Tag Archives: anthropology

Cultural Traits. A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Cultural Diversity

Out now!

9783319243474Understanding Cultural Traits: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Cultural Diversity, Edited by Fabrizio Panebianco and Emanuele Serrelli.

Interested in writing a review? Read it online for free and get your free hardcopy! Go on the dedicated homepage and then “Access an Online Book Review Copy” via the link under “Service for this Book”. After successful registration on Springer site, you will be provided access to the online content of the book for a period of 6 months. After publication of the review in the journal, you will receive a hard copy of the book. Continue reading Cultural Traits. A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Cultural Diversity

Structures of Deep Time in the Anthropocene

Emanuele Serrelli presents:

2016, Jun 10 (h.16-19) – 6th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference, University of Bergamo, Italy: Structures of deep time in the Anthropocene. With Elena Bougleux organizer of the session “Diffracting ethnography in the anthropocene”. Conference talk. [Ac]

Talk abstract “Structures of deep time in the Anthropocene”

Anthropocene puts incommensurable time scales in contact with each other, to show the relevance of what humanity has been realizing in historical times, and to emphasize the impact of our everyday behaviours and choices. To enable cross-referencing of geologic formations and events from different places on the planet, geologists have subdivided the Earth’s history in periods and eras. Among the concluded periods, the shortest one, Neogene, lasted for more than 20 million years, while the longest periods amounts to over 200 million years. The enormity of these time intervals is hard to imagine, yet necessary to capture and define all the phenomena that are meaningful for the history of such a huge and old system as the Earth.

A different logic – the logic of “deep time” and “macroevolution” – is necessary to reflect on a time scale where the history of not only species, but whole Families and Groups, is nothing but the blink of an eye. The current period, Holocene, has started only 11.700 thousand years ago, at the end of the last glacial Age, but a serious scientific proposal was advanced to consider that a different period, the Anthropocene, has already taken over from the Holocene. What are the dilemmas, paradoxes, challenges, and implications of this mental operation, that implies the contaction of temporal scales, and the comparison of everyday life time with deep evolutionary time? Continue reading Structures of Deep Time in the Anthropocene

From everyday life to deep evolutionary time: Anthropocene and contacting temporal scales

New forthcoming talk:

2015, Dec 19 (h.11-13) – III Convegno Nazionale SIAA Società Italiana di Antropologia Applicata, Polo Universitario Città di Prato: From everyday life to deep evolutionary time: Anthropocene and contacting temporal scales (Session “Mitigation, Adaptation, Vulnerability. Analisi di strategie, pratiche e retoriche delle comunità nel contesto dell’Antropocene”). With Enrico Giustiniano Micheli, Elena Bougleux, Nadia Breda et al. Conference Talk. [Ac]

To enable cross-referencing of geologic formations and events from different places on the planet, geologists have subdivided the Earth’s history in periods and eras. Among the concluded periods, the shortest one, Neogene, lasted for more than 20 million years (My), while the longest periods amount to 200+ My. The enormity of these time intervals is hard to imagine, yet necessary to capture and define all the phenomena that are meaningful for the history of such a huge and old system as the Earth. A different logic – the logic of “deep time” and “macroevolution” – is necessary to reflect on a time scale where the history of not only species, but whole Families and Groups, is nothing but the blink of an eye. The current period, Holocene, has started only 11.700 thousand years (Ky) ago, at the end of the last glacial Age, but a serious scientific proposal was advanced to consider that a different period, the Anthropocene, has already taken over from the Holocene. Homo Sapiens as a biological species is 200 to 150 Ky old. The beginning of cognitively modern humans and their diffusion on global scale is even more recent: 80 to 60 Kya (the period traditionally described as the Palaeolithic Revolution or the “great leap forward”). Rhetorically, Anthropocene puts incommensurable time scales in contact with each other, to show the relevance of what humanity has been realizing in historical times, and even of our everyday behaviors and choices. What are the dilemmas, paradoxes, challenges, and implications of this mental operation?

