Bio-cultural evolution.

Fri, 6 May 1994 20:25:41 -0600

I would like to second Bob Graber's position concerning the non-valuative
position of contemporary evolutionary approaches to diachronic analyses of
culture. The evolutionary model, as I understand it, does not predict optimal
features of any optimally adapted species, but rather, suggests that social and
biological environmental factors constrain the range of options and choices
available for human adaptation. I do not mean to conflate culture to the level
of an adaptive mechanism, but I would argue that this is a valid way of looking
at one very important side of it. The main problem that I see in applying
evolutionary theory in anthropology is that most of the critics of cultural
evolutionism have not read and/or understood evolutionary theory. There is
very little determinism involved in it. In fact, there isn't much that's
agreed upon even among biologists (even S. J. Gould's popular books demonstrate
this). Secondly, of course, we have the critic's claim that evolutionists will
never be able to live down their historigraphic ties to Spencer, Huxley and
other hegemonists and eugenecists. I disagree, but I see the point.

Evolutionary theory is a useful framework for building models of change.
That's all. In a very broad sense, it underlies most causal models in
archaeology, and, I would argue, in any structuralistic treatment of cultural
diachronics. I don't think that cultural evolutionism can be pigeonholed into
the 'functionalist' coffin - it should be obvious that much of what evolves
into being is decidedly non-functional.



Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin