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Innovation in Cultural Systems – Contributions from Evolutionary Anthropology - MIT Press Scholarship Online
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Innovation in Cultural Systems: Contributions from Evolutionary Anthropology

Michael J. O'Brien and Stephen J. Shennan


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 environmen ... More

Keywords: principles of evolution, study of culture, cultural innovation, cultural systems, evolutionary process, cultural evolutionists, cultural group, environmental problems, epistemology, animal studies

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2009 Print ISBN-13: 9780262013338
Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013 DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262013338.001.0001


Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Michael J. O'Brien, editor

Stephen J. Shennan, editor

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I Introduction

1 Issues in Anthropological Studies of Innovation

Michael J. O’Brien, and Stephen J. Shennan

II The Biological Substrate

3 Comparative Perspectives on Human Innovation

Kevin N. Laland, and Simon M. Reader

4 Organismal Innovation

Jeffrey H. Schwartz

III Cultural Inheritance

9 Demography and Variation in the Accumulation of Culturally Inherited Skills

Adam Powell, Stephen J. Shennan, and Mark G. Thomas

IV Patterns in the Anthropological Record

End Matter