Tree and network models in San Francisco

Emanuele Serrelli co-organizes with Nathalie Gontier the session “Tree and network models of micro- and macroevolution” at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (November 14-18, 2012). Developing from phylogenetic methodologies in evolutionary biology, the session examines how cultural trees and networks are composed differently (which data are used to compose trees and networks), what they can and cannot model, how inferences are made, and how they enable theory formation on cultural evolution.

AAA SESSION ON CULTURAL TRANSMISSION STUDIES: TREE AND NETWORK MODELS OF MICRO- AND MACROEVOLUTION, November 15, 8-9:45 AM

Organized by Nathalie Gontier and Emanuele Serrelli and Chaired by Larissa Mendoza Straffon

In biology, phylogenetic tree models (based on shared morphological traits, genes, or proteins) remain the primary methodological tool to reconstruct evolutionary ancestral-descent relationships. Phylogenetic and phylogenomic methodologies are also applied to reconstruct linguistic and cultural descent relationships. Such reconstructions have now advanced up to the point that one can estimate divergence in time, and the rate at which such linguistic or cultural divergence occurred. Both biological as well as sociocultural phylogenetics now demonstrate that besides natural selection, drift and punctuated equilibria theory can explain many of life’s and sociocultural divergences. And comparative analyses demonstrate that ancestral-descent relations of human populations significantly overlap with linguistic family trees and cultural diversification trees. Phylogenetics has also brought to light that horizontal evolution occurs abundantly in life’s evolution, and scholars active in the field have therefore challenged classic tree of life iconography. Today, scholars active in Horizontal Gene Transfer studies are therefore introducing network phylogenies (“webs of life”) that allow the depiction and modeling of reticulate evolution. In the sociocultural sciences, linguists, archeologists and anthropologists have criticized hominin and cultural bifurcating trees because they are unable to depict hominin hybridization and horizontal transmission and diffusion of sociocultural traits. And here too, network models are introduced that allow the formalization and depiction of linguistic and sociocultural interactions through time. In sum, biological and sociocultural sciences both make use of tree and network models to depict biological and sociocultural evolution. We will examine how cultural trees and networks are composed differently (which data are used to compose trees and networks), what they can and cannot model, how inferences are made, and how they enable theory formation on cultural evolution.

  1. THE ‘GLOBAL PHYLOGENY’ AND ITS HISTORY: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF A UNIFIEDTHEORY OF HUMAN BIOLOGICAL AND LINGUISTIC CO-EVOLUTION, Frank Kressing, Ulm University
  2. THE CHALLENGE OF TREE-THINKING AND NETWORK-THINKING: CONCEPTUAL ISSUES ACROSS BIOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DOMAINS, Emanuele Serrelli, University of Milano Bicocca.
  3. COMPARING RATES OF CULTURAL CHANGE ACROSS TREES – DO SOME TRAITS EVOLVE FASTER THAN OTHERS?, Ruth Mace and Tom Currie, London, OXFORDSHIRE
  4. PHYLOGEOGRAPHIC APPROACHES TO TRACING HUMAN CULTURAL ANCESTRY, Quentin Douglas Atkinson, University of Auckland
  5. UNITS, LEVELS AND MECHANISMS OF CULTURAL EVOLUTION, AN APPLIED EVOLUTIONARY EPISTEMOLOGICAL ACCOUNT, Nathalie Gontier, Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab, Centre for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon
  6. MOSAIC EVOLUTION IN CULTURAL AND BIOLOGICAL FRAMEWORKS: DYNAMICS VARY WITH SCALE, Anna Marie Prentiss and Matthew Joseph Walsh, University of Montana
  7. USING CLADISTICS TO INTERPRET ARCHAEOLOGICAL ASSEMBLAGES: THE SLATE TOOL TRADITION AT BRIDGE RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, Matthew Joseph Walsh and Anna Marie Prentiss, The University of Montana
  8. PLEISTOCENE NETWORK INTERACTIONS AND THE ORIGINS OF VISUAL ART, Larissa Mendoza Straffon, Leiden University
  9. THE ECONOMICS OF CULTURAL TRANSMISSION, Alberto Bisin, New York University

