Browsing All Posts published on »April, 2012«

More on Cultural Genotypes

April 26, 2012 by


Thanks to all who left comments on my previous post. This discussion has been very useful and led me to adjust my views. Here’s how I would formulate the issues now: (1) ‘Phenotype’ is determined jointly by (i) genetically stored information, (ii) culturally stored information, and (iii) the environment. It doesn’t make sense to speak […]

What’s Cultural Genotype?

April 24, 2012 by


A week ago I was at a workshop Rules as Genotypes in Cultural Evolution (check out the Focus Article by Elinor Ostrom that set the stage for the meeting). One major topic of discussion was what might be the cultural analog of genotype. In biology phenotype is the observable traits and characteristics of an organism, […]

The Z-Curve of Human Egalitarianism

April 16, 2012 by


As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution is a complex book that addresses many roles of religion in human social evolution. One theme that I was particularly interested in was the influence of religious developments on the evolution of human egalitarianism, especially during the Axial Age. The starting point for […]

How Not to Write a Book

April 15, 2012 by

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I just finished writing a commentary on Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution. Bellah’s ideas are highly stimulating and I want to discuss one central issue of the book, that of evolution of egalitarianism in the next blog. But first a few words about the book itself. Bellah wrote Religion in Human Evolution over the […]

Catherine M. Tucker: Comments on Ostrom

April 11, 2012 by

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Ostrom’s article presents a cogently argued and lucid approach to investigating the evolution of institutions in complex social-ecological systems.   It combines a commitment  to testable questions, rigorous data collection, attention to existing data and theories, and synthetic integration and analysis of data.   It is sufficiently flexible to allow for novel interpretations and emergence of new […]

Jenna Bednar: Three Questions for the Institutional Dynamics Agenda Related to Inter-Rule Relationships

April 11, 2012 by

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To the thoughtful foundational essays written by Wilson & Gowdy and Elinor Ostrom, I suggest three questions. Because it is often helpful to have a concrete application in mind, I’ll phrase this commentary in terms of constitutional dynamics. Constitutions are particularly interesting for our study: they are sets of related rules, each clause formally independent, […]

The ‘Dune Hypothesis’

April 7, 2012 by


I am an avid consumer of science fiction and fantasy novels. The most interesting aspect of such fiction to me is how authors construct social structures within which their heroes operate. Whether this happens in some alternate world where magic is possible, or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” the authors […]

Steven C. Hayes. Variation and Selection in Rules and Rule-Governance: The Perspective of Behavioral Psychotherapy

April 6, 2012 by

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The Latin root of “rules” (regula) originally just meant a straight stick, and later a stick used for measuring. That sense remains in English (e.g., a wooden ruler), but a later sense was simply that of any consistent pattern (e.g., ruled paper, or “I don’t eat before noon, as a rule”). The most recent sense […]

David D. Laitin: On Ostrom (or “Linphoria before Jeremy”)

April 6, 2012 by

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Professor Ostrom has put her neophyte reader in a difficult situation. Hers is a mature research program of enormous scope and intellectual yield. However, because of that, it is far too complex to be neatly summarized in an introductory section, and if fully summarized, there would be no further space for a positive contribution to […]

Cooperation in Humans: Is It Really ‘Strong Reciprocity’?

April 5, 2012 by


When I first met Sam Bowles (it must have been in the early 2000s) I was already a committed proponent of multilevel selection. My recollection of our interactions at the time was that while he was not a strong critic of the idea, neither was he a strong supporter. I was reminded of our early […]

Yasha Hartberg: Commentary on Elinor Ostrom

April 5, 2012 by

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I find myself once again grateful for Ostrom’s foundational work.  The systematic study of institutional change is a daunting subject with potentially countless variables, yet Ostrom and her colleagues at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis have managed to propose a framework which deftly gives this bewildering complexity empirical traction.  As Ian Lustick […]

Ian Lustick: Commentary on Wilson and Gowdy

April 4, 2012 by

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Having exceeded the allotted 500 words in my comment on Elinor Ostrom’s paper, I do not want to presume to heavily on the attention of colleagues by writing a long comment on this important paper.  I am essentially in full agreement with the argument, that evolutionary thinking holds immense promise for improving the social sciences.  […]

Marco Janssen: Information as a Guiding Principle of the Evolution of Institutions

April 4, 2012 by


The fit between ecological dynamics and institutional arrangements is at the forefront of the study of the governance of social-ecological systems. How do resource users create new institutional arrangements? Does that relate to the knowledge of the ecological dynamics? When Ostrom and myself started to develop agent-based models of rule evolution, we came to the […]

Greg Urban: On Rules, Ultimate Causes, and Cultural Motion

April 3, 2012 by


In my admittedly small corner of anthropology, I study the motion of culture, taking “culture” to be what we acquire through social transmission and social learning.  I am particularly concerned with how motion takes place — transmission through the medium of artifacts, especially ephemeral ones like sounds and behaviors, but also more durable ones such […]

Commentary: Ian S. Lustick on Elinor Ostrom

April 1, 2012 by


Elinor Ostrom’s paper makes it clear that the set of observed institutions is but a tiny fraction of the total possible permutations of values on the seven institutional dimensions she identifies. This implies that in order to account for the origins of institutions of a particular type, an argument must be made about the trajectories […]

Introducing Pre-Workshop Discussions

April 1, 2012 by

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There are several ways for the Social Evolutionary Forum to advance its goal of promoting communication and collaboration in the field of social and cultural evolution. One of these is to provide a platform for pre-workshop discussions. The idea is that time at a workshop is very limited, and it can be used most effectively […]


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