Where Does Cumulative Culture Begin? A Plea for a Sociologically Informed Perspective

Biological Theory 15 (3):161-174 (2020)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Recent field studies have broadened our view on cultural performances in animals. This has consequences for the concept of cumulative culture. Here, we deconstruct the common individualist and differential approaches to culture. Individualistic approaches to the study of cultural evolution are shown to be problematic, because culture cannot be reduced to factors on the micro level of individual behavior but possesses a dynamic that only occurs on the group level and profoundly affects the individuals. Naive individuals, as a prerequisite of an atomistic perspective, do not exist. We address the construction of a social approach to culture by introducing an inevitable social embedding of the individual development of social beings. The sociological notion of “habitus” as embodied cultural capital permits us to understand social transmission of behavioral components on a very basic level, resulting in a cumulative effect. Bits of information, movement, handling of material, attitudes, and preferences below distinct functional units are acquired through transfer mechanisms simpler than emulation and imitation such as peering, participation, co-performance, or engagement with a material environment altered by group members. The search for a zero point of cumulative culture becomes as useless as the search for a zero point of culture. Culture is cumulative.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,323

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Cultural Evolution.Matteo Mameli & Kim Sterelny - 2009 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
From individual cognition to populational culture.Krist Vaesen - 2012 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35 (4):245-262.
Demography and cultural complexity.Kim Sterelny - 2020 - Synthese 198 (9):8557-8580.
Imitation, emulation, and the transmission of culture.Andrew Whiten - 2008 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (1):39-40.
Cognitive Innovation, Cumulative Cultural Evolution, and Enculturation.Regina E. Fabry - 2017 - Journal of Cognition and Culture 17 (5):375-395.


Added to PP

26 (#614,689)

6 months
16 (#161,486)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Oliver Schlaudt
University of Heidelberg

References found in this work

The expression of the emotions in man and animal.Charles Darwin - 1898 - Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.
Outline of a Theory of Practice.Pierre Bourdieu - 1972 - Human Studies 4 (3):273-278.
Cultural learning.Michael Tomasello, Ann Cale Kruger & Hilary Horn Ratner - 1993 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (3):495-511.

View all 13 references / Add more references