will review that history and consider whether there is some potential for a disciplinary reset.  Of course, it can be argued with respect to the third recommendation that most sociologists do not study cultural evolution, but if behavior ranging from sociality in Binghamton schools (Wilson, 2016) to community rituals in Melanesia (Whitehouse, 2016) are best explained by evolutionary theory, it is clear that “cultural evolution” is meant to be broadly applied.

Recommendation #1: Field Study Methods
Sociology emerged as a discipline in the late 19th century during the social transformations associated with urbanization and industrialization of Western society, and in the midst of growing support for the scientific method and of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.  With increasing numbers of people moving from small, homogeneous villages to urban areas and leaving home- or workshop-based agricultural and craft work for factory (and then office) labor, early sociologists focused attention on the corresponding changes in the nature of social ties.  Émile Durkheim (1893) conceptualized the change as involving a shift from “mechanical” solidarity based on likeness to “organic” solidarity based on interdependence; Max Weber (1915) described the shift from traditional society to legal-rational authority and bureaucratic organization; Ferdinand Tönnies (1887) distinguished gemeinschaft social groupings bound by feelings of togetherness from the new gesellschaft pattern of instrumental relations.

Concern with the fragility of social ties associated with the more modern form of social organization stimulated research ranging from Durkheim’s seminal study of suicide rates in France to Robert and Helen Merrell Lynds’ mixed methods field study of Middletown.  This focus found perhaps its most concentrated expression in the development of what came to be known as the “Chicago School,” which was centered at the University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology.  With the rapidly growing metropolis of Chicago as their laboratory, Chicago School sociologists used ethnographic methods to study neighborhood social life holistically, at times making explicit analogies to the ecological approach in biology.  Since the 1920s, the Chicago School approach has inspired field studies of neighborhoods and organizations by sociologists in Chicago and beyond, including Harvey Warren Zorbaugh’s (1929) The Gold Coast and the Slum (Chicago’s Near North Side), William Foote Whyte’s (1943) Street Corner Society (Boston’s North End), Gerald Suttles’s (1968) The Social Order of the Slum (Chicago’s Near West Side), Kai Erikson’s (1976) Everything in Its Path (Buffalo Creek, West Virginia), and, more recently, Carolyn Ellis’s Fisher Folk (community in Chesapeake Bay), Elijah Anderson’s (1999) Code of the Street (North Philadelphia), Mitchell Duneier’s (1999) Sidewalk (New York’s Greenwich Village) and Eric Klinenberg’s (2002) Heat Wave (Chicago’s North and South Lawndale).

I hope I have made it clear that field studies have a long tradition in sociology that has continued to inspire new research even before Rob Sampson’s (2012) brilliant new contribution, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.  It is therefore important to consider why relatively few sociologists conduct field studies.

The explanation again takes us back to the discipline’s founders.  The other side of the coin of concern with the loss of community was sociologists’ conceptions of the society that was replacing it.  Although differing in their specifics, these conceptions highlighted decreasing communal ties and traditional values and increasing individual autonomy and rationally determined goals.  Each also expressed various degrees of apprehension about this shift, but all understood that the social world’s tectonic plates were shifting.  Arguably expressed most clearly in Talcott Parsons’s (1951) “pattern-alternatives of value-orientation,” the direction of change included a shift in orientation from affectivity to affective neutrality, from concern for the collectivity to concern for the self, from ascription to achievement, and from particularistic to universalistic values.  To the extent that society thus shifted from a more collectivist to a more individualist culture, sociologists could favor methodologies that treat individuals as the units of analysis and slight the role of local social context.

The appeal of a theoretical rationale for methodological individualism was complemented by rapid development of national communications, transportation, and educational and computational infrastructures that facilitated collection and analysis of data with surveys and other quantitative methods.  The ability to represent large populations, measure myriad variables, and test complex causal chains diminished for decades the appeal of intensive, locally-focused field studies.  As globalization has increased the scale of interconnection (Friedman 2006), “neighborhoods are seen as an anachronism displaced by global networks of interchangeability.” (Sampson, 2012, p. 355)

But attention to social context is on the rebound in sociology, both because of the discipline’s foundational concern with social relations and as an indirect consequence of interrelated social and technological developments.  Four examples convey the increasing contemporary sociological focus on social context:  (1) Migration has created new social patterns within cities across the globe.  Like Harvey Whitehouse’s multi-sited AnthroLab project, the Max Planck Institute’s comparative field studies of social diversity in New York, Singapore, and Johannesburg is showing how traditional field research methods can relate global issues to local communities. (2) While the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods set a new standard for quantitative research on contextual effects, the “ecometrics” method Rob Sampson developed for the PHDCN can now be facilitated with Google Street View data.  Place-based analyses are now also possible with GPS data pertinent to many social science questions (Sampson, 2015, p. 360). (3) A large body of sociological research has highlighted the value of social ties for health and well-being, but individually-based measures of social supports are increasingly being supplemented by assessment of the social networks (Schutt 2015)—the social context—in  which they are embedded (Christakis and Fowler, 2009).  (4) Statistical analyses of quantitative data collected from different social contexts, including organizations and communities, increasingly use multi-level modeling techniques that take account of contextual influences (e.g., Schutt, 2005).

So while traditional ethnographic field studies focused on single communities may never comprise more than a fraction of sociological research, attention to social context and group-level processes is evident increasingly throughout sociology.  We can place a solid checkmark in the box corresponding to Recommendation #1.

Recommendation #2: Evolutionary Theory
After decades of disciplinary disengagement followed a troubled rupture between sociology and evolutionary biology at the turn of the last century, the path to implementation of Recommendation #2 contains many obstacles.  However, the development of multi-level selection theory in evolutionary biology—so well represented in the Social Evolution Forum—as well as related developments in genetics and neuroscience require reexamination of the bases of the rupture and provide multiple means for productive and sustained reengagement.  As I discussed in a contribution to This View of Life, this reengagement is still in a nascent stage in sociology.  I will limit myself here to a summary of the major disciplinary changes and new points of convergence, after a brief reconsideration of the past points of contention.

The application of Darwin’s (1871) theory of evolution by natural selection to the context of human society was shaped largely by Herbert Spencer’s (1852) conceptualization of the struggle for “survival of the fittest” as the causal mechanism that explained social stratification in contemporary society: The “evolution” of human societies involved a “natural process of elimination” of the “good-for-nothings” (Spencer 1874, p. 286).  In the words of William Graham Sumner, Spencer’s American acolyte, the only alternative to the “survival of the fittest” was the “survival of the unfittest” (The New York Times, 1883).  The enduring popular—and sociological—understanding of the implications of Darwin’s theory for human society was that it was a reductionist perspective in which critical human abilities that were fixed by biology at birth resulted in a competition between individuals that those less endowed were destined to lose. As Mendelian genetics added to Darwinism a mechanism to explain inheritance, as Nazi “science” distorted genetics to justify genocide, as Lysenko’s Soviet “science” of environmentally-determined heredity was discredited (Mukhernee, 2016), it seemed appropriate to consider the scientific study of society a matter apart from biology and the theory of evolution as irrelevant to understanding human cultures.

But while this construction of Darwinism supported social prejudices of the time, it is important to recognize that it overlooked much of what Darwin (1989/1874) actually believed.  Two of the seven chapters (4 and 5) of The Descent or Origin of Man focus on the importance of human sociality and the role of group selection pressures in the evolution of Homo sapiens’ most distinctive characteristics.  Human dominance of the earth is in part due to “social habits, which lead him to aid and defend his fellows” (Darwin, p. 52); social motives override self-preservation and extend beyond kin to one’s social group (p. 114); the “social instinct” is a more powerful influence on human behavior than “the base principal of selfishness” (p. 125); these social instincts can be extended to larger groups and communities (p. 127) and can become hereditary (p. 128); groups are disadvantaged in the course of evolution if they are composed of more “selfish and contentious people” (p. 135). In other words, Darwin believed strongly in evolutionary selection at the level of groups as well as individuals! (Wilson, 2015)

The recent development of multilevel selection theory finally capitalizes on this long neglected aspect of Darwin’s theorizing and recasts evolutionary theory in a way that supports sociologists’ recognition of the importance of human altruism and social processes (Durkheim (1984/1893) rather than standing in opposition to it. Complementary developments in neuroscience, genetics, and anthropology also strengthen the need for this disciplinary reconnection.  Social neuroscience has identified the structures and neurochemical processes in the brain that evolved to support social connection and the plasticity that allows the brain to develop in response to social experience (Schutt, Seidman, & Keshavan, 2015): "We now know that the human brain, considered in isolation from its social functions, is like a cell without chromatin." (Brothers, 1997, p. 67)  The explication of epigenetic processes reveals that the connection of genes to their environment is bidirectional, rather than deterministic (Mukherjee, 2016).  Henrich (2015) and others have connected biological evolution to cultural change, in part by showing how cultural learning shapes reward circuitry in the brain, and thus preferences and behavior  so as to allow adaptation to different environments without genetic change.

Some sociologists have also begun to connect the dots that link human biology and social behavior.  Sociologists have collected biomarkers in order to understand gene-environment interactions (Guo & Adkins, 2008; Guo, Tong, & Cai, 2008), “neurosociologists” have contributed new insights about evolutionary and cognitive processes (Franks, 2010; TenHouten, 2013), and others have accorded evolved emotions a key role in social organizational processes (Turner, 2011). New sections have formed within the American Sociological Association to support scholarship on evolution, biology, and society (http://www.asanet.org/asa-communities/sections/evolution-biology-and-society) and on altruism, morality, and social solidarity (http://www.asanet.org/asa-communities/sections/altruism-morality-and-social-solidarity).

Emerging from these efforts are principles that can be the foundation for sociological research informed by evolutionary theory:  (1) sociality, the capacity and need for social connection is instantiated in human biology—most importantly in the brain; (2) social contexts, ranging from families and peer groups to organizations and neighborhoods shape individual orientations and behaviors; (3) influence between individuals and groups flows in both directions, in part through environmental influences on biological processes—including cultural variations—and in part through biologically-based behavioral predispositions toward social contexts; (4) the evolutionary processes of variation, selection, and retention are important at each social level, from individuals to states, and natural selection at the level of groups can be more consequential than at the level of individuals; (5) tension inevitably emerges between motives to act on the basis of self-interest and on behalf of group well-being and is managed through social psychological and social control processes.

Although relatively few sociologists frame their scholarship explicitly in terms of evolutionary biology theory, many more investigate research questions that are tied closely to these basic principles and that could be reframed to good explanatory effect in terms of these principles.  The concept of “collective efficacy” used by Sampson (2012) to explain neighborhood effects is related closely to the concept of variable group effectiveness that underlies group selection theory, while Thomas Scheff’s (1990) “microsociological” theory of the centrality of social bonds as a human motive and the role of shame as an emotional indicator of their disruption lacks only a connection to the evolutionary theory that explains this fundamental aspect of human nature. Much the same could be said of the extensive sociological literature on social support (Song, Son, & Lin, 2011).  My own research has focused for many years on the bidirectional process of influence between individuals and their social contexts (Schutt, 1985; Schutt, 2011), but has only recently included attention to the biological dimensions of this process (Schutt, Seidman, & Keshavan, 2015).

In the discipline of sociology, there is much room for more progress toward Recommendation 2, but momentum is building in that direction.

Recommendation #3: Use Field Studies and Evolutionary Theory to Understand Culture
This disciplinary history and these contemporary developments suggest that some sociologists are already predisposed to endorse Recommendation 3—the overarching point of the Wilson/Whitehouse essay—and that many more could be convinced of its value.  Few sociologists would question the value of David Sloan Wilson’s comparative study of schools in Binghamton neighborhoods or of Whitehouse’s cross-cultural research spanning the globe.  Most sociologists would endorse the proposal to use a theoretical framework to guide more community-based research projects and to frame interconnected research questions.  But to what type of social phenomena should this approach be applied and which methods and/or theories should it displace?

The disciplinary boundary between anthropology and sociology—as is true in relation to each of the social sciences—is to some extent arbitrary and permeable; but it does reflect an anthropological tradition of primary attention to the small-scale communities of the past as compared to a primary sociological focus on the large societies of the present.  Therein, as I mentioned at the outset, lies the origin of our discipline, but also the appeal of methods that allow collection of data from large numbers of people sampled from areas that transcend physical, social, and political boundaries.  While Rob Sampson (2015) has provided persuasive theoretical and empirical justification for reemphasizing the importance of neighborhood location—of “place,” this does not obviate the need to understand local cultural variations within the context of overarching cultural patterns nor the importance of determining empirically the appropriate units for comparison to answer particular research questions.  To analogize to evolutionary biology, when should we consider neighborhoods to be like organelles that evolved endosymbiotically within cell boundaries, or to be like organs within an organism, rather than as different independent “sites” that can best be understood as functionally integrated cultural units and compared as such to each other?  While we do not want to fall back into what can seen as Durkheim’s circular reasoning about “organic” solidarity, in which different social parts are assumed to have the position they do because it supports the functioning of the whole society, we cannot escape the need to take account of macro-level processes.  And for this reason I suggest we need to take advantage of opportunities to conduct field studies within broader mixed methods investigations (Schutt, 2015) that can inform us about cross-cultural interconnections and structural constraints that must be understood as part of a larger social context—even as that context is increasingly global and virtual (Chayko, 2017).

