Re: In What Sense do Cultures Evolve?

Christopher N Matthews (cnm4@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Tue, 10 May 1994 09:14:06 -0400

T. Riley and Bob Graber are making posts about cultural evolution and have
entered into the realm of subcultures. I would recommend a look at some
of the work recently by Elizabeth Brumfiel and others on factions
(Brumfiel 1992 _Am Anthro_ and Brunfiel and Fox 1994 Cambridge). Here are
some cultural evolutionists making stabs at the issues presented by the
critiques of the left. The left, for their part, are mostly against even
the use of the word 'evolution' for it effectively removes the capacity
for agency and choice. Instead they favor contingency, unintended
consequences, and practice. People, fully conscious of their immediate
goals and actions, create culture in history through practice, especially
as they confront contradictions presented in their relations to the means
of production and power.
The above references are not of this line, but
approach it. The use of factions and factional competition focuses on the
direct and indirect control of the means of production by contending
groups based on kinship, ethnicity, or politcal affiliation. Such groups,
through practice, create as much as react to the cultural form in
which they exist. From this perspective subcultures can be seen as major
contributers to the 'culture' that Graber talks about. The creation of
this 'culture' however is based soley on the dominant interests of a
particular subculture whose maneoevered to achieve their dominance through
force and favor. In this sense evolution is a perspective useful to the
dominant for it makes history a only a cog of evolution. From the left,
to the contrary, evolution is a consequence of history.

Chris Matthews