Tag Archives: the diffusion of cultural traits

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.

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Cultural Traits and Multidisciplinary Dialogue

9783319243474…We have walked on a fine line: the notion of a cultural trait is interesting because it has something to say to many sciences, but, paradoxically, also because it generates harsh conflicts on top scientific journals more and more frequently. Historical linguistics and cultural evolution are two of many fields where these clashes happen, and we want to hint to those conflicts before delving into the contribution we have to offer.

For all the represented disciplines, the book constitutes a first step towards an ever-deferred interdisciplinary dialogue, and towards the construction of common working platforms. For the reader, Cultural Traits is a way to enter a representative sample of the intellectual diversity that surrounds such an important topic as culture, and a means to stimulate innovative avenues of research. Each of the involved disciplines enters the debate with a self-presenting attitude, emphasizing its own methodological practices, and explaining whether and how cultural traits have a role in its own research programs and epistemic goals. Along these lines some chapters are more methodological, while others address case studies, and methodological aspects are inferred more indirectly. Are there differences in aspects of culture that are studied by different disciplines? What definitions of cultural traits are on the table? How do we delimit a trait? How is the problem declined at different observational scales, and which scales are most in focus? Do traits travel in geographical space, and how? Are there other relevant spaces? How are traits modified in their diffusion? Is it possible and useful to build models of this diffusion? Only a strong multidisciplinary perspective can help to clarify these problems about cultural traits, by means of which we understand our precious heritage, cultural diversity…


Panebianco F, Serrelli E (2016). Cultural traits and multidisciplinary dialogue. Introduction to Panebianco F, Serrelli E, eds., Understanding cultural traits. A multidisciplinary perspective on cultural diversity. Springer, Switzerland, Chapter 1, pp. 1-20. ISBN 978-3-319-24347-4 [DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-24349-8_1] [BOA][RG]

Evolutionary Genetics and Cultural Traits

The chapter explains why evolutionary genetics – a mathematical body of theory developed since the 1910s – eventually got to deal with culture: the frequency dynamics of genes like “the lactase gene” in populations cannot be correctly modeled without including social transmission. While the body of theory requires specific justifications, for example meticulous legitimations of describing culture in terms of traits, the body of theory is an immensely valuable scientific instrument, not only for its modeling power but also for the amount of work that has been necessary to build, maintain, and expand it. A brief history of evolutionary genetics is told to demonstrate such patrimony, and to emphasize the importance and accumulation of statistical knowledge therein. The probabilistic nature of genotypes, phenogenotypes and population phenomena is also touched upon. Although evolutionary genetics is actually composed by distinct and partially independent traditions, the most important mathematical object of evolutionary genetics is the Mendelian space, and evolutionary genetics is mostly the daring study of trajectories of alleles in a population that explores that space. The ‘body’ is scientific wealth that can be invested in studying every situation that happens to turn out suitable to be modeled as a Mendelian population, or as a modified Mendelian population, or as a population of continuously varying individuals with an underlying Mendelian basis. Mathematical tinkering and justification are two halves of the mutual adjustment between the body of theory and the new domain of culture. Some works in current literature overstate justification, misrepresenting the relationship between body of theory and domain, and hindering interdisciplinary dialogue.


Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E (forthcoming). Evolutionary genetics and cultural traits in a ‘body of theory’ perspective. In Panebianco F, Serrelli E, eds. Understanding cultural traits. A multidisciplinary perspective on cultural diversity. Springer, Chapter 11. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/49987]

Ilya Tëmkin – Perils and promises of cultural phylogenies: evolution of the Baltic Psaltery

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

Perils and promises of cultural phylogenies: Evolution of the Baltic Psaltery

Ilya Tëmkin
National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) and NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 12:00pm
Room U6/3061, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

psaltery-phylogenyAbstract: The new millennium has brought a new impetus for rigorous historical reconstruction into the field of material cultural evolution by applying phylogenetic analysis (originally developed for discerning evolutionary relationships among living organisms). A detailed study of the Baltic psaltery, a plucked stringed instrument that has enjoyed popularity in Northeastern Europe since the Middle Ages, reveals perils and promises of these methods, particularly of novel network-based approaches. Every group of people that has preserved the instrument, regards it as an essential symbol of their ethnic identity with its presumed origin and significance deeply rooted in traditional culture, as evidenced through mythology, epic poetry, songs, and ritual. Despite its cultural significance, the history of the Baltic psaltery has been a controversial subject for over a century. The patterns of historical relationships revealed by phylogenetics-inspired approaches may help settling the controversy and link disparate data on the iconography, archaeology, and cultural anthropology of the Baltic psaltery.