ABSTRACTS

THE ‘GLOBAL PHYLOGENY’ AND ITS HISTORY: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF A UNIFIEDTHEORY OF HUMAN BIOLOGICAL AND LINGUISTIC CO-EVOLUTION
Frank Kressing, Ulm University
Starting in the late 20th century, “new” approaches claiming a direct link between the evolution of linguistic and biological diversity in humans received broad attention in the sciences and the general public. Based on an extensive literature review, we claim that, contrary to its supposedly innovative character, the post 1980 ‘new synthesis’ of genetic, linguistic, and archaeological data was based on a well-established western tradition dating back at least until the 18th century. Special emphasis will be put on the importance of interdisciplinary reticulations between scholars in the sciences (such as biology and comparative anatomy) and the humanities (such as linguistics). In our overview, it shall be argued that interdisciplinary contact between these two fields resulted in the construction of links between the classification of languages and the classification of human populations. Furthermore, it shall be stressed that the theory of human biological and linguistic co-evolution was developed in the 18th and 19th century within the framework of anthropology, since this academic discipline evolved as an all-encompassing, integrative science dealing with human nature in its physical and cultural aspects. Finally, 20th-century attempts at the ‘genomization’ of human cultural, ethnic, and linguistic affiliations will be critically analysed, highlighting the fact that theroots of the so-called global phylogeny are ‘once again’ to be found in interdisciplinary scholarly networks transgressing the borders between the sciences and the humanities.

THE CHALLENGE OF TREE-THINKING AND NETWORK-THINKING: CONCEPTUAL ISSUES ACROSS BIOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DOMAINS
Emanuele Serrelli, University of Milano Bicocca
This talk gives a reflexive outlook on the employment of tree and network thinking to conceptualize and model vertical descent and horizontal transmission of cultural traits. In biology, evolutionary trees are more than tools for researchers across disciplines: they are the main framework within which evidence for evolution is evaluated (Baum et al. 2005). However, several biologists have recognized “tree thinking” as a challenge for students (Gregory 2008, Meisel 2010), lay people (Baum, cit.), and scientists alike (O’Hara 1992), going against our spontaneous cognitive tendencies, e.g., reading along the tips, locating evolution only at nodes, projecting living species backwards to internal nodes. Moreover, common descent, represented by trees, is not the only way in which biological traits are shared: the ubiquity of phenomena like lateral gene transfer is increasing the need for network-based analyses, introducing the conceptual challenge of “network thinking” (Proulx et al. 2005), and the further complexity of conceiving trees and networks together. I focus on which strategies, used and developed in biology, can be implemented in anthropology to address cultural relatedness and common ancestry relationships. Baum DA et al. (2005). The tree-thinking challenge. Science 310(5750):979-980. Gregory TR (2008). Understanding evolutionary trees. Evolution: Education and Outreach 1(2):121-137. Meisel RP (2010). Teaching tree-thinking to undergraduate biology students. Evolution: Education and Outreach 3(4):621-628. O’Hara RJ (1992). Telling the tree: Narrative representation and the study of evolutionary history. Biology and Philosophy 7(2):p.135–160. Proulx SR et al. (2005). Network thinking in ecology and evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20(6):345-53.

COMPARING RATES OF CULTURAL CHANGE ACROSS TREES – DO SOME TRAITS EVOLVE FASTER THAN OTHERS?
Ruth Mace and Tom Currie, London, OXFORDSHIRE
Ruth Mace and Tom Currie examine the rate of evolution of cultural traits across different phylogenetic trees, to see if cultural traits themselves share any particular properties regarding the rate of change on a tree, or whether traits are simply change according to local ecological conditions or some other factors that are not shared across trees. We use recent phylogenetic methods to estimate rates of change in a range of traits common to most societies.

PHYLOGEOGRAPHIC APPROACHES TO TRACING HUMAN CULTURAL ANCESTRY
Quentin Douglas Atkinson, University of Auckland
Recent work on cultural evolution has successfully applied phylogenetic methods from biology to comparative cultural and linguistic data to test hypotheses about cultural ancestry, chronology and sequences of change. However, relatively little attention has focussed on explicitly modelling large-scale spatial processes of cultural change. Here I report results from collaborative research that uses tools from population genetics and phylogeography to analyze spatial information derived from comparative cultural data. This work identifies clear spatial signal in the data that can be used to shed light on the origins of cultural groups.

