Chapter 2 Textbook Notes

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22 Apr 2011
Chapter 2: Cultural Evolution
Manners differ across cultures as people are socialized to different sets of norms and customs
oEx. Japanese people take their shoes off as soon as they enter the house, whereas white people
only take off their shoes to take showers and to sleep
Norbert Elias –The Civilizing Process(1939/1994)-people became more civilized as a growing set of rules
and norms came to regulate the behaviors of people across all classes of society
oEx. In the 16th century it was viewed as unhealthy to refrain from either spitting or from passing
wind. These behaviors have become less tolerated as it is no longer considered health to engage in
oThere transformations in manners over time are instances of an obvious fact: culture is changing
oBehavior considered polite a few centuries ago would not necessarily be appropriate today. Stands
of politeness, as well as many other cultural norms, have changed over generations
Culture fluid and constantly changing as new ideas emerge and conditions change
Where does Cultural Variation come from?
To understand cultural variation have to look at the various forces that come into play:
Ecological and Geographic Variation:
Different environments affect the ways that people go about living their daily lives
Some of the ways that physical environment affect the ways that people go about living their lives are direct
oThere are no large indigenous mammals in Hawaii, and native Hawaiian do not have an hunting
oThe kinds of foods that are available within a given ecology will affect the kinds of foraging
behavior that people will engage in
Ecological difference can have some more indirect effects on cultures as well. Different physical ecologies
do not just affect the dies of people; the different foraging behavior can also come to affect how the
societies are structured and the values that people come to adopt
oIn a survey of the norms of masculinity across diverse ecological contexts led one anthropologist
to conclude that the harsher the environment and the scarcer the resources the more man hood is
stressed as the inspiration and the goal
Small Differences can have Large Effects
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Proximal causes are those that have direct and immediate relations with their effects
Distal Causes are those initial differences that lead to effects over long periods of time, and often through
indirect relations
oRead page 48-50- Eurasia and Americas
oDiamond proposes that minor geographical differences in the availability of easy to domesticate
species of plants and animals, and the position of Eurasia, stretching for thousands of miles from
east to west along the same latitude and climate, allowed people in Eurasia to develop complex
societies, writing systems, tools, weapons, and resistance to deadly germs much easier than other
parts of the globe. Diamonds these is a powerful argument that cultural differences can
importantly originate in geographical differences
Transmitted Versus Evoked Culture
There are two ways that we can understand how geography can contribute to cultural variation
o1). Cultural norms can arise as direct responses to features of the ecology or,
o2). They can arise because of learning from other individuals
The first way that different geographies can affect cultural norms is through evoked culture
oEvoked culture is the notion that all people, regardless of where they are from, have certain
biologically encoded behavioural repertoires that are potentially accessible to them. And these
repertories are engaged when the appropriate situational conditions are present
Ex. All individuals are capable of acting in an intimidating manner when they or their
offspring are being threatened by others
oEvoked cultural difference can be seen in cross cultural variation in the importance of physical
attractiveness in selecting a mate-If a specific culture has infectious disease one will choose their
mate based on health more than attractiveness because that relates to higher possibility of
offspring survival
oEvoked culture is thus tied to particular geographic environments: when one moves to a new
environment, new behavioural responses should be evoked
A second way that geography leads to cultural variation is that people come to learn about particular
cultural practices through social learning or by modeling others who live near them, this is known as
transmitted culture
oEx. You observe your neighbour planting wheat seeds, and notice the benefits that she earned for
doing so, you might adopt to this cultural practice for yourself
oUnlike evoked culture, transmitted culture can travel with people when they move to new
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Distinction between Evoked and Transmitted culture
oA particular behavioural script (heightened preferences for attractive mates) might be activated by
a specific situational variable (e.g. prevalence of parasites); however if that behavioural scrip
becomes a norm, then that norm might be learned by others, and thus transmitted to future
generations. These cultural norms can continue to be transmitted even in contexts where the initial
situational variable is no longer present
Edgertons study found that although ecology is a key component of cultural variation, much cultural
variation is transmitted in ways that are largely independent of ecology (Nuer & Dinka pg54)
How do Ideas catch on?
Rumours arise in all kinds of situations, particularly in times of war or disaster
oEx. The hurricane in Katrina – stories was fabricated as to how death was resulting (gang rape,
gang violence, etc.)
Rumours are fuelled by lack of information, creating an environment where facts can be extremely valuable,
and their spread is fanned by strong emotional feelings
There are two models for understanding how cultural ideas spread. The first model considers that the
spread of ideas through populations is similar to the way gene replicate; the second suggest that the
spread of ideas through populations is similar to the way diseases spread, to understand the models we
first need to discuss the processes of biological evolution which is common in both the models
Parallels between Biological and Cultural Evolution
Biological evolution occurs when certain genes become more common in populations than they were in
past. It operates through two related mechanisms:
o1). Natural Selection is the evolutionary process that occurs when the following three conditions
are present
(a). There is individual variability among members of a species on certain traits (e.g.
some antelopes can run faster than other antelopes)
(b). Those traits are associated with different survival rates (e.g. faster antelopes are
better able to outrun predators than slower antelopes)
(c). Those traits have a hereditary basis (e.g. the offspring of faster antelopes tend to be
faster than the offspring of slower antelopes)
o2).Sexual Selection focus not only on the survival of indivduals but on their reproductive success
Those individuals who can best attract a mate-or the healthier mate- will be most likely
to have surviving offspring
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