This evaluation of the appropriate context for understanding social life also requires attention to the role of emotions.  As part of the evolved neurobiological mechanisms that enhance survival, social emotions are attuned to interpersonal interaction and the context of face-to-face communication (Damasio, 1999).  Is this a reason to suppose that interaction that transcends local contexts can therefore be understood apart from human biology?  Research on engagement in both written texts and electronic forms of communication suggests that the brain responds in similar ways to social information irrespective of the medium, but this connection needs more investigation in order to better frame our understanding of the relevant “field” for particular investigations and the role of evolved capacities (Chayko, 2017; Pinker, 2011).  And the emotional ball also still bounces in evolutionary biology’s court, as the role and even relevance of emotions in human evolution remains unsettled (cf. Boehm, 2012; Brothers, 1997; Tomasello, 2014; Turner, 2000).

If more sociologists are to adopt Recommendation 3, they must be convinced that their theorizing about culture should reflect or at least be compatible with the tenets of evolutionary biology.  In some respects the development of evolutionary views of culture makes this a harder sell.  The argument is as follows: The evolution of the human capacity for cultural learning created both the possibility of gene-culture coevolution (as in the development of lactose tolerance after the domestication of milk-producing animals) and the means for evolution of social practices without genetic change and at a pace much more rapid than is possible through natural selection (Henrich, 2015; Turchin, 2016).  Yet this remarkable consequence of biological evolution returns us to a basic argument first made by those who argued for a complete separation between biology and the human sciences:  Homo sapiens crossed an evolutionary Rubicon from genetic determination to cultural malleability (Kroeber 1915).

As Whitehouse notes, evolutionary psychologists have looked back across the river and found constraints on human behavior and psychology in evolutionary adaptations during the Pleistocene era; culture is therefore more “evoked” than “transmitted” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992; Whitehouse, 2016).   But the less constrained “Evolutionary Views of Culture” that Whitehouse endorses is more compatible with the perspectives of sociologists—even the many who do not see any need to view through an evolutionary lens the extension of human cooperation to larger units or the spread of such patterns as monogamy or monotheism, and so it is ETC on which I focus (Turchin, 2016).

I think that the tie binding sociology and evolutionary biology at the hip is the evolved capacity for and importance of human sociality.  Neither human altruism, group-level cooperation, or social identity, nor the importance of secure attachment or of neighborhood cohesion—to name a few examples—can be explained adequately without taking into account the neural and other biological processes involved in sociality (Schutt, Seidman, & Keshavan, 2015).  It is a fundamental consequence of human evolution within social groups that is still too often overlooked even by sociologists who recognize the need to engage with biology (Shostak & Freese, 2010). If sociologists come to recognize that sociality and group process underlie the evolution of our species and are inherent in our biology, Recommendation 3 will become not just a means of framing sociological research but a clarion call for transdisciplinary recognition of the centrality of our discipline (Wilson, 2012).

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Wilson, D. S. (2002). Darwin’s cathedral: Evolution, religion, and the nature of society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, D. S. (2015). Does altruism exist? Culture, genes, and the welfare of others. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Wilson, E. O. (2012). The social conquest of Earth. New York: Liveright.

Whyte, W. F. (1993) Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. [fourth edition -- original 1943] Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Zorbaugh, H. W. (1929). The Gold Coast and the slum: A sociological study of Chicago's Near North Side. Chicago
                    [post_title] => Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: A Sociologist’s Perspective
                    [post_excerpt] => If sociologists come to recognize that sociality and group process underlie the evolution of our species and are inherent in our biology, the use of field sites will become not just a means of framing sociological research but a clarion call for transdisciplinary recognition of the centrality of our discipline.
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                    [post_content] => As the study of human cultural evolution matures, field sites will increasingly have a role to play, just as they have in the study of genetic and cultural evolution in nonhuman species. Progress, however, may not be easy due to complex intellectual histories and disciplinary norms. Cultural anthropology and sociology, the two most field-oriented disciplines in the human behavioral sciences, have been among the most avoidant of evolutionary theory. In other branches of the human behavioral sciences, the bulk of research is conducted on college students in the laboratory without any reference to their cultures or everyday lives.

The newly formed Cultural Evolution Society (CES) is in a unique position to facilitate the creation of field sites around the world. The Social Evolution Forum is therefore pleased to feature two essays on the topic by David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist by training, and Harvey Whitehouse, a social anthropologist by training. Together with commentaries by authors with diverse perspectives on field research, we hope to catalyze the formation of field sites for the study of cultural evolution around the world.

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Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: An Evolutionary Biologist’s View, David Sloan Wilson

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Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: An Anthropologist’s View, Harvey Whitehouse

[post_title] => Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: Two Essays by David Sloan Wilson and Harvey Whitehouse [post_excerpt] => The Social Evolution Forum is pleased to feature two essays on field research by evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson and social anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse in hope of catalyzing the formation of field sites for the study of cultural evolution around the world. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => developing-the-field-site-concept-for-the-study-of-cultural-evolution-two-essays-by-david-sloan-wilson-and-harvey-whitehouse [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-10 07:08:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-10 12:08:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=focus-article&p=120005522 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => focus-article [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120005525 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2016-10-19 09:59:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-10-19 13:59:39 [post_content] => The birth this year of the new Cultural Evolution Society is an exciting and historic development, and I am privileged to have served on the steering committee responsible for its initial conception and gestation. Cultural evolution research faces many challenges in the years to come. One of the most fundamental, perhaps, is to establish the extent to which cultural evolution is Darwinian. This could be broken down into many sub-questions. For example, is cultural variability due to cultural evolution or some other process? If culture evolves then what are the units of selection? Does the evolutionary process involve random variation and selective retention as observed in natural selection? To what extent does it depend on deliberate design and innovation? To what extent is culture evoked by biologically evolved mechanisms or transmitted? While all of these questions and more can be addressed using theoretical models and running lab experiments, there is also an inescapable need for field research. Indeed, restricting the study of cultural evolution to university campuses would arguably be equivalent to trying to study biological evolution exclusively in a zoo or aquarium. To illustrate the high importance of field research in the study of cultural evolution I propose to focus here on just one of the fractionated questions above: Is culture evoked or transmitted? Culture is evoked to the extent that some putatively innate behavioural tendency (let’s say incest avoidance) is triggered by the presence of some standard environmental cue (e.g. sharing the same mother). By contrast, culture is transmitted to the extent that some putatively learned behavioural tendency (let’s say incest avoidance again) is passed down through the generations as part of a set of traditional beliefs and practices (e.g. sexual mores and sacred taboos). Surely nobody doubts that there is evoked culture and transmitted culture, but Evolutionary Psychology (hereafter EP) strongly emphasizes the former over the latter whereas Evolutionary Theories of Culture (hereafter ETC) tend to place the emphasis the other way around. To adjudicate on this question we need to seek data beyond (as well as within) the lab. In explaining why I will draw heavily on my personal experience of field research as an anthropologist. But let’s begin by fleshing out some key features of the evoked-versus-transmitted problem. Culture as Evoked or Transmitted A concise account of the differences of emphasis between EP and ETC was conveyed by the debate held in San Diego earlier this year between Leda Cosmides and Joe Henrich at an SPSP Annual Convention symposium entitled “Big Questions in Evolutionary Science and What They Mean for Social-Personality Psychology” (see https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEz1DmN-1JlFPA9GeFqZC3w). Cosmides, a captivating exponent of the EP tradition, argued that much of the content of culture is evoked rather than learned. That is, many cultural representations are the way they are because they are anticipated by evolved psychological architecture and, as such, would be motivating or memorable and therefore ‘catchy’ in any normal human being placed in a suitable environment. Henrich, an equally captivating exponent of cultural evolution theory, argued that much of our cognitive architecture evolved to facilitate the acquisition of useful information that could not have been inherited genetically. That is, we have evolved to recognize and preferentially learn useful information wherever we may find it. Both Cosmides and Henrich clearly agree that many specialised cognitive adaptations have evolved through natural selection, and both agree that culture provides an important context for the activation of these cognitive systems. The points of disagreement between advocates of EP and ETC, however, are as subtle and multifaceted as they are theoretically portentous. Firstly, Cosmides emphasizes the role of evolved psychological capacities that emerge similarly in development across all human populations, being somewhat ‘canalized’ or genetically pre-specified (Waddington, 1957). Henrich, by contrast, emphasizes the role of evolved psychological capacities for learning in flatter epigenetic landscapes (Whitehouse 2013). So while both acknowledge that human psychology is an outcome of biological evolution, for Cosmides the emphasis is on inherited cognitive specialisations (a ‘modular mind’) whereas for Henrich the emphasis is on learning capacities (if not a more general intelligence, then at least a mind specialised for learning new skills rather than simply pulling out preformed gadgets to suit the terrain). Secondly, to the extent that having a certain socially learned cultural skill (e.g. cooking) can have significant consequences for anatomy, cognition, and behaviour (e.g. digestive system), Henrich argues that culture and genes can co-evolve. But whereas for Henrich this insight should have profound implications for our understanding of human psychology, Cosmides argues that most cultural innovations are too recent to have had much effect on cognitive evolution via natural selection. Thirdly, lurking somewhat in the background of this particular debate is a question about whether or not culture itself evolves. For Henrich, and perhaps many other founding members of the new Cultural Evolution Society, it may seem obvious that culture evolves. Even Cosmides recognizes that of course cultural representations can accumulate in a population so as to form distinctive cultural traditions and that particular domains of culture, such as technology, can become progressively more effective and efficient via processes of winnowing and selection. But she doubts whether such processes constitute a separate system of inheritance, alongside genetic inheritance, such that the two might be said to co-evolve (see also Sperber, 1996). In her talk in San Diego, Cosmides says that her main reasons for doubting this is that the notion of a cultural inheritance system either requires or tends to lead to a ‘mind-less’ (psychologically implausible) view of cultural transmission (see also Powell and Clarke, 2012). Of course, the discussions in San Diego were designed around an adversarial debating format, veiling much common agreement. And it would surely be a mistake to reduce the differences between entire subfields such as EP and ETC to the views expressed by only two individuals at a single event. Nevertheless, a puzzling conundrum surely lurks beneath the surface here. While some leading exponents of EP and ETC may indeed agree on many fundamental points of theory, by emphasizing different aspects they wind up concluding that what the other is studying is not what they think it is. I am reminded of the story of the three blind men who each feel a different part of the elephant (e.g. the tail, the trunk, and the ear) and, as a consequence, reach very different conclusions about the nature of the object before them (claiming respectively that the object is a rope, a branch, and a fan). In much the same way, proponents of EP and ETC arguably fail to identify the same objects or to agree on how they should be connected up. Seeing the bigger picture is easier if instead of engaging in abstract theoretical debates one starts to grapple with the messiness of real-world observation. Maybe in the field we have a better chance of seeing the whole elephant… The Experience of an Anthropologist in the Field My life as an anthropologist began in the late 1980s, as a doctoral student at Cambridge University. My mission was to travel deep into Papua New Guinea’s rain forest and conduct participant observation among the Mali Baining, a group whose language had yet to be described and whose culture was unknown to anthropology (Whitehouse 1995). Houses in my village were built of bush materials and lacked electricity and running water. Because of limited access to medical care (the nearest aid post being too far to walk when seriously ill), many succumbed to malaria and other potentially treatable maladies. Materially the culture was simple and life was often brutish and short. But the rituals and beliefs of the community were contrastingly rich and vibrant. In my village there were various temples: two large communal ones built close to the cemetery and numerous smaller ones tended by individual households. In each of these buildings, offerings to the ancestors of food and drink (and sometimes also money, if available) were laid out as part of an unremitting schedule of daily rituals associated with a secretive organization known as the ‘Kivung’. In tok pisin the word kivung means ‘a meeting’ and it is certainly true that my friends spent a lot of their time in meetings, discussing how best to prepare for the great day when their ancestors would return from the dead. It was often said that the returning ancestors would take the appearance of white men and women, wielding powerful magic and technology. They would summon a vast fleet of bulldozers to flatten the rainforest and construct, overnight, a vast urban sprawl with high-rise buildings and wealth beyond ordinary people’s imaginings. [caption id="attachment_120005526" align="alignleft" width="412"]Caption: Given Kivung teachings that the white-skinned ancestors kept the living under constant surveillance, my habit of following people around taking notes on everything they said and did caused something of a stir. Given Kivung teachings that the white-skinned ancestors kept the living under constant surveillance, my habit of following people around taking notes on everything they said and did caused something of a stir.[/caption]

At Kivung meetings the community would often dwell on the forces of darkness that prevented the ancestors from returning and endeavour to root out sinners and have them ritually absolved and cleansed. Sin was understood as any breach of the Kivung’s Ten Laws (loosely based on the Ten Commandments taught by the nearby Catholic Mission). Only when sinfulness had been completely eradicated among the living would they finally be reunited with the ancestors. A period of great plenty, known as the taim bilong kampani (period of the companies), would ensue during which Kivung members would be granted vast wealth. During this time, there would be a great temptation to indulge the sins of the flesh. At the Day of Judgement to follow, those who resisted temptation would enter an everlasting paradise on earth known as the taim bilong gavman (period of the government). The rest would be cast into to Hell to suffer eternal damnation. The leaving of offerings provided a measure of the community’s progress towards this goal. Consistent evidence that the ancestors were receiving the offerings indicated that they would soon return. Evidence that the offerings had been rejected showed that the community was still sullied by breaches of the Ten Laws, delaying the miracle.

