Innovation in Cultural Systems

Innovation in Cultural Systems : Contributions from Evolutionary Anthropology


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In recent years an interest in applying the principles of evolution to the study of culture emerged in the social sciences. Archaeologists and anthropologists reconsidered the role of innovation in particular, and have moved toward characterizing innovation in cultural systems not only as a product but also as an evolutionary process. This distinction was familiar to biology but new to the social sciences; cultural evolutionists from the nineteenth to the twentieth century had tended to see innovation as a preprogrammed change that occurred when a cultural group "needed" to overcome environmental problems. In this volume, leading researchers from a variety of disciplines--including anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, philosophy, and psychology--offer their perspectives on cultural innovation. The book provides not only a range of views but also an integrated account, with the chapters offering an orderly progression of thought. The contributors consider innovation in biological terms, discussing epistemology, animal studies, systematics and phylogeny, phenotypic plasticity and evolvability, and evo-devo; they discuss modern insights into innovation, including simulation, the random-copying model, diffusion, and demographic analysis; and they offer case studies of innovation from archaeological and ethnographic records, examining developmental, behavioral, and social patterns. ContributorsAndre Ariew, R. Alexander Bentley, Werner Callebaut, Joseph Henrich, Anne Kandler, Kevin N. Laland, Daniel O. Larson, Alex Mesoudi, Michael J. O'Brien, Craig T. Palmer, Adam Powell, Simon M. Reader, Valentine Roux, Chet Savage, Michael Brian Schiffer, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Stephen J. Shennan, James Steele, Mark G. Thomas, Todd L. VanPool

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  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 172 x 230 x 20mm | 521.63g
  • MIT Press Ltd
  • MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Mass.United States
  • English
  • 45 b&w illus., 3 tables
  • 0262013339
  • 9780262013338
  • 1,360,514

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Author Information

Michael J. O'Brien is Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri. Stephen J. Shennan is Professor of Theoretical Archaeology and Director of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

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Review quote

"Archaeologists have recently emerged as some of the most sophisticated evolutionists in the human sciences. O'Brien and Shennan's book on innovation is an important contribution to a central but difficult topic. It showcases what archaeologists and their allies are accomplishing."--Peter J. Richerson, Distinguished Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis

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