Explaining Culture Scientifically

Edited by Melissa J. Brown

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 352 pp., 20 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Contents

What exactly is culture? The authors of this volume suggest that the study of one of anthropology's central questions may be a route to developing a scientific paradigm for the field. The contributors - prominent scholars in anthropology, biology, and economics - approach culture from very different theoretical and methodological perspectives, through studies grounded in fieldwork, surveys, demography, and other empirical data. From humans to chimpanzees, from Taiwan to New Guinea, from cannibalism to marriage patterns, this volume directly addresses the challenges of explaining culture scientifically. The evolutionary paradigm lends itself particularly well to the question of culture; in these essays, different modes of inheritance - genetic, cultural, ecological, and structural - illustrate evolutionary patterns in a variety of settings.

Explaining Culture Scientifically is divided into parts that address how to think about culture, modeling approaches to cultural influences on behavior, ethnographic case studies addressing the question of culture's influence on behavior, and challenges to the possibility of a scientific approach to culture. It is necessary reading for scholars and students in anthropology and related disciplines.
Melissa J. Brown is assistant professor of anthropology at Stanford University. The other contributors are Kenichi Aoki, Christophe Boesch, Robert Borofsky, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, Roy D'Andrade, William H. Durham, Marcus W. Feldman, Herbert Gintis, Joseph Henrich, Yasuo Ihara, James Holland Jones, Peter J. Richerson, Gregory Starrett, and Arthur P. Wolf.

Introduction: Developing a Scientific Paradigm for Understanding Culture / Melissa J. Brown

Part One: What is Culture?
1. Some Kinds of Causal Powers That Make Up Culture / Roy D'Andrade
2. Culture in Evolution: Toward an Integration of Chimpanzee and Human Cultures / Christophe Boesch
3. Dissent with Modification: Cultural Evolution and Social Niche Construction / Marcus W. Feldman

Part Two: Modeling-Based Case Studies
4. Cultural Evolution: Accomplishments and Future Prospects / Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd
5. Conditions for the Spread of Culturally Transmitted Costly Punishment of Sib Mating / Kenichi Aoki, Yasuo Ihara, and Marcus W. Feldman
6. Sexually Transmitted Infections as Biomarkers of Cultural Behavior / James Holland Jones

Part Three: Ethnographic Case Studies
7. When Culture Affects Behavior: A New Look at Kuru / William H. Durham
8. When Culture Does Not Affect Behavior: The Structural Basis of Ethnic Identity / Melissa J. Brown
9. A Cultural Species / Joseph Henrich
10. Culture Matters: Inferences from Comparative Behavioral Experiments and Evolutionary Models / Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis

Part Four: Challenges to a Science of Culture
11. Cultural Evolution and Uxorilocal Marriage in China: A Second Opinion / Arthur P. Wolf
12. When Theory Is Data: Coming to Terms with "Culture" as a Way of Life / Gregory Starrett
13. Studying "Culture" Scientifically Is an Oxymoron: The Interesting Question Is Why People Don't Accept This / Robert Borofsky

Epilogue: Future Considerations / Melissa J. Brown


"Space limitations have prevented me from discussing more than the highlights of the material found in this interesting and informative volume . . ."
-Adam Gifford, Jr., Journal of Bioeconomics, Vol. 13 (2011)