[caption id="attachment_120005527" align="aligncenter" width="754"]Caption: men of the village process solemnly to one of the Kivung temples to lay out offerings to the ancestors (from Whitehouse 1995) Men of the village process solemnly to one of the Kivung temples to lay out offerings to the ancestors (from Whitehouse 1995)[/caption] The procedure for laying out offerings in the larger temples begins with a task force of men processing solemnly through the front entrance of the building to arrange the food, water, money, and decorations on tables, rather as the servants of a grand house might have prepared for a banquet in Victorian England. Great care is paid to cleaning and straightening the containers of the offerings, and adjusting flowers and other adornments on the tables, all with a certain flourish and exaggerated attention to detail. Once the laying out of offerings has been completed to the satisfaction of all concerned, the temple is vacated except for one man (known as a ‘witness’) who remains behind, seated in solitude in a small cubicle in the heart of the building. It falls to the witness to note signs of ancestral presence such as the clinking of plates or cutlery, the sounds of eating, the creaking of benches, or even snippets of conversation among the visiting spirits. When his vigil is over the witness emerges blinking in the daylight before a gathering of the entire community. All are eager to hear whether the ancestors have accepted the offerings or, as disappointingly is so often the case, have refused them because of the sinfulness of one of more Kivung members (who must therefore be rooted out and encouraged to confess). Temple rituals are only some of the many complex beliefs and practices associated with the Kivung. A similarly elaborated set of ideas and practices focus around communal gardens associated with ancestor heroes closely linked to the Genesis story as taught by the Catholic mission. Except that Eve’s misdemeanor was not to partake of a forbidden apple but to harvest the betel nuts of a taboo palm tree. As Eve slid down the trunk of the tree with her stash of nuts, she cut her groin on a sharpened stone that Adam had cunningly embedded in the trunk, causing her to produce a strong flow of menstrual blood from that time forward. She then passed on this curse to all her daughters and her daughter’s daughters, causing them to bleed every month. Kivung followers, unlike most neighboring groups in the region, repudiate betel chewing because they say the red substance it produces in the mouth is equivalent to menstrual blood. [caption id="attachment_120005528" align="aligncenter" width="660"]Mapping the mainstream meaning system (from Whitehouse et. al. 2012) Mapping the mainstream meaning system (from Whitehouse et. al. 2012)[/caption] Some years ago a group of us attempted to build a model of the Kivung meaning system in which some of the core ideas and practices were captured as nodes in an elaborated network (Whitehouse et al. 2012). The model incorporated four special nodes, depicted as black rectangles. We referred to them as ‘intuitive anchor points’ and what made these special was that they constituted universal implicit beliefs that are evoked by the environment (to use Cosmides’ terminology) rather than being sponged up via some sort of general learning capacity. The intuitive anchor points in question were selected for illustrative purposes and not because they were the only or even the most obvious intuitive beliefs that the Kivung evoked. Indeed, a more comprehensive model would have taken many other possible anchor points into account and the socially transmitted nodes in the meaning system would have been vastly more numerous and their crisscrossing interconnections unfathomably more complex. Nevertheless, our model helps convey the complex interplay between evoked and learned cultural representations in a given tradition. In our model, one of the anchoring beliefs was mind-body dualism, the intuition that minds and bodies are distinct and can in principle be detached (Bloom 2004). This was clearly essential to the notion that ancestors could invisibly enter the temple and partake of the offerings without being physically present. Kivung members did not need to be taught that ancestors were bodiless, they inferred this from the fact that nobody ever entered or left the temple after the offerings had been laid out even though the witness might sometimes hear them talking or eating. The second was promiscuous teleology, the over-attribution of intelligent design to natural phenomena (Kelemen and DiYanni 2005). Consider, for instance, the Kivung creation myth about the causes of menstrual bleeding. The idea that this biological function was caused by the actions of primordial ancestors did not need to be explicitly taught but was simply inferred from the fact that Eve cut herself on a betel palm, women menstruate, and Kivung followers do not chew betel nut. The third anchoring belief in our model was the notion that offerings to the ancestors should be handled like potential contaminants, triggering hazard-precaution routines (Boyer and Lienard 2006). That the men entering the temples should walk slowly and deliberately, manipulate the offerings with great care (paying attention to separating, cleaning, and boundary maintenance), and communicate only in whispers were all intuitively obvious and did not need to be explicitly taught. All that was needed to generate these psychological responses and outward behaviours were cues that the food and the context for its preparation and laying out were somehow sacred and therefore potentially dangerous, serving as salient input to each participant’s hazard precaution system. And finally, the notion that God and the ancestors would punish sinners by delaying the miracle or casting them into Hell was implicitly informed by immanent justice intuitions (Callen, Ellard and Nicol 2006). Nobody needed to be explicitly taught that sinners, even the hapless ancestral Eve, deserved to be punished – this was immediately evident by virtue of their transgressions. The point, then, is that Kivung beliefs and practices were grounded in a set of deeper, maturationally natural intuitions (McCauley, 2011) delivered by people’s evolved psychological equipment rather than having to be explicitly taught. This much is entirely consistent with the EP view of culture. But at the same time, many of the details of the Kivung belief system certainly did have to be explicitly taught and learned. If one were to dig deep into each of the core concepts of the Kivung, such as the Ten Laws, or the movement’s eschatology, one would soon find many explicit beliefs that were relatively remote form the intuitive anchor points described above and some downright difficult to conceptualize and remember. For example, the law proscribing murder was interpreted to refer to a great many different kinds of sins involving a kind of metaphorical ‘killing’ including gossip, certain forms of which were understood as a form of ‘character assassination’. In Kivung meetings details of what the ancestors would regard as homicidal behavior were elucidated at great length and repeated with such frequency that the risks of garbling or forgetting were greatly reduced. In our agent-based model such repetition served to ‘refresh’ the nodes in our network, allowing them to persist in a stable form. But when the frequency of repetition in a simulation was reduced, the links between nodes furthest away from intuitive anchor points would be at risk of fading and disappearing, with the possibility that a node could become isolated and so be extinguished from the system altogether. Our model also took account of the motivational strength of particular nodes and other variables that were affected not only by intuitive foundations but also how recently they had been first encountered and other relevant factors. Nevertheless, my concern here is not with details of a computational model. What matters for the present argument is that some beliefs, qua the EP viewpoint championed by Cosmides, are anchored in evolved intuitions and so are largely evoked rather than learned. But, at the same time, cultural systems also incorporate beliefs that are more distant from intuitive anchor points and, qua the ETC viewpoint advocated by Henrich, have to be explicitly learned, practised, and rehearsed if they are to be culturally transmitted. For any meaning system to achieve stability it must ensure not only that its less intuitive constructs have adequate mnemonic support but also, more challengingly still, that the complex webs of interconnections between component nodes are sustainable over time within bounded populations. If a regional tradition is to maintain homogeneity across the landscape it must overcome various kinds of threats to its integrity and coherence as a belief system. Among these threats are forgetting, innovation, and demoralization. Much of my own previous research has been devoted to showing how highly routinized religious traditions reduce the risk of forgetting simply by repeating the creed over and over. Moreover, frequent repetition also makes it easier to spot unauthorized deviations from the orthodox canon (Whitehouse 2004), and mechanisms leading to tighter norm-enforcement may also contribute to the stabilization of beliefs and practices (Gelfand et al., 2011).  But faithfully remembering and accurately reproducing a set of beliefs and practices also presents motivational challenges – not least that routinization can become mind-numbingly boring! The insistence that the faithful turn up day in, day out and week in, week out to hear the same speech acts over and again can lead to the so-called ‘tedium effect’ (Whitehouse 2000), lowering motivation and risking splintering events or other expressions of rebellion. To the extent that the contents of beliefs systems stray from their intuitive anchorages, they may easily stretch credulity to the limit. Doubters pose a threat to retention of the group’s membership not only because they may vote with their feet but also because they may also cause others to lose their faith. The ETC perspective has generated a number of theories to help explain how cultural traditions can inoculate themselves against such problems. An instructive example is the theory of Credibility Enhancing Displays or ‘CREDs’ (Henrich, 2009). Time consuming and materially costly rituals, such as the laying out of offerings to the ancestors in temples, serve to advertise the commitment of adherents to Kivung teachings. According to the CREDs hypothesis, beliefs are more likely to spread in a population if those espousing them act in a way that would be costly if they were only pretending to believe. Beliefs may be said to be costly if they reduce the holder’s fitness, if they make great behavioural demands, or if they stretch credulity to the limit. Such costs are commonly exacted by supernatural beliefs. For example, the Kivung belief that the ancestors will soon return from the dead and magically transform the rainforest into a modern city, incorporates many assumptions that fly in the face of everyday observation and experience. Declaring one’s commitment to such a belief system is relatively easy to do but also likely to prompt skepticism. When such declarations are combined with costly behaviour such as an unremitting regime of ritual observance, however, they appear more sincere and therefore imitable. By backing up one’s beliefs with actions, by ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’, CREDs may facilitate the spread of otherwise incredible beliefs. Insofar as groups with different kinds of beliefs come into competition, those with beliefs that are better adapted to cooperation may prevail. So, for example, a group that can stabilize beliefs in an all-knowing punitive ancestors may be better able to deter cheaters and defectors allowing more effective cooperation in communal projects (Bulbulia et al. 2013).  The idea is that CREDs can play a crucial role in such a process, leading to the spread of cultural traditions like the Kivung, at the expense of others. Rituals serve as admirable CREDs because they are actions rather than merely words. Whereas advocates of EP, like Cosmides, emphasize that what causes beliefs to spread and persist in a population is their ‘catchy’ cognitive content, exponents of ETC, like Henrich, can point to mechanisms like CREDs that allow cultural groups to override various kinds of content bias, making implausible or personally deleterious beliefs more transmissible. One of the great advantages of conducting qualitative fieldwork is that it allows us to see how both EP and ETC perspectives can be right, that evoked intuitive beliefs as well as elaborated systems of belief that need to be learned and supported in various ways can and are combined in the real world. From this field-based perspective, EP is just one element, extended-able by advocates of ETC, and culminating in something much larger and more impressive – if not an elephant exactly, then something roughly as majestic and impressive. Building a Cross-Cultural Field-Based Approach: The AnthroLab Model Participant observation affords us the opportunity to describe cultural systems holistically and that is perhaps its greatest strength. Nevertheless, observation and description are not the same as explanation. To understand the causes of the phenomena we observe in the wild requires carefully controlled experiments and systematic comparison across space and time. Field sites have a vital role to play at this level as well.  But when experiment and comparison are the goal, fieldwork starts to look very different. Research teams get larger, field sites need to start communicating with each other, and the whole enterprise of data gathering and analysis needs to be scaled up and, to some extent, centrally coordinated. In this section we briefly consider a couple of examples of collaborative research in the field based on a hub-and-spokes model, pioneered by AnthroLab in Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind. [caption id="attachment_120005529" align="aligncenter" width="647"]AnthroLab’s current field sites AnthroLab’s current field sites[/caption]

AnthroLab is currently collecting data in 12 countries worldwide, in some of these countries at multiple field sites. We chose this particular spread of countries and regions for several reasons. Above all, we wanted to maximize cultural variability, something that is important whatever one’s theoretical orientations. The question whether culture really does evolve in a genuinely Darwinian fashion – that is via generated variation, inheritance, and selection – is clearly an empirical question that requires field-based research as well as theories, lab experiments, and secondary data analysis to resolve. As we have seen, however, another of the big questions facing the evolutionary human sciences is whether particular behaviours are evoked or transmitted. Adjudicating on this question requires empirical studies that put these possibilities head to head. It is all too easy to fall prey the widespread, if implicit, misconception that just because behaviour is universal it must be intuitive/ evoked whereas if it is variable is must be learned/ transmitted. For example, Henrich argues that because fairness judgments differ cross-culturally this must reflect differences in transmitted norms but as Cosmides observes evoked culture can also vary. Indeed, to the extent that behaviours vary as a consequence of environmental differences the fact that physical and social environments have diversified so dramatically over the past ten thousand years or so should be a powerful motivation for advocates of the EP approach to get out of the lab and enter the field.

[caption id="attachment_120005530" align="aligncenter" width="647"]Doctoral candidate Veronika Rybanska (background left) and a local research assistant (foreground right) help me run a priming study with and adult male participant (foreground left) while another research assistant, Joseph Watts (then a student of Atkinson’s) participates off-camera by managing props, keeping notes, prepping participants and carrying out other essential tasks Doctoral candidate Veronika Rybanska (background left) and a local research assistant (foreground right) help me run a priming study with and adult male participant (foreground left) while another research assistant, Joseph Watts (then a student of Atkinson’s) participates off-camera by managing props, keeping notes, prepping participants and carrying out other essential tasks.[/caption] To illustrate the role that field research can play in these areas, consider the work we have been doing on ritual learning in early childhood. For several years we have been conducting experiments with 4-6 year olds in the USA showing that young children are very sensitive to cues that modelled behaviour is ritualistic rather than instrumental and tend to imitate the former more slavishly than the latter (Legare et al., 2015). In particular one of my doctoral students, Rachel Watson-Jones, spearheaded a series of studies suggesting that the imitation of rituals is motivated by a desire to affiliate with a group (Watson-Jones et al. 2014; Watson-Jones et al. 2015). Since this would appear to be an important mechanism of social learning, a crucial question from an ETC perspective is whether more ritualistic cultural environments (e.g. Melanesia) foster greater sensitivity to cues for conventional rather than instrumental learning. In 2012, Cristine Legare, Quentin Atkinson and I went to Vanuatu, a Melanesian archipelago, to lay the foundations for future fieldwork projects aimed at addressing this important question. In 2013, Atkinson and I returned with a larger entourage of research assistants to begin data collection. Although we each had our own teams dedicated to distinct projects, we were able to join forces to collect basic demographic data, covering more ground much more rapidly than would have been achievable using more conventional ethnographic methods. Moreover, teamwork was essential to carrying out field-based experiments. For example, we wanted to run a study of the effects of ritual versus instrumental primes on cooperation, trust, and preparedness to delay gratification. The procedure involved participation in an artificial ritual involving four experimenters and only one participant per session, a design that would have obviously been impossible to implement by a researcher working alone. Conducting surveys and experiments as teams in countries like Vanuatu has enabled us to carry out rigorous comparisons between field sites. For example, we have been able to show that although Vanuatu is a more tradition-bound, ritualistic environment than much of Eurasia, children of the same age in both regions are more or less equally sensitive to the effects of ritualistic versus instrumental cues on executive control and delayed gratification tasks (Rybanska et al., in press). Currently we are studying the effects of ritual participation across multiple field sites simultaneously and planning even more ambitious research involving thousands of participants from scores of countries (more on this below). Barriers to progress Team-based field research in remote rural settings isn’t easy – or cheap. One of the most obvious barriers to progress is funding. While AnthroLab has been fortunate to secure continuous funding from large grants from the EU, Research Councils, and various charities since its establishment more than a decade ago, fundraising is always a perilous business. To be sustainable in the long-run, field-based approaches in the human sciences need to be embedded in universities serving the regions in which data collection takes place, via collaborations with permanent faculty and their renewable teams of student RAs. We cannot afford to rely only on postdocs supported by ‘soft’ money and fixed term contracts. There are also undoubtedly intellectual barriers to overcome. We all know about the ‘two cultures’ problem that for many decades has made collaboration between scientists and humanist scholars so difficult or even impossible. But this, at least, is an obvious and longstanding problem being addressed from many angles. A potentially more pernicious barrier to progress – at least if it is allowed to persist unabated – is the unwarranted dislocation of EP and ETC perspectives. The need to combine these productively may seem less pressing from the comfort of one’s armchair or even the university lab, but for those of us committed to rolling up our sleeves and going into the field it is a high priority. One solution is to get more EP and ETC people into the field working together. AntroLab is committed to training and hiring researchers to engage in scientific research all around the world based on collaborative fieldwork. To this end, we are continually hiring researchers to work on our many projects overseas and anticipate advertising several more full-time postdocs positions before the end of the current year as well as many opportunities for research assistants. Those interested in applying should look for updates here: http://www.harveywhitehouse.com/research-opportunities Our field-based approach not only combines the perspectives from EP and ETC but more generally adopts a methodologically eclectic approach to problem solving. By doing so, our research will help to illuminate the essentials of being human – our language, rituals, religion, and morality. The best way to help research on cultural evolution inch forward is to wrestle with empirical problems, forcing the theorists catch up. That, in my experience, is what going into the field is all about. Acknowledgments I am grateful to Michael Buhrmester, Tom Currie, Oliver Scott Curry, Pieter Francois, Jonathan Jong, Chris Kavanagh, and David Sloan Wilson for commenting on a draft of this essay.  This work was supported by a Large Grant from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (REF RES-060-25-0085) entitled “Ritual, Community, and Conflict”. References Bloom, Paul (2004). Descartes’ Baby: How the science of child development explains what makes us human. New York: Basic Books. Boyer, P. and Lienard, P. (2006). Why ritualized behavior? Precaution systems and action parsing in developmental, pathological and cultural rituals.  Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 29 (6), 595-612. Bulbulia, J., Geertz, A. W., Atkinson, Q. D., Cohen, E. A., Evans, N., François, P., Gintis, H., Gray, R., Henrich, J., Jordon, F., Norenzayan, A., Richerson, P. J., Slingerland, E., Turchin, P., Whitehouse, H., Widlok, T. & Wilson, D. S. (2013). The cultural evolution of religion. In P. J. Richerson & M. H. Christiansen (Eds.) Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion (Strungmann Forum Reports). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Callan M.J., Ellard J.H., and Nicol J.E. (2006). The belief in a just world and immanent justice reasoning in adults. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 32(12):1646-58. Gelfand, M., Raver, J., Nishii, L., Leslie, L., & Lun, J., and colleagues (2011). Differences between tight and loose societies: A 33-nation study. Science, 33, 1100-1104. Henrich, J. (2009). The evolution of costly displays, cooperation, and religion: Credibility enhancing displays and their implications for cultural evolution. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 30, 244-260. Legare, Cristine H., Nicole J. Wen, Patricia A. Herrmann, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Imitative flexibility and the development of cultural learning. Cognition. Vol 142: pp. 351-361. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.020 Kelemen, D., and DiYanni, C. (2005). Intuitions about origins: Purpose and intelligent design in children’s reasoning about nature. Journal of Cognition and Development, 6, 3-31. McCauley, Robert N. (2011). Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not. New York: Oxford University Press. Powell, Russell and Clarke, Steve (2012). Religion as an Evolutionary Byproduct: A Critique of the Standard Model. In Brit. J. Phil. Sci., 63: pp 457-486. Rybanska, Veronika, Ryan McKay, Jonathan Jong, and Harvey Whitehouse (In Press). Rituals improve children's ability to delay gratification. Child Development. Sperber, Dan (1996). Explaining Culture: A naturalistic approach. Oxford: Blackwell. Waddington, C.H. 1957. The Strategy of the Genes. London: Allen & Unwin. Watson-Jones, Rachel, Cristine H. Legare, Harvey Whitehouse and Jennifer Clegg (2014). Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitation of social convention in early childhood. Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 35, No. 3: pp 204 – 210. Watson-Jones, Rachel E., Harvey Whitehouse, and Cristine H. Legare (2015). In-group ostracism increases high fidelity imitation in early childhood. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797615607205 Whitehouse, Harvey (1995). Inside the Cult: religious innovation and transmission in Papua New Guinea, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Whitehouse, Harvey (2000). Arguments and Icons: divergent modes of religiosity, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Whitehouse, Harvey (2004). Modes of Religiosity: a cognitive theory of religious transmission, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. Whitehouse, Harvey, Ken Kahn, Michael E.  Hochberg, and Joanna J. Bryson. (2012). The role for simulations in theory construction for the social sciences:  Case studies concerning Divergent Modes of Religiosity. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, Vol. 2, No. 3: pp 182-201. Whitehouse, Harvey (2013). Rethinking Proximate Causation and Development in Religious Evolution. In P. J. Richerson and M. H. Christiansen. (eds.) Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion (Strungmann Forum Reports). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [post_title] => Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: An Anthropologist’s View [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => developing-the-field-site-concept-for-the-study-of-cultural-evolution-an-anthropologists-view [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-10-19 10:38:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-10-19 14:38:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=focus-article&p=120005525 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => focus-article [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120005523 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2016-10-03 06:11:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-10-03 10:11:02 [post_content] => The study of human cultural evolution has made enormous strides over the last three decades. For most of the 20th century, evolutionary biology was highly gene-centric and the human behavioral sciences developed largely without reference to evolution. Now, the study of evolution is increasingly becoming centered on the concept of heredity, with genes constituting only one mechanism of inheritance. Other mechanisms include epigenetics, forms of social learning found in many species, and forms of symbolic thought that are distinctively human (Jablonka and Lamb 2006). The human capacity to transmit large amounts of learned information across generations is now properly seen as both a product of genetic evolution and a process of evolution in its own right. More than ever before, human cultural diversity is being studied with the same set of theoretical and empirical tools as the study of biological diversity (Henrich et al. 2008; Henrich 2015; Richerson and Christiensen 2013; Richerson and Boyd 2006; Wilson 2012; Wilson et al. 2016) Field studies are the backbone of research in evolutionary biology because the only way to understand the properties of species is in relation to their environments. Laboratory research is also essential but must be informed by field research; otherwise, it runs the risk of asking misleading and nonsensical questions. Reliance on field studies is second nature for an evolutionary biologist. Field studies take place at geographical locations, or field sites. Many biological field sites are just the places where individual scientists conduct a single study, but some field sites become locations where studies build upon other studies. Famous examples include the field site established Peter and Rosemary Grant for the study of Darwin’s Finches (Grant and Grant 2014) and Gombe Park in Tanzania for the study of Chimpanzees (Goodall 2010). Some field sites are established and operated in a top-down fashion, such as the Hubbard Brook experimental forest in New Hampshire, USA, or the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network funded by the National Science Foundation in America. Others become established in a bottom-up fashion starting with a single modest study, an important point to which I will return below. Field studies have a different status in the human behavioral sciences. They form the backbone of research in cultural anthropology and sociology, but these disciplines have historically been the least inclined to adopt an evolutionary perspective and many cultural anthropologists also eschew scientific methods. Most of the other branches of the human behavioral sciences do not study people in relation to their past and present culturally influenced environments or base laboratory research on field studies, with the attendant risk of asking misleading and nonsensical questions. Since field studies have such a marginal status in the human behavioral sciences, it follows that the concept of field sites is also underdeveloped. The best examples come from quantitative sociological research such as the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) headed by Robert J. Sampson. While site-based research projects such as this one are admirable and sophisticated in many respects, they are typically not informed by a modern biocultural evolutionary perspective. It follows that work is required for field studies and field sites to play a role in the study of human cultural evolution comparable to the role that they play in evolutionary biological research.  Some of the work is conceptual—making the role of field studies second nature as part of adopting an evolutionary perspective. Some of the work is physical—creating an infrastructure at geographical locations for studies to build upon other studies. The purpose of this target essay is to place the development of field sites firmly on the radar screen of the newly formed Cultural Evolution Society (CES) and other individuals and organizations that want to promote the study of human cultural evolution. I plan to do this in a conversational way, through the lens of my own experience as someone trained in evolutionary biology, who conducted numerous field studies on nonhuman species earlier in my career, and who now conducts human-related field research in my city of Binghamton, New York (Wilson 2011). A companion essay by my friend and colleague Harvey Whitehouse will relate his experience as a cultural anthropologist who conducted traditional ethnographic research earlier in his career and is now actively engaged in field-oriented human evolutionary research in sites around the world. Before telling our own stories, we want to stress that we regard ourselves as fellow travelers, rather than leaders, in developing the field site concept for the study of cultural evolution. Our efforts have been marked by failures in addition to successes and we hope that both will be instructive. Others have made as much or more progress than we have and some of them will be sharing their stories in commentaries on our target articles.  We hope that the combined experience of the commentators and ourselves will help to catalyze the creation of field sites for the study of cultural evolution around the world, with the CES playing a lead role. The Experience of an Evolutionary Field Biologist I was lucky to enter graduate school in the 1970’s when the historically separate disciplines of ecology, evolution, and behavior were growing together. This was the decade that included Dobzhansky’s (1973) declaration that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, the award of the Nobel Prize in Medicine to Konrad Lorenz, Karl von Frisch, and Niko Tinbergen, and the publication of E.O. Wilson’s (1975) Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Tinbergen’s (1963) now classic article titled “The Methods and Aims of Ethology” was part of my core reading as a graduate student. In his effort to establish ethology (the study of animal behavior) as a branch of biology, Tinbergen pointed out that four questions must be addressed for all products of evolution, concerning their function, history, mechanism, and development.  Ever since, “Tinbergen’s Four Questions” have been cited as a compact description of a fully rounded evolutionary approach—and they are relevant to all products of evolution, no matter what the mechanism of inheritance (see Wilson and Gowdy 2013 for a discussion of Tinbergen’s Four Questions in relation to economic theory and practice). All four questions require knowledge of the organism in relation to its environment. This goes without saying for the function and history questions, but it also holds for the mechanism and development questions. To illustrate this point, imagine being told to study the developing and mature brains of two species of birds without being told anything about their ecology. Unbeknownst to you, one species migrates south during the winter and is adapted to memorize the night sky as a nestling. The other species does not migrate and is adapted to memorize the locations of thousands of food items that it stores every fall. How many decades would be required for you to discover these brain mechanisms, in the absence of information about each species in relation to its environment? picture1dswSomething else that I learned in graduate school was that fieldwork could be fully scientific.  