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Hardcover | $40.00 Text | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780262013338 | 296 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 45 b&w illus., 3 tables| October 2009

Essential Info

Innovation in Cultural Systems

Contributions from Evolutionary Anthropology


In recent years an interest in applying the principles of evolution to the study of culture emerged in the social sciences. Archaeologists and anthropologists reconsidered the role of innovation in particular, and have moved toward characterizing innovation in cultural systems not only as a product but also as an evolutionary process. This distinction was familiar to biology but new to the social sciences; cultural evolutionists from the nineteenth to the twentieth century had tended to see innovation as a preprogrammed change that occurred when a cultural group "needed" to overcome environmental problems. In this volume, leading researchers from a variety of disciplines—including anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, philosophy, and psychology—offer their perspectives on cultural innovation. The book provides not only a range of views but also an integrated account, with the chapters offering an orderly progression of thought.

The contributors consider innovation in biological terms, discussing epistemology, animal studies, systematics and phylogeny, phenotypic plasticity and evolvability, and Evo Devo; they discuss modern insights into innovation, including simulation, the random-copying model, diffusion, and demographic analysis; and they offer case studies of innovation from archaeological and ethnographic records, examining developmental, behavioral, and social patterns.

Contributors: André Ariew, R. Alexander Bentley, Werner Callebaut, Joseph Henrich, Anne Kandler, Kevin N. Laland, Daniel O. Larson, Alex Mesoudi, Michael J. O’Brien, Craig T. Palmer, Adam Powell, Simon M. Reader, Valentine Roux, Chet Savage, Michael Brian Schiffer, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Stephen J. Shennan, James Steele, Mark G. Thomas, Todd L. VanPool

Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology

About the Editors

Michael J. O'Brien is Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri.

Stephen J. Shennan is Professor of Theoretical Archaeology and Director of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.


"Archaeologists have recently emerged as some of the most sophisticated evolutionists in the human sciences. O'Brien and Shennan's book on innovation is an important contribution to a central but difficult topic. It showcases what archaeologists and their allies are accomplishing."
Peter J. Richerson, Distinguished Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis

"The idea of cultural innovation, the long-term success of cultural novelty, is examined by experts from various fields of studyanthropology, archaeology, biology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. The strength of this book is the diversity of approaches and critical spirit it brings to key concepts and problems in cultural evolution. This is an essential work on an important topic."
George Basalla, author of The Evolution of Technology

"The volume collects in one place all of the major players in a new area of interest at the intersection of evolutionary biology, archaeology, anthropology, economics, and philosophy of science'innovation studies'with eminent representatives from all these fields putting forward their best theory and evidence. A stimulating collection."
Robert Aunger, Disease Control and Vector Biology Unit, Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine