Understanding Cultural Traits: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Cultural Diversity, Edited by Fabrizio Panebianco and Emanuele Serrelli.
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…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]
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]
CISEPS – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Economics, Psychology and Social Sciences
- 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
Abstract: 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.
The concept of adaptation is employed in many fields such as biology, psychology, cognitive sciences, robotics, social sciences, even literacy and art,1 and its meaning varies quite evidently according to the particular research context in which it is applied. We expect to find a particularly rich catalogue of meanings within evolutionary biology, where adaptation has held a particularly central role since Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) throughout important epistemological shifts and scientific findings that enriched and diversified the concept. Accordingly, a conceptual taxonomy of adaptation in evolutionary biology may help to disambiguate it. Interdisciplinary researches focused on adaptation would benefit from such a result. In the present work we recognize and define seven different meanings of adaptation: (1) individual fitness; (2) adaptation of a population; (3) adaptation as the process of natural selection; (4) adaptive traits; (5) molecular adaptation; (6) adaptation as structural tinkering; (7) plasticity. For convenience here, we refer to them as W-, P-, NS-, T-, M-, S- and PL-ADAPTATION. We present the seven meanings in some detail, hinting at their respective origins and conceptual developments in the history of evolutionary thought (references are offered for further deepening). However, it is important to point out that evolution researchers seldom if ever refer to a single meaning purified from the others. This applies also to the authors we cite as representatives of one of the seven meanings. In Discussion and Conclusion draw from our work some future perspectives for adaptation within evolutionary biology.
Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):
Serrelli E, Rossi FM (2009). A conceptual taxonomy of adaptation in evolutionary biology. doi 10.13140/2.1.4366.7209