Uncontrolled observations could be quantified with methods such as focal sampling and controlled experiments could take place in the organism’s natural habitat in addition to the laboratory. In fact, if a laboratory experiment doesn’t simulate the natural environment of a species in key aspects, then the response of the organism to an evolutionarily novel environment can be extremely difficult to interpret. The mismatch can also be extremely revealing if the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness” is kept in mind. As one of many examples, raising kittens in a visual environment that includes only horizontal or only vertical lines results in profound impairment of vision, demonstrating the importance of environmental inputs during eye development (Hubel 1988). Fieldwork was therefore mandatory for my PhD research and for all of my graduate student peers, unless they were studying a species that had already been extensively studied in the field. In my case, field sites were easy to come by. Any lake would do for a study of zooplankton, any woods for a study of carrion beetles. If a question focused on a particular environmental variable, such as the role of fish predators in the evolution of vertical migration in zooplankton, then any sample of lakes with and without predators, holding other variables constant as much as possible, would do. In this fashion, the field sites for a large fraction of field research in evolutionary biology last no longer than one or a few studies. While these studies are good as far as they go, there is a big added value to conducting many studies at a single location. This is why most large universities maintain field stations, such as the University of Michigan’s Douglas Lake Biological Station, where I conducted research on carrion beetles for several years, and Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station, where I served on the faculty for eight years and studied adaptive intraspecific variation in fish among other topics. Most of the research that takes place at biological stations is not centrally planned.  It is up to individual researchers what to study, but the fact that the studies take place at a single location and that social interactions take place within the community of researchers and their students (indeed, they are among the most socially charming places on earth!) naturally leads to projects that build upon other projects, in much the same way that termite mounds are built by workers depositing secretions on top of the secretions of previous workers, without any centralized planning. Centralized planning plays a larger role at some field sites, especially when supported by major funding from public and private sources. An example is the Long Term Ecological Research Network, which is supported by a dedicated branch of the National Science Foundation. This kind of “Big Science” is required to tackle some questions, but there can also be inefficiencies associated with centralized planning and large bureaucracies of all sorts. Envisioning a Comparable Role for Field Sites in the Study of Cultural Evolution Against this background, what would the study of cultural evolution be like if it were comparable to the study of biological evolution? Researchers would employ Tinbergen’s fully rounded “Four Questions” approach. They would use quantitative observational and experimental methods in the field whenever possible and their laboratory experiments would be based upon a foundation of fieldwork. Colleges and Universities would maintain field sites for the study of cultural evolution and at least some centrally planned “Big Science” projects would be funded by public and private foundations. Obviously, the actual study of cultural evolution is a far cry from this description, but it is useful to keep it in mind as something to work toward. In addition, it is encouraging to know that long-term field sites aren’t required for many kinds of field research (any location will do) and can come into existence incrementally using the “termite” model, without requiring the major initial investment required by the “Big Science” model. It is especially feasible for any college or university to create a field site for the study of cultural evolution. Biological field sites require a relatively large area of natural habitat, living facilities and laboratories on site, and so on.  For the study of cultural evolution, the community surrounding the college or university can be the field site, faculty and students already live on the site, and the laboratories are already located on campus. All the ingredients of a field site are present without formal designation required. Something that is not always present, however, is the right mindset for the faculty and students conducting the research. As I stressed at the beginning of this essay, conceptual work is required in addition to physical work for field sites to play the same role for the study of cultural evolution as for the study of biological evolution.  At almost all colleges and universities, the administration is eager to foster good relations with the community and numerous faculty and students are already doing community based research and action. At my university, which is located several miles away from the city of Binghamton, a downtown building was recently constructed that houses the College of Community and Public Affairs, including the departments of Social Work, Human Development, and Public Administration. Without wanting to disparage the research that takes place in these departments (at many colleges and universities, not just my own), the following statements are empirically supportable.
  • Most of the research is oriented toward the solution of practical problems and does not contribute much to basic scientific knowledge.
  • Each problem tends to be considered in isolation, resulting in an “archipelago” of research communities with little communication among “islands”.
  • The quality of empirical research is highly variable. The best is very good indeed, but many studies are entirely descriptive and many programs are poorly designed and assessed.
All of these problems can be solved by adopting evolution as a unifying theoretical perspective.
  • If basic scientific knowledge requires studying people in relation to their culturally influenced environments, then field research in one’s community can merit publication in top academic journals in addition to addressing practical problems. It is possible to have one’s cake and eat it too with respect to basic and applied research.
  • Evolutionary theory provides a common theoretical language that can integrate previously isolated research communities.
  • A unified theoretical perspective and enhanced communication among research communities can improve the average quality of empirical research.
The Binghamton Neighborhood Project My own attempt to use my city as a field site, which I dubbed the Binghamton Neighborhood Project (Wilson 2011), can be used to illustrate these points. The concept is transferrable, as Daniel Nettle has shown with his Tyneside Neighbourhood Project in the UK (Nettle 2015).  In termite-like fashion, the BNP started with a single study that was conducted without any external funding. With my PhD student Daniel O’Brien, I collaborated with the Superintendent of the Binghamton City School District to give a survey to public school students in grades 6-12. In practical terms, the survey measured internal and external assets that are required for healthy human development. In basic scientific terms, the survey measured the conditions required for prosociality (behaviors and attitudes oriented toward the welfare of others and society as a whole) to evolve as a social strategy in a Darwinian world—whether by genetic evolution, cultural evolution, or the expression of behaviors in phenotypically plastic individuals. Very simply, for prosociality to succeed as a social strategy, those who give must also receive. We were able to demonstrate an impressively high correlation between the prosociality of the individual student and the prosociality of the student’s social environment, including family, neighborhood, school, religion, and extracurricular activities. In fact, the correlation coefficient was higher than the correlation coefficient between full siblings (r) in simple models for the genetic evolution of altruistic behaviors (Wilson, O’Brien and Sesma 2009). picture2dswAlthough social support need not be spatially based, it has a very strong spatial component, as we saw when we combined our survey data with the residential locations of the students from school records as shown in Figure 1 (abiding by human subject research guidelines, of course).  On a scale where individuals can vary between 0 and 100 in their self-reported prosociality, the average prosociality of students in a neighborhood can vary by as much as 50 points. This study led to other studies to validate and extend the survey results. We made naturalistic observations of prosocial behaviors in neighborhoods, played experimental games with students in their classrooms, and employed the “lost letter method” from the field of social psychology to experimentally demonstrate variation in behaviors in the different neighborhoods (see Wilson 2011 for a book-length account). In one set of experiments, Binghamton University college students viewed photographs of different neighborhoods and then played experimental economic games with public school students from the neighborhoods (O’Brien and Wilson 2011). We could do this because we had previously played economic games with the public school students in their classrooms. Knowing their residential locations, we could pair their responses to the responses of the college students in the subsequent study. The results showed that merely viewing a photograph of a neighborhood strongly influences the propensity to cooperate or defect in an experimental game.  Daniel Nettle (2015) has gone even further by bussing students into different neighborhoods to complete surveys and play experimental games, with huge effects compared to the same surveys completed and games played on campus. This research is immensely interesting and relevant to the practical concerns of our community partners, while also resulting in publications in top-ranked academic journals such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (O’Brien and Wilson 2011) and Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Wilson, Hayes, Biglan, and Embry 2014), illustrating the positive tradeoff that can exist between basic and applied research. It unites previously isolated research communities by showing that prosociality is a master variable: Having it results in multiple assets and not having it results in multiple liabilities (Biglan 2015). Challenges to Establishing a Field Site Based on my experience and Nettle’s parallel effort, I am convinced that every college and university, anywhere in the world, can become the nucleus for a field site for the study of cultural evolution. The field sites can grow incrementally based on resources at hand, like a termite mound, without requiring a large initial “Big Science” investment.  However, I have also encountered severe challenges in my efforts to develop Binghamton into a field site, which can be grouped into the following categories. Lacking the evolutionary perspective: The need for a unified theoretical perspective cannot be overstated. It makes the difference between the unfocused and often low quality research taking place in communities everywhere and focused research that contributes to basic scientific knowledge while also addressing practical problems. It sounds imperious to make this claim—especially to people who do not yet “get it”--but the power of a unified theoretical framework has already been proven by the history of the biological sciences.  A community of scientists and their students who understand the meaning of Tinbergen’s fully rounded “Four Question” approach is therefore necessary to get started.  One reason that I was emboldened to begin field research in Binghamton in 2006 was because I had previously established a campus-wide evolutionary studies program in 2003 (Wilson 2007; Wilson et al. 2011), providing a critical mass of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students who could become involved. Even in my case, it was primarily my own laboratory that started the BNP and there is a constant need to educate people--both inside and outside of the Ivory Tower--about the evolutionary perspective. Social instability and disruptive influences beyond one’s control: Even when a research project can be conducted with the resources at hand, it requires the cooperation of community partners, such as my collaboration with Binghamton’s school superintendent.  Whenever a community partner retires or moves on to another position, the collaboration must be renegotiated with his or her replacement. It is distressing how often this happens. In a school for at-risk youth that the BNP helped to design in collaboration with the same superintendent (Wilson, Kauffman, and Purdy 2011), we had to orient four principals that were assigned to us over a period of three years. Then the whole program was terminated by a new school superintendent who trusted her gut instincts more than the results of our randomized control trial. Other projects that began with the help of a progressive Mayor withered with the election of a more conservative major. The turnover of college presidents, provosts, and deans—each anxious to establish their reputation as a change agent before moving on—is also distressingly high. A long-term field site must be designed to withstand these disruptive influences, a point to which I will return below. Putting one foot in front of the other: As if these problems weren’t bad enough, even for projects that receive unanimous support, it can be difficult to collectively put one foot in front of the other. As one example, the county health department reports a treasure trove of information at the spatial scale of zip code, but this information would be much more valuable and commensurate with our own data at the spatial scale of census block groups. In principle this should be doable, both technically and legally, but the work required proved to be insurmountable given the financial and human resources at hand.  As a second example, the idea of sponsoring a friendly competition among neighborhoods to increase school attendance, using attendance maps (similar to the prosociality map shown above) that are updated monthly, met with universal approval.  The school had the necessary information, but it was entered into commercial software packages sold to schools that are designed to issue reports, not to work with the data in unscripted ways. The small IT staff of the Binghamton City School District was too preoccupied with more immediate concerns and efforts to interest faculty and graduate students of Binghamton University’s computer science department also failed, so an interesting project in applied cultural evolution, with the possibility of an important educational outcome (increasing school attendance) didn’t materialize. I hope that these examples give a flavor of what it’s like to create a field site for the study of cultural evolution in “termite” mode, without requiring the massive support required by the ”Big Science” mode. The good news is that it can be done with whatever resources are at hand. The motto of the BNP is “Don’t wait for the money!” Indeed, over-reliance on external funding has been the death of many research programs. The capacity of a college or university to conduct community-based research without dedicated funding is impressive when one pauses to think about it. The faculty are already on salary. Many of the graduate students are supported as well on teaching or research assistantships. Faculty and graduate students alike are on the lookout for interesting new research projects and many have an intrinsic motivation to help their community. Undergraduate students are eager to work for course credits, very affordable hourly wages, or on a volunteer basis.  Community partners also have a latent capacity with their paid staffs and operation budgets, although often to a lesser extent due to understaffing and the short-term demands of their jobs. These latent capacities can be activated by having a clear sense of what to do. One hidden benefit of the “termite” model is that trying to accomplish positive cultural change with the resources at hand is an education in cultural evolution all by itself. The challenges that my associates and I encounter aren’t always fun, but they teach us things that we never would have learned from the purely academic study of cultural evolution. We are developing street smarts to go along with our book smarts. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the investment of additional resources for the creation and support of field sites wouldn’t help, especially when targeted to solve some of the instabilities and disruptions described above. The contractual obligations that come with dedicated funding can help in addition to the actual money. And some of the biggest and most important questions in the study of human cultural evolution will require the “Big Science” model to address. The larger the community of scientists who adopt the evolutionary paradigm, the sooner the field site concept will acquire the same status for the study of cultural evolution as for the study of biological evolution.  This is why the creation of the Cultural Evolution Society is of historic significance. For the first time, over a thousand scientists and scholars from around the world who speak a common theoretical language have a means to communicate and coordinate their actions. I hope that the creation of field sites will be among their top agenda items. Literature Cited Biglan, A. (2015). The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives and Our World. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications; 1 edition. Dobzhansky, T. (1973). Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher, 35, 125–129. Goodall, J. (2010). Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe. Stewart, Tabori and Chang. Henrich, J. (2015). The Secret of Our Success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Henrich, J., Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (2008). Five Misunderstandings about Cultural Evolution. Human Nature, 19, 119–137. Hubel, D. H. (1988). Eye, Brain, and Vision. New York: W.H. Freeman. O’Brien, D. T., & Wilson, D. S. (2011). Community Perception: The ability to assess the safety of unfamiliar neighborhoods and respond adaptively. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 606–620. Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (2005). Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Richerson, P. J., & Christiensen, M. H. (2013). Cultural Evolution. Cambridge Mass.: The MIT Press. Tinbergen, N. (1963). On aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift Für Tierpsychologie, 20, 410–433. Wilson, D. S. (2007). Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives. New York: Delacorte. Wilson, D. S. (2011). The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time. New York: Little, Brown. Wilson, D. S. (2012). Human Cultures are Primarily Adaptive at the Group Level. Social Evolution Forum. Wilson, D. S., Geher, G., Waldo, J., & Chang, R. S. (2011). The EvoS Consortium: Catalyzing Evolutionary Training in Higher Education. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 4(1), 8–10. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12052-011-0319-4 Wilson, D. S., Hartberg, Y., MacDonald, I., Lanman, J. A., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). The Nature of Religious Diversity: A Cultural Ecosystem Approach. Religion, Brain & Behavior, in press. Pp 1-20 DOI 10.1080/2153599X.2015.1132243 Wilson, D. S., & Gowdy, J. M. (2013). Evolution as a general theoretical framework for economics and public policy. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 90, S3–S10. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2012.12.008 Wilson, D. S., Kauffman, R. A., & Purdy, M. S. (2011). A Program for At-risk High School Students Informed by Evolutionary Science. PLoS ONE, 6(11), e27826. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027826 Wilson, D. S., O’Brien, D. T., & Sesma, A. (2009). Human prosociality from an evolutionary perspective: variation and correlations at a city-wide scale. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(3), 190–200. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.12.002 Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press .   [post_title] => Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: An Evolutionary Biologist’s View [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => developing-the-field-site-concept-for-the-study-of-cultural-evolution-an-evolutionary-biologists-view [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-10-19 10:00:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-10-19 14:00:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=focus-article&p=120005523 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => focus-article [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120005436 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2016-09-19 08:46:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-09-19 12:46:47 [post_content] => After decades of debate on the seemingly irreconcilable differences between C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” of the sciences and humanities, David Sloan Wilson suggests that we are now seeing real signs of the barriers being broken down. In their place, we are seeing the emergence of a united, “One Culture”, in which any and all disciplines can be united around a common framework of understanding. Not least, the study of evolutionary heritage and change—in both its biological and cultural manifestations—has huge importance and implications for our understanding and theorizing about human thought, behavior, and our interactions with each other and our environment. I am greatly honored that David highlighted my book laying out an evolutionary theory of the origins of religion (often considered a no-go area for science) as one of the four examples of such a merging of disciplinary approaches. Reading the commentaries on David’s essay so far, there are clearly more battles to be fought. However, rather than entering the fray directly, here I want to draw our attention to another front opening up on the horizon—a different set of battles that, to win, the Two Cultures will have to bury the hatchet and face together. In doing so, I think we will be forced to leave the Two Cultures behind, as well as discovering that the One Culture is the way ahead. Last week, I attended one the most interesting meetings of the year. It was the “Cecil Summit”, an emergency meeting in Oxford bringing together biologists, conservationists, economists, political scientists, and social entrepreneurs to knock their heads together to work out how to solve an urgent problem: saving the African lion from extinction. “Save”, you might wonder? It is not well known that, in comparison to widely publicized campaigns to conserve rhinos and elephants, for example, there are even fewer African lions remaining than these other iconic species. They have declined at an alarming rate across most of their range, now down to a mere 10% or so of its historical distribution, and precariously fragmented across the parks and dwindling habitat of several different countries.[1] The conference was hosted by Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU)[2], and its high-energy director David Macdonald. “Cecil” was the name of one of WildCRU’s GPS-collared study animals whose death last year, at the hands of a Minnesotan dentist armed with a bow and arrow, was widely reported around the world. WildCRU’s and Oxford’s websites experienced the highest volume of traffic in the university’s history. In the wake of this public outcry about the untimely death of a majestic lion, the conference was designed to ask how we could take this “Cecil moment” of widespread public interest into a “Cecil movement”—a sustained commitment to reverse the decline of the African lion and preserve its heritage for the future. Now what of the One Culture debate? The problem of the Cecil Summit was, quite clearly, not a problem of biology. It is a problem of people, and the interaction of people and their environment. The lion biologists present rattled off an impressive synopsis of lion studies that have been conducted across Africa for many decades. They know all about lions, track many of their daily movements from satellites, and know in great detail a range of methods to conserve them. The difficult part is implementing these methods of saving the lion from extinction in the face of a burgeoning and rapidly developing human population that needs space to expand and land to grow food. The burning question put to the conference was thus how to preserve what is, for those communities who live alongside them, a dangerous predator and livestock rustler in a continent with the highest levels of poverty and a population set to double from 1 to 2 billion in the next 50 years. As became strikingly clear, this is simply not a question that scientists are able to tackle on their own. Without the input of representatives of the other, non-science culture, they will fail. Like many of the significant challenges we face in the 21st century—biodiversity loss, climate change, energy, poverty, managing food and water resources—science is “only” the background info we need in order to make informed decisions. The tricky part comes next: getting from scientific ideas to policy that politicians can sell and people will accept. I suggest that the many global challenges that we are being forced to tackle, by merging science and policy, will in themselves help to break down the barriers between the Two Cultures. Indeed, they must if they are to succeed. This suggests a different take on the One Culture debate. The reconciliation of hardened ideologies about the relative values of science and arts may not happen within the academy. Indeed, academics have many reasons to resist it, especially as science departments inexorably expand while many social science and humanities departments are suffering severe decline. There is tangible real estate that must be defended if it is to survive. Rather, I see the One Culture forming somewhere else—at the coalface of real world challenges where disciplinary defenses have long been cast aside in the service of solving practical problems. The One Culture also has another significant source of vitality: a new generation of soldiers. The global challenges outlined above are not in fact going to be solved by us—the ageing academic cadre who grew up with the sociobiology and post-structuralist debates of the 70s, 80s, and after. Instead, these challenges are going to be solved by the students coming up through the system now, students who as far as I can tell are far less resistant to interdisciplinary thinking than their forebears have been before them. For them, the world is a dynamic and interconnected place, where disciplinary approaches and tools of analysis are much more visibly merging and intersecting. This should be no surprise with the internet, social media, globalization, and the increasing sophistication of analytical methods across all disciplines. While the next generation still understand and appreciate fundamental differences in philosophical backgrounds and methodological approaches between the arts and sciences, to me they seem far more interested in taking the good bits of both worlds and using them to be creative in the pursuit of new challenges. I may be biased (or lucky) with the students I know. But the ones I have here in Oxford are often way more interdisciplinary than me, in their thinking, their educational backgrounds, and their aspirations. Several of them have moved across departments, and across faculties, within and across universities. If we in the older generation have been testing the boundaries of the Two Cultures in recent years, these youngsters often seem to stampede across them with reckless abandon. I’m not sure they would even recognize the Two Cultures problem as we do. While David rightly calls us to rethink and celebrate signs of the One Culture emerging out of the Two, I wonder if we may be merely charting the tail end of an old debate—a debate that happened to be particularly important to our generation, but one that is on a path to extinction. It will no doubt remain a subject of academic interest for some time to come (and thus by definition, not of particular interest to the average global citizen), but I suggest it will partly become superseded by events and urgent demands of the day. If we are to tackle such complex problems such as climate change, poverty, terrorism, and war, then we will not only need to involve “both” cultures, but to renounce them. The One Culture is not merely a vision of how academia could or should join forces to produce a more unified framework for understanding the world and our place in it. Rather, my argument is that creating One Culture is going to become an absolute necessity if we are to address and solve the many lethal challenges to the planet and its inhabitants in the future. As populations expand and resources dwindle, every major problem is accumulating a significant and complex human dimension. Workable solutions require strategies that take into account history, religion, psychology, politics, culture, identity, the arts, and numerous other human concerns as much as science. The scientists cannot deal with these multifaceted problems alone, but will need help from people from both of the Two Cultures tribes. Of course, interdisciplinary teams have long been important in addressing big problems, from public health and international development to urban planning and space exploration. But the scale and urgency of such complex problems, especially at the global level, is making interdisciplinarity a more common and much more pressing need. David highlighted the utility and value of stepping outside disciplinary boundaries. I strongly endorse this and, in this article, merely tried to identify two new sources driving the change: global challenges that demand a One Culture approach, and a next generation of scholars and practitioners that bear all the hallmarks of belonging to One Culture already. Having lauded this change, I should caution that the Two Cultures “problem” is still very much an obstacle to achieving it. Because of the severe demands on young academics to publish, find jobs, and gain tenure, there are many reasons to retrench into one of the two cultures and play it safe. One Culture may be “good for the group” (humanity), but there can be costs to individual self-interest in waving the flag too high (interdisciplinary scholars falling between the disciplinary cracks). Although I have enjoyed and benefitted immensely from traversing disciplinary boundaries, I have increasingly observed a variety of back-room resistance and sometimes hostility to those trying to do so. In hindsight, it was an extremely risky strategy that paid off for me, but which I generally encourage my own students to avoid. It is so much easier and safer to be a straight-down-the-line academic with a single home discipline and department, and to teach, stack up publications, and develop expertise in a specific area. Fortunately for the One Culture, most of my students have diligently ignored this advice, spurred on as they are by the practical utility of joining one big, powerful tribe. Only a big, powerful tribe can save the lion, just one of the many global challenges to come. References [1] http://www.pnas.org/content/112/48/14894.abstract [2] https://www.wildcru.org   -- Image via Flickr/daughter3986851963 [post_title] => Divided We Fall: The One Culture, the Next Generation, and 21st Century Challenges [post_excerpt] => Dominic Johnson suggests that the many global challenges that we are being forced to tackle, by merging science and policy, will in themselves help to break down the barriers between the Two Cultures. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => divided-we-fall-the-one-culture-the-next-generation-and-21st-century-challenges [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-19 11:25:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-19 15:25:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=commentary&p=120005436 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => commentary [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120005430 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2016-09-16 11:16:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-09-16 15:16:07 [post_content] =>   Let me begin with what I find commendable in David Sloan Wilson’s “The One Culture”: its irenic spirit.  He wants science and the humanities to cooperate in the study of human culture.  An advocate of science, in particular evolutionary theory, he acknowledges misuses of evolutionary theory and credits what traditional humanists have to say about culture, for instance, the work humanists “have done…on symbolic thought.”  I wish he had specified the misuses of evolutionary theory.  He is right to criticize contemporary practitioners of the humanities who dismiss the possibility of objective knowledge.  “Relativism becomes self-contradictory and useless when it denies the possibility of objective knowledge.”  I am a humanist, and not alone, in my belief in objective knowledge as necessary to the practice of both the sciences and humanities. I’m not sure I understand Wilson’s advocacy of The One Culture.  It is a response to C.P Snow’s “Two Cultures.”  Snow’s target was literary culture, which he faulted for being ignorant of science and backward looking, a dubious generalization.  He was not, however, advocating The One Culture, whatever that means.  Does Wilson mean that humanists and scientists in their cooperative enterprises occupy a single culture and that there are no cultural differences between disciplines?  Or is he referring to the human culture being studied?  If so, why is the object of that study, as he claims, cultural diversity?  Wilson speaks of culture in the anthropological sense, certainly a long-standing, legitimate subject of scientific study without objection from humanists.  He cites the study of religion: “Religious beliefs and practices might be just as irrational and wasteful as they seem and persist as by products of psychological and social processes that are useful in non religious contexts.”  As he notes, this insight into the communal function of religion goes back to Emile Durkheim, who “posited” that “most enduring religions are useful in non religious contexts.”  Wilson reasonably views human development as the product of a dual inheritance, genetic and cultural.  Here he would be at odds with anthropologists (cultural constructivists) who insist on culture as the exclusive or primary cause. Absent from Wilson’s discussion is Literary Darwinism, a discipline of evolutionary psychology that has as an object of study high literary culture. Here is where literary humanists put up resistance, but not necessarily because of hostility to scientific approaches to literature and the arts.  There are humanists who are hostile to science just as there are scientists who are hostile to the humanities.  I believe, however, that most humanists, and I count myself among them, who despite their limited knowledge of the sciences value science and the extraordinary accomplishments of scientists.  Where would we be without physics, chemistry and biology?  What I and fellow humanists resist is the imperial ambition of certain evolutionary psychologists and their followers, mostly in literary studies, to subsume the disciplines of the humanities under their conception of evolutionary theory.  We don’t foreclose the possibility of scientific contributions to an understanding of literature and the arts, but are repelled by the unearned judgment displayed, for example, in Joseph Carroll’s response to Wilson’s essay.  Where Wilson is respectful of the humanities in his attempt to bring science and the humanities together in joint enterprises, Carroll is contemptuous in his characterization of the semi-official creed of the humanities as irrationalist, anti-foundationalist, in effect reducing the richness and complexity of the humanist tradition to its perversion.  (As I have made clear elsewhere in my work, I am no admirer of the theoretical and ideological obsessions that occupy much of literary study these days.)   Unlike Wilson, Carroll doesn’t seem to envisage coexistence between disciplines.  Carroll goes on to say that “humanists will need to alter the fundamental features in the whole conceptual structure in which they operate,” assuming that there is a single structure and without specifying the single structure he has in mind.  There is no acknowledgment of the accomplishments of distinguished critics and scholars, past and present, who in different ways have illuminated individual works, genres and traditions: A.C. Bradley on Shakespeare, T. Eliot and formalist critics on the metaphysical poets, cultural critics such as Lionel Trilling and Raymond Williams on English social criticism of the nineteenth-century, Joseph Frank on Dostoevsky and Frank Kermode on a wide range of subjects.  These are examples of a much longer list. What evolutionary theory at the present time offers in the way of an understanding of literature and the arts is paltry by comparison. In my book, Darwinian Misadventures in the Humanities (2007), I made the case against what passes for Literary Darwinism.  I cited vulgar versions, such as Steven Pinker’s characterization of the pleasures of literature as “mental cheesecake” and the even more egregious example of David and Nanelle Barash’s Madame Bovary’s Ovaries, in which the deep truth of Emma Bovary’s character is that she is a “horny woman.”  Carroll, to be sure, repudiates such commentary.  He has shown himself to be a competent critic in work on Matthew Arnold and Wallace Stevens.  Here is what I say of his discussion of Pride and Prejudice.  “He has sensible, though not particularly original things to say, which, one should note, do not depend on an application of evolutionary theory.  ‘Austen mocks false status---rank and wealth unsupported by education, wit, manner and character—but she ultimately affirms the authority of legitimate social status as that represented by the normative couple, Elizabeth and Darcy.’  Nor do we need evolutionary theory when he tells us that ‘irony is a fundamental and pervasive literary device designed for the purpose of detecting and exposing hypocrisy and deceit.’ It needs to be said that very little of the vitality and wit of Pride and Prejudice gets into Carroll’s account of the novel.  [His} complaint about traditional criticism, ‘which operates at the level of Austen’s own lexicon…is that it seeks no systematic reduction to simple principles that have large general validity.’ This hardly seems a deficiency.  The alternative that Carroll and his fellow Darwinists are proposing is the dissolution of the individuality of the work (the very reason we enjoy and value it) into a large generalization that removes all of its distinctive feature and vitality.” Without an understanding and appreciation of a writer’s lexicon, the experience of literature is lost. To which I would add: so-called traditional criticism does not eschew generalizations about genre, traditions and narrative.  At its best, what it tries to do is to make those generalizations illuminate the diversity of literary and artistic expression.  I would welcome large generalizations from evolutionary theory that would complement and illuminate literature and the arts, not simply serve the interests of the theory. Carroll bitterly complains about the inhospitality of the Modern Languages Association to his campaign for Literary Darwinism, but he finds consolation in the prospect that his humanist adversaries will die.  Evolutionary theorists and humanists agree that sooner or later, we all die, Joseph Carroll as well as Eugene Goodheart. [post_title] => David Sloan Wilson and Joseph Carroll on Science and the Humanities [post_excerpt] => What I and fellow humanists resist is the imperial ambition of certain evolutionary psychologists and their followers, mostly in literary studies, to subsume the disciplines of the humanities under their conception of evolutionary theory. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => david-sloan-wilson-and-joseph-carroll-on-science-and-the-humanities [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-16 11:16:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-16 15:16:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=commentary&p=120005430 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => commentary [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120005282 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2016-09-01 07:52:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-09-01 11:52:35 [post_content] => As a student in the late 1960s, I took up anthropology because I was looking for a subject that would bridge the divide between the natural sciences and the humanities in a way that nevertheless remains close to the realities of human experience. Almost half a century later, this is still the reason why I study anthropology. In the course of my endeavours I have ranged widely and read deeply across biological, psychological and anthropological approaches to culture and social life, and have contributed to fields as diverse as prehistoric archaeology, evolutionary linguistics, human geography, material culture studies, art, architecture and design. I suppose this should make me an example of the kind of scholar that David Sloan Wilson would like us all to be: well-read across a range of fields, both scientific and humanistic, and able to move with ease across the boundaries between them. But the experience has also taught me to be suspicious of those who come bearing new paradigms promising the earth so long as we sign up to them. They invariably turn out to be antiquated, banal and cliché-ridden, their longevity matched only by their proponents’ conviction that they stand at the cutting edge of science. One of these ideas, endlessly rehashed over the past century and more, is that there is a parallel between biological inheritance and cultural heritage. News to anthropologists? Certainly not. For us it is long-discredited old hat. Most sensible social and cultural anthropologists effectively abandoned the idea some fifty years ago because it made no sense of the phenomena we were dealing with and served only to reproduce a colonial distinction between western-educated scientists who study culture and everyone else who lives in them. We, at least, have moved on. Let me explain why the paradigm of evolutionary science that Sloan Wilson advocates seems to me to be an intellectual dead-end. Forty years ago, in 1986, I brought out a book entitled Evolution and Social Life (recently reissued as a Routledge Classic, Ingold 2016). The book explored the history of the idea of evolution in anthropology, biology and history from the mid-nineteenth century until recent times. I began with Darwin, Morgan, Tylor, Marx and Durkheim and ended with sociobiology and gene-culture coevolution (this was before the days of evolutionary psychology). The book was long and heavy-going, and ultimately, it failed. It failed because I had attempted to synthesise what a biology forged on neo-Darwinian principles was telling us about human biocultural evolution with what I knew from social anthropology about persons and social relations. By the end of writing it, I realised this couldn’t be done. The problem is this. The kind of evolutionary science advocated by Sloan Wilson and the authors whose books he reviews requires a kind of ‘population thinking’ (the phrase comes from Ernst Mayr) according to which every living organism is a discrete, externally bounded entity, one of a population of such entities, and relating to other organisms in its environment along lines of external contact that leave its basic, internally specified nature unaffected. Whether the specification is genetic or cultural, or some mixture of the two, is immaterial: the logic remains the same. In writing Evolution and Social Life I had assumed that my task was not to challenge accepted biological wisdom but to reconcile it with what contemporary anthropology has to teach us about the constitution of human beings as persons. This is that the identities, characteristics and dispositions of persons are not bestowed upon them in advance of their involvement with others but are the condensations of histories of growth and maturations within fields of relationships. Thus every person emerges as a locus of development within such a field, which is in turn carried on and transformed through their own actions. The trouble is that understanding persons in this way calls for a kind of ‘relational thinking’ that, though well established in social anthropology, goes right against the grain of the population thinking of neo-Darwinian, evolutionary science. Only by supposing that person and organism are entirely separate components of human being could one possibly entertain both ways of thinking at once. Such a split-level view of the human, however, is manifestly unsustainable. That’s why my attempts at synthesis finally failed. Only later did it dawn on me that if persons are organisms, then the principles of relational thinking – far from being restricted to the domain of human sociality – must be applicable across the entire continuum of organic life, and that this would require a radically alternative biology. If every organism is not so much a discrete entity as a node in a field of relationships, then we have to think in a new way not only about the interdependence of organisms and their environments but also about their evolution. My work has been guided by this aim ever since. I am by no means alone in advocating a relational biology. Plenty of heterodox thinkers, especially developmental biologists, have been pursuing similar ideas for many years. Indeed, given that there are vastly more practising biologists than there are anthropologists, the absolute number of dissenting voices is probably greater in biology than in anthropology and all the other human sciences put together, even though they remain in the minority in their own discipline. It is therefore absurd to dismiss all opposition to neo-Darwinian evolutionary science as anti-scientific humanism. The majority of dissenters are card-carrying scientists. What I and they object to is not science but scientism. Science is a rich patchwork of knowledge which comes in an astonishing variety of different forms. Scientism is a doctrine, or a system of beliefs, founded on the assertion that scientific knowledge takes only one form, and that this form has an unrivalled and universal claim to truth. Thus the debate is not between biologists committed to science and humanists who reject it; it is rather between the cult of scientism and those who are prepared to adopt a more open-ended and less complacent approach to scientific inquiry. Sloan Wilson’s ignorance of contemporary work in the humanities is both profound and shocking; paraded as a virtue, it is intolerable. So far as he is concerned, the only role for sociocultural anthropologists, historians, human geographers, scholars of language and literature, philosophers, and all the rest is to gather up the material – to ‘compile the vast storehouse of information’ – for scientists to process. This processing generally involves a two-stage procedure: first, the formal redescription of the data in terms of models; secondly, the conversion of models into ‘ultimate’ explanations by appeal to the logic of natural selection. That scholars in the humanities might have credible objections to this procedure is beyond Sloan Wilson’s comprehension. For him, evolutionary science is a creed and anyone who objects is simply an infidel. I will not argue with zealots. Reference: Ingold, T. (2016). Evolution and Social Life (new edition). London: Routledge [original 1986, Cambridge University Press]. [post_title] => Steps Toward a Relational Biology [post_excerpt] => The debate is not between biologists committed to science and humanists who reject it; it is rather between the cult of scientism and those who are prepared to adopt a more open-ended and less complacent approach to scientific inquiry. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => steps-toward-a-relational-biology [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-01 07:52:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-01 11:52:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://evolution-institute.org/?post_type=commentary&p=120005282 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => commentary [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 7 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120005754 [post_author] => 36 [post_date] => 2016-11-10 07:05:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-10 12:05:25 [post_content] => The two-part essay by David Sloan Wilson and Harvey Whitehouse, “Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution” presents compelling applications of field research methods and evolutionary theory that make clear the value of their combination.  Wilson’s Binghamton Neighborhood Project (BNP) and Whitehouse’s studies in Papua New Guinea and then in the AnthroLab field sites are not only models for research on cultural evolution but also examples of how to investigate fundamental questions about the social world within a scientific program of theoretically-guided research.  My commentary on the essay will focus on the implications of these models for research in sociology and on the persuasiveness of the authors’ arguments from a sociological standpoint. Three recommendations underlie the “field site” vision elaborated in David Sloan Wilson’s part, although the first recommendations are subsumed within the third: (1) Use field study as a methodology; (2) Use evolutionary biology as a theoretical framework; (3) Apply field study methods within the theoretical framework of evolutionary biology in order to explain cultural variation and change.  The first recommendation is the easiest for a sociologist to accept, since as Wilson points out, there is a strong tradition of field research in sociology. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from reviewing this tradition and considering its current status and challenges.  The second, theoretical recommendation requires overcoming what Wilson aptly characterizes as sociology’s historical disinclination to adopt an evolutionary perspective, and so I will review that history and consider whether there is some potential for a disciplinary reset.  Of course, it can be argued with respect to the third recommendation that most sociologists do not study cultural evolution, but if behavior ranging from sociality in Binghamton schools (Wilson, 2016) to community rituals in Melanesia (Whitehouse, 2016) are best explained by evolutionary theory, it is clear that “cultural evolution” is meant to be broadly applied. Recommendation #1: Field Study Methods Sociology emerged as a discipline in the late 19th century during the social transformations associated with urbanization and industrialization of Western society, and in the midst of growing support for the scientific method and of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.  With increasing numbers of people moving from small, homogeneous villages to urban areas and leaving home- or workshop-based agricultural and craft work for factory (and then office) labor, early sociologists focused attention on the corresponding changes in the nature of social ties.  Émile Durkheim (1893) conceptualized the change as involving a shift from “mechanical” solidarity based on likeness to “organic” solidarity based on interdependence; Max Weber (1915) described the shift from traditional society to legal-rational authority and bureaucratic organization; Ferdinand Tönnies (1887) distinguished gemeinschaft social groupings bound by feelings of togetherness from the new gesellschaft pattern of instrumental relations. Concern with the fragility of social ties associated with the more modern form of social organization stimulated research ranging from Durkheim’s seminal study of suicide rates in France to Robert and Helen Merrell Lynds’ mixed methods field study of Middletown.  This focus found perhaps its most concentrated expression in the development of what came to be known as the “Chicago School,” which was centered at the University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology.  With the rapidly growing metropolis of Chicago as their laboratory, Chicago School sociologists used ethnographic methods to study neighborhood social life holistically, at times making explicit analogies to the ecological approach in biology.  Since the 1920s, the Chicago School approach has inspired field studies of neighborhoods and organizations by sociologists in Chicago and beyond, including Harvey Warren Zorbaugh’s (1929) The Gold Coast and the Slum (Chicago’s Near North Side), William Foote Whyte’s (1943) Street Corner Society (Boston’s North End), Gerald Suttles’s (1968) The Social Order of the Slum (Chicago’s Near West Side), Kai Erikson’s (1976) Everything in Its Path (Buffalo Creek, West Virginia), and, more recently, Carolyn Ellis’s Fisher Folk (community in Chesapeake Bay), Elijah Anderson’s (1999) Code of the Street (North Philadelphia), Mitchell Duneier’s (1999) Sidewalk (New York’s Greenwich Village) and Eric Klinenberg’s (2002) Heat Wave (Chicago’s North and South Lawndale). I hope I have made it clear that field studies have a long tradition in sociology that has continued to inspire new research even before Rob Sampson’s (2012) brilliant new contribution, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.  It is therefore important to consider why relatively few sociologists conduct field studies. The explanation again takes us back to the discipline’s founders.  The other side of the coin of concern with the loss of community was sociologists’ conceptions of the society that was replacing it.  Although differing in their specifics, these conceptions highlighted decreasing communal ties and traditional values and increasing individual autonomy and rationally determined goals.  Each also expressed various degrees of apprehension about this shift, but all understood that the social world’s tectonic plates were shifting.  