Paper short abstract:
Culture evolves? Not as you think
Paper long abstract:
In June 2010 a high-profile meeting was held in London, sponsored by the Royal Society and the British Academy, entitled 'Culture Evolves'. The synopsis for the meeting states the following as established truth: 'The capacity for culture is a product of biological evolution - yet culture itself can evolve, generating cultural phylogenies'. This proposition is false on all counts: (1) the 'capacity for culture' is a product of a biopsychological essentialism, exemplifying the Whiteheadian fallacy of misplaced concreteness; (2) the opposition between biological and cultural evolution is incoherent; (3) the notion of cultural phylogenies rests on an obsolete model of transmission. Culture is the name for a question, not the answer. The question is: what accounts for difference, among humans and between humans and non-humans? The answer could be 'an evolutionary process', but only if we understand evolution in a sense entirely contrary to that enshrined in mainstream biology and psychology.
Beyond the biological and the social: anthropology as the study of human becomings