Genes and culture, past and present
Robert Layton (Durham University)
Katherine Smith (University of Manchester)
Arch & Anth LT1
Start time:
8 April, 2009 at 16:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel will explore the co-evolution of genes and culture from a number of different angles. It will explore the interactions between human genetic and cultural diversity and the influence that genetic variation has on the selection of cultural variants in the past, present and future.

Long abstract:

Human genetic and cultural diversity has been shaped by genetic and social transmission of information over time. The concept of co-evolution examines interactions between these two lines of inheritance, characterizing the influence that genetic variation has on selection of cultural variants and vice versa, and contributes to our understanding of human variation in the past/present/future. The co-evolution of genes and culture will be explored from a number of different angles, including the following:

1. In public understanding of science, ‘genes’ and ‘bloodlines’ become generated facts, fashioning cultural understandings, political possibilities and "common-sense" assumptions. Intersections of race/diaspora/kinship figure in these issues, where genetic origins emerge as shared concern.

2. Gene-culture interactions influence human evolution (e.g. dairy farming and lactose absorption; infanticide and genetic-sex ratio; agricultural practices and disease resistance).

3. Cultural techniques for manipulating genetics (e.g. genetic modification of crops, in-vitro fertilization) have significant implications for the future of society.

4. Evolutionary models are increasingly used in archaeology and anthropology to study transmissions of cultural traits (e.g. pottery designs and children’s names).

5. The extent to which human social behaviour has a biological basis, or is shaped by culture, is a controversial topic in social anthropology. Developments in game theory (e.g. the application of the ‘Ultimatum Game’ cross-culturally) offer more nuanced evidence for the interaction of genes and culture.

6. Evolutionary theory encompasses several schools of thought; Dawkins’ notion of the ‘selfish gene/meme’ is only one. Other schools may be more sympathetic to the research interests of archaeology and social anthropology.