UNITS, LEVELS AND MECHANISMS OF CULTURAL EVOLUTION, AN APPLIED EVOLUTIONARY EPISTEMOLOGICAL ACCOUNT
Nathalie Gontier, Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab, Centre for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon
Tree and network models of cultural micro- and macroevolution demonstrate the current scientific need to recognize that a multiplicity of units, levels and mechanisms underlie the evolution of culture. This demand also necessitates a scientific investigation into how these different sociocultural units, levels and mechanisms alternate and interact hierarchically, and together bring forth the phenomenon of evolution. From within an applied evolutionary epistemological approach, I will talk on how theories on the units (replicators, interactors, culturgenes, memes) and levels of evolution can be implemented into micro- and macroevolutionary sociocultural theories; and which evolutionary mechanisms are best able to explain horizontal and vertical transmission.

MOSAIC EVOLUTION IN CULTURAL AND BIOLOGICAL FRAMEWORKS: DYNAMICS VARY WITH SCALE
Anna Marie Prentiss and Matthew Joseph Walsh, University of Montana
There has been significant debate in paleoanthropology and more recently, archaeology, over the concept of mosaic evolution. Essentially, proponents of the concept argue that different aspects of organisms evolve separately while others argue that organisms evolve as integrated entities. Similarly, archaeologists debate the relevance of cultural evolution as a complex multi-scalar process. In this paper we conduct cladistic and network analyses of cultural phenomena ranging in scale from single artifact classes to more complexly integrated cultural packages to examine variability in the evolutionary process. We argue that cultural evolution is simultaneously multi-scalar and that dynamics can vary significantly with different degrees of integration.

USING CLADISTICS TO INTERPRET ARCHAEOLOGICAL ASSEMBLAGES: THE SLATE TOOL TRADITION AT BRIDGE RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Matthew Joseph Walsh and Anna Marie Prentiss, The University of Montana
In recent years phylogenetic studies have offered a wide range of contributions to explanation of complex evolutionary phenomena in the archaeological record. In this study we apply cladistic and network methods to assess the evolution of slate tools at the Bridge River site in British Columbia. We examine relationships between artifact assemblages from several housepits at the site in order to determine if heritable continuity can be established on an inter- and intra-household basis. This allows us to examine variability in the role of descent with modification manifested in branching versus a range of potential tokogenetic processes. We argue that while distinct household-specific traditions of tool manufacture existed, the data are made complicated by extensive borrowing of ideas and functional differentiation in tool design.

PLEISTOCENE NETWORK INTERACTIONS AND THE ORIGINS OF VISUAL ART
Larissa Mendoza Straffon, Leiden University
In recent years scholars have come to the realisation that models which account for the emergence of behavioural traits, such as visual art, simply in terms of increasing human cognition are not viable. The so-called cognitive models cannot generate falsifiable predictions about the conditions under which such traits would have developed. Equally problematic are evolutionary scenarios of art that put forward some possible adaptive function as cause of its origin (e.g. visual art evolved for mate choice, for ritual, etc.). When contrasted against current evidence from the archaeological record, these postulates generally do not hold. This paper presents an hypothesis for the origins of visual art which incorporates up-to-date archaeological data into a testable evolutionary explanation. This model is based upon specific aspects of Pleistocene human groups, such as group size and social organisation. It is suggested that visual art arose as a signal of identity and an index of reputation under selective pressures towards increasing cooperation and intensified network interactions in the Late Pleistocene. Recognition through style in visual art would have conveyed adaptive benefits by making social interactions more predictable thus reducing risks of conflict and aggression, in turn allowing large-scale reciprocity systems to flourish. In this sense, visual art may be conceived of as a communication signal manifested in stylistic variation in material culture. Finally, the paper shows that this hypothesis is consistent with the archaeological record of visual art.

THE ECONOMICS OF CULTURAL TRANSMISSION
Alberto Bisin, New York University
This paper surveys the recent theoretical and empirical studies on the economics of cultural transmission. The aim of the survey is to emphasize both similarities and differences in the economic analysis of this topic with respect to the literatures in evolutionary biology, anthropology, and sociology.