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.

Malatesta, Schmidt, Squarcina – Not just limits: the geographical boundaries as places of meeting and diffusion of cultural traits

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

Not just limits: the geographical boundaries as places of meeting and diffusion of cultural traits

Stefano Malatesta, Marcella Schmidt di Friedberg, Enrico Squarcina
Università di Milano Bicocca

May 16th, 2013, 2:30 pm
Room U6/3061, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

Fonte dell’immagine: Bianchi E., Perussia F., Il centro di Milano: percezione e realtà, 1978.
Fonte dell’immagine:
Bianchi E., Perussia F.,
Il centro di Milano:
percezione e realtà, 1978.

Abstract: Boundaries are a consolidating subject in the contemporary study of human geography. Newman’s observations justify an analysis of the persistent geopolitical and cultural action played by these objects in all their forms, even if consider contemporary spaces as de-territorialized and borderless and regions only as elements of a global network. In fact material and non-material limits are meaningful sources of information for reading the structure of territories and for understanding their social, cultural political, ecosystemic and historical relationships: boundaries leave landmarks (material and non-material) on landscapes, immediately related to their own geopolitical function, these landmarks become objects of human perception (primarily visual) and are also the subject of political representation (landscapes); boundaries are the primitives of spatial knowledge on which peoples build their own geographical images of places; boundaries are a mighty basis of the mimetic function played by the cartographic language. Therefore, considering both their physical and narrative dimensions, we can state that geographical boundaries rather than being limits or barriers, are places directly involved in the diffusion of cultural traits. This issue will be discussed focusing on the role played by limits and boundaries on landscapes, cartography and mental representations of space.

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.

Pierluigi Cuzzolin – Fatiche e miserie dell’espressione iuxta propria principia

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

Fatiche e miserie dell’espressione iuxta propria principia

Pierluigi Cuzzolin
Università di Bergamo

February 28th, 2013, 12pm
Room U6/3061, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

telesioAbstract: Nel De rerum natura iuxta propria principia (prima edizione nel 1565) Bernardino Telesio utilizzava questo sintagma per propugnare uno studio dell’oggetto d’indagine secondo principi e criteri di indagine propri di quell’oggetto. Da allora l’espressione iuxta propria principia è stata spesso usata in modo strumentale. Intento di questa presentazione non è quello di ripercorrere questo capitolo di storia delle idee, peraltro ancora da scrivere, ma di vedere come l’invocazione ai propria principia in linguistica sia stato un fenomeno più travagliato e complesso che per altre discipline. Da questo punto di vista, parlare di propria principia in linguistica significa aver chiamato in causa, quasi a volerle porre a proprio fondamento teorico, molte altre discipline, dalla filosofia alla biologia alla fisica alla economia alle scienze cognitive più in generale, e sempre con alterne fortune.

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.

Mario Barenghi – Nothing but survival: On the origin and spread of literature

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

Nothing but survival: On the origin and spread of literature

Mario Barenghi
University of Milano Bicocca

January 31, 2013, 2:30pm
Room U6/3061, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

literature-survivalAbstract: For a long time literary theorists have been concerned with the question “What is literature?”. This issue does not raise the same interest in our days. After all, what really matters is what we do with literature, whatever it is. Time has come for a comparison between literary and evolutionary studies. The question we should ask is: “Why is literature?” Where do poetic uses of language rise from? For what reason or reasons, in a remote era of our history, our ancestors have started to spend (or lavish) both time and mental energies in seemingly free and relaxed verbal activities which are unrelated to immediate needs? Which are the features of human behaviour that literature tends to foster and strengthen? In this workshop Mario Barenghi argues that literature’s aim is nothing but survival.

