Mechanisms of cultural evolution

Mechanisms of cultural evolution

Mechanisms of cultural evolution (Something like a Developmental Evolutionary take on culture)
Claes Andersson
Chalmers University of Technology


Insite Project

May 12, 2014


  1. Mechanisms of cultural evolution (Something like a Developmental Evolutionary take

    on culture) Claes Andersson Chalmers University of Technology
  2. The main ingredients • Exaptive bootstrapping (E.g. Lane 2011) •

    Generative Entrenchment (E.g. Wimsatt and Griesemer 2007) • Multi-Level Perspective/Technical Change Theory (e.g. Geels and Schot 2007) A provisional developmental model for cultural change on the evolutionary time scale (Andersson, Törnberg and Törnberg 2014) • Lane, D. A. (2011). Complexity and Innovation Dynamics. In C. Antonelli (Ed.), Handbook on the Economic Complexity of Technological Change (pp. 63–80). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing. • Wimsatt, W. C., & Griesemer, J. R. (2007). Reproducing Entrenchments to Scaffold Culture: The Central Role of Development in Cultural Evolution. In R. Sansom & R. N. Brandon (Eds.), Integrating Evolution and Development: From Theory to Practice (pp. 227–323). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. • Geels, F., & Schot, J. (2007). Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy, 36(3), 399–417. • Andersson, C., Törnberg, A., & Törnberg, P. (2014). An Evolutionary Developmental Approach to Cultural Evolution. Current Anthropology, 55(2), 154–174.
  3. Agent-Artifact Space • Agents and Artifacts linked – a network

    • Change propagates in the network • Cascades of reconfigurations • Innovation triggers innovation
  4. Some basic concepts: Affordances: potential functions – immense and undeterminable

    space Attributed function: what the structure is actually used for. Not necessarily known! (e.g. A mythological motivation for a practice may be crucial for maintaining it – e.g. by sublimating it – but this may not at all be identified by the culture) Exaptation: Something is put to a new use (as is, or combined with something else) – which places it under different criteria of change, e.g. splitting.
  5. Exaptive Bootstrapping E.g. Lane (2011) describes innovation in this Agent-Artifact

    space is described as Exaptive Bootstrapping; a five-step cycle: 1. New artifact types are designed to achieve some particular attribution of functionality. 2. Organizational transformations are constructed to proliferate the use of tokens of the new type. 3. Novel patterns of human interaction emerge around these artifacts in use. 4. New attributions of functionality are generated – by participants or observers – to describe what the participants in these interactions are obtaining or might obtain from them. 5. New artifacts are conceived and designed to instantiate the new attributed functionality. #1=#5 – It’s a bootstrapping cycle
  6. Structure, instutions... • Heterogenous and structured • Links differ in

    type and strength • There are clusters, hierarchy and so on: agents and artifacts entangled within and across levels of organization and abstraction Highly challenging...
  7. Hierarchy #1 - Regimes • Regimes: tangles of structures and

    institutions • Less centralized than institutions. • No particular level – hierarchically nested • E.g. Automobility, pyrotechnology, animal management. Automobility is tangled up with ideological, technological and economical factors – stake holders with a range of interaction modes (competing, but with certain common interests, etc.)
  8. Hierarchy #2: Generative Entrenchment • What brings hierarchization? • Generative

    Entrenchment important model In terms of how entangled components are, we get a core-periphery axis of hierarchization Core Perifery
  9. Generative Entrenchment Changes cascade through the system Change is more

    likely to be preserved the ”better” its net effect is. In a tuned system, change is more likely to be deleterious than beneficial. Changes near the Core have lower likelyhood of not causing damaging effects. This is because they have more dependent downstream elements The Core will have inertia and the periphery will be more flexible The Core is Entrenched Inert Flexible
  10. Flexibility because of inertia – and the other way around

    Central elements (nuts & bolts, general ideas, components...) define design spaces More peripheral elements have more the character of being designs in design spaces Sociotechnical systems are thereby flexible and inert at the same time The innovation society generates a profusion of innovation: but not ANY innovation! Notably: it is incapable of mopping up all the negative side effects of the profusion of innovations that it causes! The innovation society is entrenched: it is part of a design space within which we devise our solutions. (The ”innovation as a search process” paradigm clearly concerns re-organization in the periphery!)
  11. The Core The innovation society is part of what we

    call The Core An entrenched tangle of Regimes that make up ”a way of life” – a prevalent design space Innovation is subordinated to the pace set by this Core
  12. Transition: changing Cores Transition – and stasis – are evolutionary

    phenomena Conceived as the replacement of an Old Core by a New Core Prodromal Bootstrapping Entrenchment Old Core New Core
  13. Prodromal phase – setting the scene Minor Regimes: Covering for

    the Core – things at the side that cover for things that it cannot really deal with... (social innovation?) Substrate: A ”soup” of Minor Regimes that survive in important but marginal niches... Where they are refined. The Prodromal Phase may be mistaken as a gradual accumulation of the New Core – it is not! We rely on the Core – changing it generates destructive cascades. But the substrate undermines it... Prodromal Bootstrapping Entrenchment Old Core New Core
  14. Bootstrapping Phase #1 Push – Pull: Two things needed for

    transition... 1) A Substrate of refined Minor Regimes that provide the embryo of an alternative 2) A destabilized Old Core: by the Substrate, by an accumulation of negative by-effects of its innovations, by external events... Prodromal Bootstrapping Entrenchment Old Core New Core
  15. Bootstrapping Phase #2 Once this happens – the Old Core

    no longer sets the pace! Innovation reaches the Core – to a large extent by building upon the Substrate of Minor Regimes... But also by re-organizing fragments of the Old Core into new roles! Cascades of profound innovation on a level that constructs new major design spaces Prodromal Bootstrapping Entrenchment Old Core New Core
  16. Entrenchment Phase Prodromal Bootstrapping Entrenchment Old Core New Core A

    New Core takes shape... The more that gets constructed on top of it... ...and the more refined it becomes... The more Generatively Entrenched it becomes