Arguably expressed most clearly in Talcott Parsons’s (1951) “pattern-alternatives of value-orientation,” the direction of change included a shift in orientation from affectivity to affective neutrality, from concern for the collectivity to concern for the self, from ascription to achievement, and from particularistic to universalistic values.  To the extent that society thus shifted from a more collectivist to a more individualist culture, sociologists could favor methodologies that treat individuals as the units of analysis and slight the role of local social context. The appeal of a theoretical rationale for methodological individualism was complemented by rapid development of national communications, transportation, and educational and computational infrastructures that facilitated collection and analysis of data with surveys and other quantitative methods.  The ability to represent large populations, measure myriad variables, and test complex causal chains diminished for decades the appeal of intensive, locally-focused field studies.  As globalization has increased the scale of interconnection (Friedman 2006), “neighborhoods are seen as an anachronism displaced by global networks of interchangeability.” (Sampson, 2012, p. 355) But attention to social context is on the rebound in sociology, both because of the discipline’s foundational concern with social relations and as an indirect consequence of interrelated social and technological developments.  Four examples convey the increasing contemporary sociological focus on social context:  (1) Migration has created new social patterns within cities across the globe.  Like Harvey Whitehouse’s multi-sited AnthroLab project, the Max Planck Institute’s comparative field studies of social diversity in New York, Singapore, and Johannesburg is showing how traditional field research methods can relate global issues to local communities. (2) While the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods set a new standard for quantitative research on contextual effects, the “ecometrics” method Rob Sampson developed for the PHDCN can now be facilitated with Google Street View data.  Place-based analyses are now also possible with GPS data pertinent to many social science questions (Sampson, 2015, p. 360). (3) A large body of sociological research has highlighted the value of social ties for health and well-being, but individually-based measures of social supports are increasingly being supplemented by assessment of the social networks (Schutt 2015)—the social context—in  which they are embedded (Christakis and Fowler, 2009).  (4) Statistical analyses of quantitative data collected from different social contexts, including organizations and communities, increasingly use multi-level modeling techniques that take account of contextual influences (e.g., Schutt, 2005). So while traditional ethnographic field studies focused on single communities may never comprise more than a fraction of sociological research, attention to social context and group-level processes is evident increasingly throughout sociology.  We can place a solid checkmark in the box corresponding to Recommendation #1. Recommendation #2: Evolutionary Theory After decades of disciplinary disengagement followed a troubled rupture between sociology and evolutionary biology at the turn of the last century, the path to implementation of Recommendation #2 contains many obstacles.  However, the development of multi-level selection theory in evolutionary biology—so well represented in the Social Evolution Forum—as well as related developments in genetics and neuroscience require reexamination of the bases of the rupture and provide multiple means for productive and sustained reengagement.  As I discussed in a contribution to This View of Life, this reengagement is still in a nascent stage in sociology.  I will limit myself here to a summary of the major disciplinary changes and new points of convergence, after a brief reconsideration of the past points of contention. The application of Darwin’s (1871) theory of evolution by natural selection to the context of human society was shaped largely by Herbert Spencer’s (1852) conceptualization of the struggle for “survival of the fittest” as the causal mechanism that explained social stratification in contemporary society: The “evolution” of human societies involved a “natural process of elimination” of the “good-for-nothings” (Spencer 1874, p. 286).  In the words of William Graham Sumner, Spencer’s American acolyte, the only alternative to the “survival of the fittest” was the “survival of the unfittest” (The New York Times, 1883).  The enduring popular—and sociological—understanding of the implications of Darwin’s theory for human society was that it was a reductionist perspective in which critical human abilities that were fixed by biology at birth resulted in a competition between individuals that those less endowed were destined to lose. As Mendelian genetics added to Darwinism a mechanism to explain inheritance, as Nazi “science” distorted genetics to justify genocide, as Lysenko’s Soviet “science” of environmentally-determined heredity was discredited (Mukhernee, 2016), it seemed appropriate to consider the scientific study of society a matter apart from biology and the theory of evolution as irrelevant to understanding human cultures. But while this construction of Darwinism supported social prejudices of the time, it is important to recognize that it overlooked much of what Darwin (1989/1874) actually believed.  Two of the seven chapters (4 and 5) of The Descent or Origin of Man focus on the importance of human sociality and the role of group selection pressures in the evolution of Homo sapiens’ most distinctive characteristics.  Human dominance of the earth is in part due to “social habits, which lead him to aid and defend his fellows” (Darwin, p. 52); social motives override self-preservation and extend beyond kin to one’s social group (p. 114); the “social instinct” is a more powerful influence on human behavior than “the base principal of selfishness” (p. 125); these social instincts can be extended to larger groups and communities (p. 127) and can become hereditary (p. 128); groups are disadvantaged in the course of evolution if they are composed of more “selfish and contentious people” (p. 135). In other words, Darwin believed strongly in evolutionary selection at the level of groups as well as individuals! (Wilson, 2015) The recent development of multilevel selection theory finally capitalizes on this long neglected aspect of Darwin’s theorizing and recasts evolutionary theory in a way that supports sociologists’ recognition of the importance of human altruism and social processes (Durkheim (1984/1893) rather than standing in opposition to it. Complementary developments in neuroscience, genetics, and anthropology also strengthen the need for this disciplinary reconnection.  Social neuroscience has identified the structures and neurochemical processes in the brain that evolved to support social connection and the plasticity that allows the brain to develop in response to social experience (Schutt, Seidman, & Keshavan, 2015): "We now know that the human brain, considered in isolation from its social functions, is like a cell without chromatin." (Brothers, 1997, p. 67)  The explication of epigenetic processes reveals that the connection of genes to their environment is bidirectional, rather than deterministic (Mukherjee, 2016).  Henrich (2015) and others have connected biological evolution to cultural change, in part by showing how cultural learning shapes reward circuitry in the brain, and thus preferences and behavior  so as to allow adaptation to different environments without genetic change. Some sociologists have also begun to connect the dots that link human biology and social behavior.  Sociologists have collected biomarkers in order to understand gene-environment interactions (Guo & Adkins, 2008; Guo, Tong, & Cai, 2008), “neurosociologists” have contributed new insights about evolutionary and cognitive processes (Franks, 2010; TenHouten, 2013), and others have accorded evolved emotions a key role in social organizational processes (Turner, 2011). New sections have formed within the American Sociological Association to support scholarship on evolution, biology, and society (http://www.asanet.org/asa-communities/sections/evolution-biology-and-society) and on altruism, morality, and social solidarity (http://www.asanet.org/asa-communities/sections/altruism-morality-and-social-solidarity). Emerging from these efforts are principles that can be the foundation for sociological research informed by evolutionary theory:  (1) sociality, the capacity and need for social connection is instantiated in human biology—most importantly in the brain; (2) social contexts, ranging from families and peer groups to organizations and neighborhoods shape individual orientations and behaviors; (3) influence between individuals and groups flows in both directions, in part through environmental influences on biological processes—including cultural variations—and in part through biologically-based behavioral predispositions toward social contexts; (4) the evolutionary processes of variation, selection, and retention are important at each social level, from individuals to states, and natural selection at the level of groups can be more consequential than at the level of individuals; (5) tension inevitably emerges between motives to act on the basis of self-interest and on behalf of group well-being and is managed through social psychological and social control processes. Although relatively few sociologists frame their scholarship explicitly in terms of evolutionary biology theory, many more investigate research questions that are tied closely to these basic principles and that could be reframed to good explanatory effect in terms of these principles.  The concept of “collective efficacy” used by Sampson (2012) to explain neighborhood effects is related closely to the concept of variable group effectiveness that underlies group selection theory, while Thomas Scheff’s (1990) “microsociological” theory of the centrality of social bonds as a human motive and the role of shame as an emotional indicator of their disruption lacks only a connection to the evolutionary theory that explains this fundamental aspect of human nature. Much the same could be said of the extensive sociological literature on social support (Song, Son, & Lin, 2011).  My own research has focused for many years on the bidirectional process of influence between individuals and their social contexts (Schutt, 1985; Schutt, 2011), but has only recently included attention to the biological dimensions of this process (Schutt, Seidman, & Keshavan, 2015). In the discipline of sociology, there is much room for more progress toward Recommendation 2, but momentum is building in that direction. Recommendation #3: Use Field Studies and Evolutionary Theory to Understand Culture This disciplinary history and these contemporary developments suggest that some sociologists are already predisposed to endorse Recommendation 3—the overarching point of the Wilson/Whitehouse essay—and that many more could be convinced of its value.  Few sociologists would question the value of David Sloan Wilson’s comparative study of schools in Binghamton neighborhoods or of Whitehouse’s cross-cultural research spanning the globe.  Most sociologists would endorse the proposal to use a theoretical framework to guide more community-based research projects and to frame interconnected research questions.  But to what type of social phenomena should this approach be applied and which methods and/or theories should it displace? The disciplinary boundary between anthropology and sociology—as is true in relation to each of the social sciences—is to some extent arbitrary and permeable; but it does reflect an anthropological tradition of primary attention to the small-scale communities of the past as compared to a primary sociological focus on the large societies of the present.  Therein, as I mentioned at the outset, lies the origin of our discipline, but also the appeal of methods that allow collection of data from large numbers of people sampled from areas that transcend physical, social, and political boundaries.  While Rob Sampson (2015) has provided persuasive theoretical and empirical justification for reemphasizing the importance of neighborhood location—of “place,” this does not obviate the need to understand local cultural variations within the context of overarching cultural patterns nor the importance of determining empirically the appropriate units for comparison to answer particular research questions.  To analogize to evolutionary biology, when should we consider neighborhoods to be like organelles that evolved endosymbiotically within cell boundaries, or to be like organs within an organism, rather than as different independent “sites” that can best be understood as functionally integrated cultural units and compared as such to each other?  While we do not want to fall back into what can seen as Durkheim’s circular reasoning about “organic” solidarity, in which different social parts are assumed to have the position they do because it supports the functioning of the whole society, we cannot escape the need to take account of macro-level processes.  And for this reason I suggest we need to take advantage of opportunities to conduct field studies within broader mixed methods investigations (Schutt, 2015) that can inform us about cross-cultural interconnections and structural constraints that must be understood as part of a larger social context—even as that context is increasingly global and virtual (Chayko, 2017). This evaluation of the appropriate context for understanding social life also requires attention to the role of emotions.  As part of the evolved neurobiological mechanisms that enhance survival, social emotions are attuned to interpersonal interaction and the context of face-to-face communication (Damasio, 1999).  Is this a reason to suppose that interaction that transcends local contexts can therefore be understood apart from human biology?  Research on engagement in both written texts and electronic forms of communication suggests that the brain responds in similar ways to social information irrespective of the medium, but this connection needs more investigation in order to better frame our understanding of the relevant “field” for particular investigations and the role of evolved capacities (Chayko, 2017; Pinker, 2011).  And the emotional ball also still bounces in evolutionary biology’s court, as the role and even relevance of emotions in human evolution remains unsettled (cf. Boehm, 2012; Brothers, 1997; Tomasello, 2014; Turner, 2000). If more sociologists are to adopt Recommendation 3, they must be convinced that their theorizing about culture should reflect or at least be compatible with the tenets of evolutionary biology.  In some respects the development of evolutionary views of culture makes this a harder sell.  The argument is as follows: The evolution of the human capacity for cultural learning created both the possibility of gene-culture coevolution (as in the development of lactose tolerance after the domestication of milk-producing animals) and the means for evolution of social practices without genetic change and at a pace much more rapid than is possible through natural selection (Henrich, 2015; Turchin, 2016).  Yet this remarkable consequence of biological evolution returns us to a basic argument first made by those who argued for a complete separation between biology and the human sciences:  Homo sapiens crossed an evolutionary Rubicon from genetic determination to cultural malleability (Kroeber 1915). As Whitehouse notes, evolutionary psychologists have looked back across the river and found constraints on human behavior and psychology in evolutionary adaptations during the Pleistocene era; culture is therefore more “evoked” than “transmitted” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992; Whitehouse, 2016).   But the less constrained “Evolutionary Views of Culture” that Whitehouse endorses is more compatible with the perspectives of sociologists—even the many who do not see any need to view through an evolutionary lens the extension of human cooperation to larger units or the spread of such patterns as monogamy or monotheism, and so it is ETC on which I focus (Turchin, 2016). I think that the tie binding sociology and evolutionary biology at the hip is the evolved capacity for and importance of human sociality.  Neither human altruism, group-level cooperation, or social identity, nor the importance of secure attachment or of neighborhood cohesion—to name a few examples—can be explained adequately without taking into account the neural and other biological processes involved in sociality (Schutt, Seidman, & Keshavan, 2015).  It is a fundamental consequence of human evolution within social groups that is still too often overlooked even by sociologists who recognize the need to engage with biology (Shostak & Freese, 2010). If sociologists come to recognize that sociality and group process underlie the evolution of our species and are inherent in our biology, Recommendation 3 will become not just a means of framing sociological research but a clarion call for transdisciplinary recognition of the centrality of our discipline (Wilson, 2012). 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Chicago [post_title] => Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: A Sociologist’s Perspective [post_excerpt] => If sociologists come to recognize that sociality and group process underlie the evolution of our species and are inherent in our biology, the use of field sites will become not just a means of framing sociological research but a clarion call for transdisciplinary recognition of the centrality of our discipline. 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Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: An Evolutionary Biologist’s View
The study of human cultural evolution has made enormous strides over the last three decades. For most of the 20th century, evolutionary biology was highly gene-centric and the human behavioral sciences developed largely without reference to evolution. Now, the study of evolution is increasingly becoming centered on the concept of heredity, with genes constituting only […]
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