Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution

Synopsis

This volume offers an integrative approach to the application of evolutionary theory in studies of cultural transmission and social evolution and reveals the enormous range of ways in which Darwinian ideas can lead to productive empirical research, the touchstone of any worthwhile theoretical perspective. While many recent works on cultural evolution adopt a specific theoretical framework, such as dual inheritance theory or human behavioral ecology, Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution emphasizes empirical analysis and includes authors who employ a range of backgrounds and methods to address aspects of culture from an evolutionary perspective. Editor Stephen Shennan has assembled archaeologists, evolutionary theorists, and ethnographers, whose essays cover a broad range of time periods, localities, cultural groups, and artifacts.

Excerpt

Stephen Sherman

THE AIM OF THIS book is to demonstrate the potential for building a genuinely integrative evolutionary anthropology, in which evolutionary theory unites studies of the past and the present even though the nature of the evidence often requires different methodologies. A basic premise of the book is that one of the best ways of demonstrating that potential is by means of case studies. It is increasingly clear that, despite the existence of different theoretical schools and positions, such an endeavor does not have to be theoretically exclusive. Evolutionary anthropology is a broad church, not a narrow sect. Not only do supporters of different positions share sufficient common ground that the debates between them can be both theoretically and empirically illuminating even when they disagree, but it is increasingly clear that in many respects the positions are complementary rather than opposed. This was not always the case. The object of this introduction is to explain why the contributors to this book believe that evolutionary concepts can once again provide a coherent core for anthropology as a result of the theoretical developments of the last twenty-five years.

The importance of evolutionary ideas in the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology has varied considerably through time. Social evolution has been the most important strand of thought, conceived initially, following Spencer and Morgan, as charting the trend from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization, with all the connotations of progress and positive evaluation implied in that last term. In the mid–twentieth century, the dominant figures were Gordon Childe, Leslie White, and Julian Steward. Childe used archaeological evidence to examine how prehistoric societies moved from one evolutionary stage to another. Steward emphasized the importance of tracing particular adaptations through time: multilinear evolution. White focused on what he saw as general evolution: a tendency for social structure on a global scale to become more complex through time as a result of technological innovations that made it possible for humans to extract increasing amounts of energy from the environment, culminating in the development of machines that could make use of fossil fuels, first coal, then oil, which provided the basis for world industrialization. It was such students of Steward and White as Sahlins . . .

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