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.

Tracing traits in linguistics, economics, and evolutionary biology. An interdisciplinary workshop

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

Tracing traits in linguistics, economics, and evolutionary biology. An interdisciplinary workshop

  • Federica Da Milano, Linguist, University of Milano Bicocca
  • Nicoletta Puddu, Linguist, University of Cagliari
  • Fabrizio Panebianco, Economist, University of Milano Bicocca
  • Emanuele Serrelli, Philosopher of Biology, University of Milano Bicocca

Thursday, December 13, 2012, h 14:00
Room U6/367, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

networks-cisepsAbstract: The seminar will present and compare the methods used in linguistics, economics, and evolutionary biology to study traits in their different domains: language features, behaviors and beliefs, genes and phenotypic characteristics. Federica Da Milano and Nicoletta Puddu will present phylogenetic models of language change and illustrate them with the particular geo-linguistic case of Sardegna. Fabrizio Panebianco will outline evolutionary kinds of models in economics. Emanuele Serrelli will explain tree and network analyses used to study shared traits and contacts between organisms. The open discussion will bring some reflections on the transfer of models and ideas between different fields, bringing about productive interchange with the participants and the audience of different specializations.

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.

Elena Canadelli – The unexpected migration of Transparent Man

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

The unexpected migration of Transparent Man from Germany to the U.S. in 1930s and 40s

Dr. Elena Canadelli
Historian of Science, University of Milano Bicocca

Thursday, November 8, 2013, 2:30pm
Room U6/372 (3rd floor), Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

canadelli-transparent-mancanadelli-transparent-man CANADELLI-Fig2Abstract: The Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden, founded in 1912, was considered by its contemporaries as “a teaching institution for giving health instruction to the general public”. From 1930 on, the absolute symbol of the museum was the Transparent Man, made in plastic materials. Created in various editions, the Transparent Man, which was soon followed by the Transparent Woman, went on tour in Europe. Perhaps unexpectedly, it migrated in the U.S. during 1930s and ‘40s. In 1935 the popular American journal Popular Science Monthly significantly entitled its report on this exhibition Wonders of the Human Body reproduced in Museum by Machines and Electricity. By means of interactive displays, transparent models, lighting effects and mechanical apparatuses, “every important organ in the human machine is brought to light for visual instruction of the onlookers”. Although strongly compromised by eugenics, by hygienism, and by the ideology of National Socialism, the German Hygiene-Museum inaugurated a new way of displaying the human body, which was taken up and developed, albeit in different ways, by American temporary exhibitions about the human body.

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.

Nathalie Gontier – Cultural evolution models and the extended synthesis

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

Cultural evolution models and the extended synthesis. Symbiogenesis and punctuated equilibria theory in the study of cultural transmission

Nathalie Gontier
Dutch Free University of Brussels (Belgium)

Thursday, May 10, 2012, 12:00pm
Room U6/367, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

gontier-reticulationAbstract: Reticulate evolution, symbiogenesis and punctuated equilibria theory are fast-rising areas of research in evolutionary biology that are part of what is today sometimes called the “Evolutionary Extended Synthesis”. These theories have major consequences for how we study and define the evolution of life as well as how we depict the tree of life. From an evolutionary epistemological point of view, they also have possible applications in studies on human culture. Scholars who are currently engaged in “evolutionizing” the sociocultural sciences, however, tend to work form within selectionist frameworks. These approaches definitely have their merits, but the application of selectionist theory to sociocultural phenomena has also brought to light that horizontal cultural transmission processes, and fast cultural evolutionary processes prove to be quite difficult to model from within a selectionist framework. I will focus on how biological horizontal evolutionary theories can provide the theoretical framework and methodological toolkit to model horizontal cultural evolution processes; and how punctuated equilibria and drift theory can be implemented in the sociocultural domain.

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.