An evolutionary developmental approach to cultural evolution
Journal article, 2014

Evolutionary developmental theories in biology see the processes and organization of organisms as crucial for understanding the dynamic behavior of organic evolution. Darwinian forces are seen as necessary but not sufficient for explaining observed evolutionary patterns. We here propose that the same arguments apply with even greater force to culture vis-à-vis cultural evolution. In order not to argue entirely in the abstract, we demonstrate the proposed approach by combining a set of different models into a provisional synthetic theory, and by applying this theory to a number of short case studies. What emerges is a set of concepts and models that allow us to consider entirely new types of explanations for the evolution of cultures. For example we see how feedback relations - both within societies and between societies and their ecological environment - have the power to shape evolutionary history in profound ways. The ambition here is not to produce a definite statement on what such a theory should look like but rather to propose a starting point along with an argumentation and demonstration of its potential.


Claes Andersson

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Anton Törnberg

University of Gothenburg

Petter Törnberg

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Current Anthropology

0011-3204 (ISSN) 1537-5382 (eISSN)

Vol. 55 2 154-174

Subject Categories

Evolutionary Biology

Social Anthropology


Driving Forces

Sustainable development


Basic sciences

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