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Understanding Cultural Transmission in Anthropology: A Critical Synthesis

Series: Methodology & History in Anthropology Volume: 26

By: Roy Ellen, Stephen J Lycett and Sarah E Johns

368 pages, 33 illustrations, 10 tables

Berghahn Books Ltd

Paperback | Aug 2013 | #205642 | ISBN-13: 9781782380719
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £18.50 $24/€21 approx
Hardback | Aug 2013 | #205641 | ISBN-13: 9780857459930
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £75.99 $100/€86 approx

About this book

The concept of "cultural transmission" is central to much contemporary anthropological theory, since successful human reproduction through social systems is essential for effective survival and for enhancing the adaptiveness of individual humans and local populations. Yet, what is understood by the phrase and how it might best be studied is highly contested. Understanding Cultural Transmission in Anthropology brings together contributions that reflect the current diversity of approaches – from the fields of biology, primatology, palaeoanthropology, psychology, social anthropology, ethnobiology, and archaeology – to examine social and cultural transmission from a range of perspectives and at different scales of generalization. The comprehensive introduction explores some of the problems and connections. Overall, Understanding Cultural Transmission in Anthropology provides a timely synthesis of current accounts of cultural transmission in relation to cognitive process, practical action, and local socio-ecological context, while linking these with explanations of longer-term evolutionary trajectories.

"This is an important contribution to the study of human knowledge and cultural transmission, and it squarely addresses contemporary concerns to cultivate a cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas and methods [...] The chapters are of high academic standard, well written and accessible to the interested reader who does not (and is unlikely to) possess expertise in each of the fields represented."
- Trevor H.J. Marchand, SOAS, University of London

"The editors have assembled an excellent slate of authors."
- Mike O'Brien, University of Missouri


List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Contributors
Roy Ellen and Michael Fischer

Chapter 1. What Animals Other Than Primates can tell us about Cultural Transmission
Kevin Laland, Alice Cowie and Tom Morgan

Chapter 2. Cultural Transmission in Non-human Primates: Definitions and Evidence
Tatyana Humle and Nicholas Newton-Fisher

Chapter 3. Cultural Transmission Theory and fossil Hominin Behaviour: A Discussion of Epistemological and Methodological Strengths
Stephen Lycett

Chapter 4. Studying Cultural Transmission Within an Interdisciplinary Cultural Evolutionary Framework
Alex Mesoudi

Chapter 5. Do Transmission Isolation Mechanisms (TRIMS) Influence Cultural Evolution? Evidence from Patterns of Textile Diversity Within and Between Iranian Cultural
Jamshid Tehrani and Mark Collard

Chapter 6. Co-evolution Between Bentwood Box Traditions and Languages on the Pacific Northwest Coast
Sean O'Neill and Peter Jordan

Chapter 7. The Transmission of Ethnobotanical Knowledge and Skills Among Tsimane’ in the Bolivian Amazon
Viki Reyes-Garcia and TAPS Bolivian Study Team

Chapter 8. Processual Perspectives on Traditional Knowledge: Continuity, Erosion, Transformation, Innovation
Stanford Zent

Chapter 9. The Transmission of Basketry-making Knowledge in East Kalimantan
Rajindra Puri

Chapter 10. On the Transmission of Gardening Knowledge: Innovation and Consensus in the Planting of Allotment Vegetables
Simon Platten

Chapter 11. Thinking Like a Cheese?: An Exploration of the Ecology of Knowledge in Artisan Cheesemaking
Harry West

Chapter 12. Lineages of Cultural Transmission
Stephen Shennan


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Roy Ellen is Professor of Anthropology and Human Ecology at the University of Kent, Canterbury. His recent publications include On the Edge of the Banda Zone (University of Hawaii Press, 2003), The Categorical Impulse: Essays on the Anthropology of Classifying Behavior (Berghahn Books, 2006), and Nuaulu Religious Practices: The Frequency and Reproduction of Rituals in a Moluccan Society (KITLV Press, 2012). He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of its Council. He was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute between 2007 and 2011.

Stephen J. Lycett is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Trained in both biological anthropology and archaeology, his work is multidisciplinary, making extensive use of evolutionary principles and quantitative methodologies. His major research interests focus on integrating the biological, cultural, and technological aspects of evolution in humans, non-human primates, and fossil hominins.

Sarah E. Johns is a Lecturer in Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Her recent publications include "Red is not a proxy signal for female genitalia in humans" (PLoS ONE 2012); "Perceived environmental risk as a predictor of teenage motherhood in a British population" (Health and Place 2011); and "Teenage pregnancy and motherhood: How might evolutionary theory inform policy?" (Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 2011).

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