SFI Seminar: Reconceptualizing Cultural Evolutionary Typologies

Peter N. Peregrine

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SFI Seminar: Reconceptualizing Cultural Evolutionary Typologies

Wednesday, Dec. 5 • 12:15 p.m. • Medium Conference Room

Peter N. Peregrine, Professor of Anthropology, Lawrence University and External Professor, Santa Fe Institute

Abstract: Typological approaches to understanding cultural evolution have been utilized, and strongly criticized, for more than a century (Sanderson 2007.)

Some of my own work has been a part of that long critique. But recent statistical analyses of cultural evolution suggest that there are patterns of punctuated equilibrium, which may correlate with proposed cultural evolutionary typologies (e.g., Peregrine, Ember and Ember, 2004.)

Thus, there may be some empirical reality to those typologies that make them more useful in the study of cultural evolution than critics have suggested. This paper reviews the evidence for punctuated equilibrium in cultural evolution and posits that reconceptualizing cultural evolutionary typologies as markers of stable evolutionary states might be defensible.


Peregrine, Peter N., Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember
2004 “Universal Patterns in Cultural Evolution: An Empirical Analysis Using Guttman Scaling.” American Anthropologist 106(1):145-149.

Sanderson, Stephen
2007 Evolutionism and its Critics. Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Publishers.

Note: We are unable to accommodate members of the public for SFI’s limited lunch service; you’re welcome to bring your own.

SFI Host: Jerry Sabloff