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Coevolution Genes culture and human diversity. By William H. Durham. Stanford CA Stanford University Press. 1991. xxii + 637 pp. ISBN 0-8047-1537-8

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application of Darwinism to cultural affairs.
Here names like Cavailli-Sforza and Feldman, Richerson and Boyd, Campbell, and
Dunnell spring immediately to mind. And in
the attempt to develop a rigorous, carefully
thought-out evolutionary analysis of human
One of the greatest accomplishments of behavior, William Durham was one of the
the New Synthesis was in demonstrating first. He still remains one of the best. And
that not only were Darwinian selection and this volume demonstrates this judgment beMendelian genetics compatible, but that yond a doubt.
Coevolution takes on a daunting chalgreater insight into both could be obtained
by their unification. One of the greatest lenge. Not only are we to explore the ways in
shortcomings of the New Synthesis was in which natural evolutionary processes work
appropriating the terms “evolution”and “se- upon cultural events, but we will also atlection” to designate solely genetic pro- tempt to understand how selection acting
upon two systems, the genetic and the culcesses.
The general processes of change are actu- tural, might bring about the various adaptaally much broader, and we have had to live tions we may view in humans and in their
with the consequences of this narrow-mind- cultures. Here, the very broad task that
edness for nearly 50 years. One conspicu- Durham has taken upon himself, and the
ously unproductive result was the Great So- kind of evidence he therefore needs to bring
ciobiology Debate of the 1970s. But while to hand, directly lead to the real accomplishthat emotional imbroglio, thankfully, is now ments of the book. And as shall be seen, they
largely behind us, the error of equating ge- also inevitably lead to its problems for the
netics and evolution continues to haunt us. average reader.
Chapter 1provides the requisite introducAnd nowhere has the error had more lasting
effects than in our understanding of our own tory review of concepts with stress given to
species, a species in which most aspects of the need to integrate an ideational view of
the behavioral phenotype are unlikely to be culture with natural selection theory. Chapters 2 and 3 consider social and genetic evogenetically determined in their specifics.
The seriousness of this problem cannot be lution in the most general of terms by conunderrated. Let’s face it: selection is the pre- sidering two very specific examples: Tibetan
dominant, and some would say sole, natural kinship and sickle-cell anemia. Here, as
force creating the fundamental patternings throughout the volume, Durham cannot be
observable in the biotic world (for those who faulted for any lack of completeness in his
might place a greater emphasis upon ran- treatment; indeed, complaints about the
dom forces in evolution, I simply point out length and detail are far more likely. Quite
that I do not feel that such random forces frankly, at times it does become a bit of a
create a “pattern”).Yet, most students of hu- bore, but as I shall note below, good reasons
man culture see both selection and mecha- exist for this problem. Chapter 4 carries us
nistic natural law as an inapplicable to un- back to the theoretical level, here with a rederstanding cultural systems. Part of the view of recent treatments of cultural evolureason, clearly, is that they, like the radical tion. I hope that after this exhaustive review
sociobiologists of the 1970s, believe that and defense of culture as an inheritance sysDarwinism applies only to genes. Hence tem, none of us will ever again have to de(their logic goes), since cultural events are fend the notion that culture is an inheritbereft of strict genetic determinism, a Dar- ance system, and therefore that, at least in
winian kind of selection cannot be applied to theory, it is plausible that it might evolve!
The book is worth reading for this chapter
understanind change in the cultural realm.
Despite this fundamental conceptual alone and in many ways it is the best of the
problem a small band of persistent scholars lot.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 return to the casehave attempted to work on a nonreductionistic, sophisticated, and necessarily complex study approach again, with chosen examCOEVOLUTION:
By William H. Durham. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1991.
xxii + 637 pp. ISBN 0-8047-1537-8. $65
ples (evolution of lactose tolerance, incest
taboos, headhunting, and cannibalism) being used to illustrate Durham’s view of cultural evolution. Chapter 8 is, no surprise,
the final round-up and summary. This is followed by 70-odd pages of closely set, highly
detailed and technical appendices.
From his earliest papers, Durham has
been concerned with the interaction of genetic and cultural systems of heredity. Here,
unlike many other cultural evolutionary
theorists such as Boyd and Richerson, he
feels it necessary to deal with both genes
and culture a s inheritance systems. This is
totally reasonable since in many cases (such
as those discussed in the book) changes in
cultural traits may bring about changes in
genetic traits. Some of us, including myself,
find this kind of argument remarkably uncontroversial, and, indeed, at times, I found
myself bothered by the “Old Wine in New
Bottles” phenomenon. Likewise I found myself somewhat bothered by Durham’s seemingly uncritical adoption of a strictly “ideational” view of culture. A more phenomenal
approach would have appealed to me more.
“Memes” ( a horrid word that I am afraid we
may all be stuck using in near future) cannot really be selected in a meaningful sense
until they become parts of the phenomenal
world. Here, I suspect that much more work
will need to be done on this problem.
Given the subject which must be covered,
the detail in which the material is discussed,
and the remarkably difficult nature of the
subject a t hand, it should not be surprising
that this is not a n easy book. I have read it
twice now, with the second reading bringing
far greater benefit than the first. It would be
very easy to complain that the material
could have been better organized and that it
should be easier to understand. It would be
simple to dismiss a book of some 600 pages
of closely set type, characterized by complex
logic and unfamiliar vocabulary.
