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William P. Kabasenche, Michael O'Rourke, and Matthew H. Slater

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780262017404

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262017404.001.0001

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Situated Adaptationism

Situated Adaptationism

(p.89) 6 Situated Adaptationism
The Environment

Denis M. Walsh

The MIT Press

This chapter studies the work of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme, which appeared in 1979. The chapter attempts to draw the outline of an alternative conception of biological adaptation as seen in this paper and in other related works. The Spandrels has become a staple of evolutionary biology, either as a cautionary tale or an irreverent poke at modern-day Panglossians. A positive thesis can still be gleaned from the work as Gould and Lewontin’s critique is not directed at biological adaptation per se, but at a particular conception of it as enshrined in the “adaptationist program.” The central idea of The Spandrels involves an architectural metaphor commonly applied in biology—that of the niche. The concept of the niche represents the relationship between an organism and its environment; The Spandrels suggests a reconceptualization of this relationship.

Keywords:   adaptationist program, biological adaptation, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, The Spandrels, evolutionary biology, niche, organism, environment

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