Mauro Van Aken – Travelling models of water. Battlefields of knowledge and ideas of change in the Middle East

CISEPS – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Economics, Psychology and Social Sciences

Travelling models of water. Battlefields of knowledge and ideas of change in the Middle East

Mauro Van Aken
Cultural Anthropologist, University of Milano Bicocca

April 12, 2012, 12:00pm
U6, 4th floor, room 4160 (polivalente), Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

river flow free  senturkAbstract: Development and modernization policies, as they have been posed and imposed in many contexts of the Southern World, represent strong evolutionary ideologies of how other cultures should change. Modernization of water in arid places all over the Middle East did not only transfer a culturally and historically construed notion of water as H2O: it carried a project of society and a model of political and environmental relationships, which encountered other historical ideas of water/society relationship. Departing from an ethnography of the local conflicts around water in Jordan Valley, historic cradle of irrigation and agriculture, we shall propose the analysis of such intense changes in terms of interpretation, grafting, selection and opposition among “traits” and cultural practices.

The seminar is part of the CISEPS project The diffusion of cultural traits, whose goal is to trigger interdiciplinary debates, emphasizing common problems and peculiarities among economics, philosophy, anthropology, geography, history, biology and many more fields. Thinking in terms of cultural traits – i.e., characters depending in some way on social learning – doesn’t imply exhaustion of cultural processes; rather, it means thinking critically to scientific models and metaphors for studying culture.

Cultural Diversity

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1The reflection on human cultures delivers more and more a critical and complex vision that makes it difficult to imagine ourselves counting, describe or analytically decompose cultures. Bypassing questions like “what is a culture”, “which and how many cultures are there”, and “how important is each culture”, anthropology and ethnography give scientific form to the comparative impetus that puts diversities – the many colors of a caleidoscope – in relation and dialogue. This is an open enterprise that drops any aim of completeness and systematicity, in favor of critical reflection on what does it mean to be human and to inhabit the Earth together. By the way, diversity can be studied and understood from different points of view, e.g. borrowing methods and concepts from evolutionary biology in order to reconstruct the world tree of common descent of cultures, with migrations and diasporas, where similarities (inherited or convergent) and differences among peoples got channeled. Meanwhile, however, in face of the insufficiency of analysis, the disappearance of cultural varieties is more and more evident. What’s worst, this happens in parallel to growing awareness of their importance for the survival of our species. Locating, measuring, and contrasting the loss of cultural diversity is a challenge which, for example, the UN have tried to address through the definition of “intangible cultural heritage”. Biocultural diversity, a young and promising field, promotes an integrated approach to the conservation of diversity, comprising cultural and biological aspects.

Serrelli E (2010). L’evoluzione delle culture: come fermare l’estinzione. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra vol. 1. Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 320-333. ISBN 978-88-02-08379-7 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/9928]

Linguistic Diversity, Language Extinction

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1…But the tree of languages bears two more messages. The first, universal kinship, reminds that all languages are siblings, close or far relatives, like the peoples who speak them: subgroups with uncertain boundaries in a single, global species. The second, the value of history: every language – like every biological species – is the unique outcome of an improbable series of events. The “instructions” contained in DNA – a common metaphor – aren’t but a small, insufficient, inexhaustive part of a species, just like documents and instructions will never suffice for a language to get back to life. Once a language disappears, once a species gets extinct, something unique that enriched our planet is lost forever.

Serrelli E (2010). Diversità linguistica. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 148-154. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/16656]

Biocultural Diversity

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1Biodiversity shapes cultural diversity. Culture shapes the environment. But according to the biocultural paradigm of the “inextricable link”, such bidirectional co-determination in fact prevents the analytical distinction of the two. We must, indeed, talk about a unified type of diversity: biocultural diversity. The field aims to conserve, defend rights of indigenous people, and obtain political decisions that respect them. A field explicitly “militant”, giving up the conventional academic neutrality to embrace strong ethical commitments concerning human rights, seen in intimate connection with the responsibilities about the natural and cultural heritage of humanity.

Serrelli E (2010). Diversità bioculturale. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 143-148. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/16655]