Such statements would be unfair in extreme, to both the author and the book itself.
They would also be a cop-out of the first
order. Clearly, Durham, perhaps working
from a n assumption that scholars will be
convinced by well-defended arguments
based upon “the evidence,” has gone out of
his way to martial a s detailed a support for
his argument as could be imagined. In these
terms, he and his students have produced a
magnum opus. But it no sense is the final
product simple. This also seems reasonable
since if the subject matter were not so complex, then we would imagine a simple rendering of it would likely have been found a
long time ago. An understanding of cultural
evolution, no less than genetic evolution,
will require models that are sufficiently
complex to deal with the phenomena a t
hand. Hence, the fact that this volume is
“difficult” points in part to the horrendously
difficult nature of the subject. To wish it
were easier, and to castigate the author who
attempts to show a t least some of the inherent difficulty, would be missing the whole
But it also leads to another point. Many
are likely to claim that it is simply too difficult; that it is bound to be inaccessable to far
too many in our field. Not only is it long and
detailed, but it considers such a range of
topics that many will feel the treatment is
quite beyond them. Here many social scientists are likely to note that they have no
need to study all of the “biology”stuff in the
book: this anthropology is not biology and
that real anthropologists don’t need to know
this kind of stuff. But in doing so, they
should be aware that other scholars, who see
themselves as biologists studying humans,
will be making the exact same statements
about all the “anthropology” in the book:
that human cultural evolution is a biological
science and that real biologists don’t need to
study this kind of stuff. Of course, both
points of view miss the founding assumption
of the book and the central point of Darwinian cultural evolution: the “social”/”biological” dichotomy in the sciences is simply untenable when we study our own species.
Here, Durham’s volume will have to face
the same problem as most, if not all, scholars working in the field of human cultural
evolution. I have worked in both anthropology and biology departments. In the former I
was castigated for not being a “real” anthropologist, since I was “obviously” a biologist.
Of course, in the biology department, the
argument was stated in equally strong
terms and was equally believed-but the argument was reversed. Attempting to ad-
dress this fundamental “criticism” leads to a
number of most interesting problems, items
that might be suited to analyses in and of
An ideational view of culture places great
emphasis upon the mental constructs of humans. A selectionist view of culture places
great emphasis upon the manner in which
these constructs interact-both with other
constructs and with the “big wide world.” To
call for a n integration of the basic dichotomies of a cultural tradition-to
claim, a s
Durham must, that biologylculture, b r a i d
mind, genelmeme, naturelnurture, body1
soul, are oppositions comprehensible only in
their interactions-is to ask for trouble. Too
much is a t stake, both in terms of the cultural traditions and the training we give our
students in them.
Durham, like most cultural selectionists,
cannot avoid noting, and indeed appreciat-
ing, that the models we use to study culture
are themselves products of that which we
seek to understand. Here, we should note
that, a t the very least, cultural selectionist
methodologies such a s those advanced here
provide the only theory of cultural change
that can a t least, hypothetically, provide
reasons for why it might fail in convincing
anthropologists to adopt it. And while the
selectionist might find odd comfort from
contemplating the evolutionary reasons why
selectionism itself is unlikely to succeed,
this may be its greatest strength-what
other theory of culture could ever produce
practical reasons why it might not be found
“the best”?
By Robert N. Proctor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press. 1991. xi + 331 pp. ISBN 0-67493170-X. $34.95 (cloth).
trace the history of the value-free ideal in
science. He shows that this ideal has had
several origins and iterations, from those of
Enlightenment scholars like Locke and
Hume to those couched in the more modern
arguments of Max Weber. In the end, he
demonstrates quite convincingly that the
ideal is itself largely a n outcome of political
conditions and motivations. The quest for
value neutrality is a s much founded in politics a s is the obvious use of science to bolster
political claims. Or so the argument goes.
While ambitious and thought-provoking,
there nevertheless remain certain troubling
aspects to Proctor’s thesis.
Proctor has a clear political agenda of his
own. He disapproves of scientific knowledge
being used by the military or by industry
originating and profiting in the capitalist
West. He is alarmed by the application of
scientific methodology towards making the
military-industrial complex any more powerful. He assumes that any increase in this
power will diminish the quality of life for
most people. Thus, he calls for more than a
recognition that science is and has always
been political. He calls for political action on
the part of scientists, a s scientists, to help
Social scientists have spent considerable
time and effort worrying whether their work
is true science. Anthropologists are no exception. A few, a s recently reflected most
clearly by the followers of Critical Theory,
have rejected scientific method completely.
Following the pronouncements of Geertz
and others, they have argued against the
ideal of value-neutrality in anthropological
research. Many others, however, have
strived for a more rigorous scientific approach. As part of their efforts they have
argued forcefully for value-neutrality, considering it necessary to reach any valid, objective conclusions. The issue of value-free
science-whether it is possible and whether
or not scientists should approximate it-has
become important for anthropologists in a
continuing effort to evaluate (and sometimes validate) their discipline.
This book is a n important contribution to
the issue. In it, Robert Proctor attempts to
Archaeology c/o Geography Department
Un,iversityof Western Australia
Nedlands, Western Australia, Australia
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coevolution, university, isbn, 637, human, 1991, durham, xxii, william, diversity, 1537, stanford, culture, genes, pres, 8047
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