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Institute of Advanced Study

Humanity Between Biology and Culture: the niche construction perspective

17 October 2008

Seminar Room, Department of Anthropology

Niche construction is one of the most exciting theories to have emerged from evolutionary science in the last two decades: it is revolutionising the way we think about adaptation. It is based on the simple but powerful idea that not only does the environment cause changes in organisms through natural selection, but that organisms also cause changes to the environment by manipulating their material worlds in ways that can have major (and sometimes unintended) consequences for their survival and reproduction. The importance of niche construction is nowhere more in evidence than in humans, where it has had profound effects on our genes, cultures and eco-systems. In addition, niche construction plays an important role in many current global issues, including the ecological consequences of pollution activity, the political and economic ramifications of network formation across the internet and the evolution of infectious disease in response to farming and medical practices.

The aim of this workshop is to explore the causes and consequences of cultural niche construction on human evolution in the past, present and future. It brings together leading academic researchers to establish new research directions, policy implications, and interdisciplinary methods and problems.  The workshop will include a discussion of generic cultural niche construction issues. It will also turn to applied problems that are of major contemporary concern, such as: the effect of globalisation and construction of information technology on cultural selection for innovation in business and social policy; human impact on ecosystems (ecosystems engineering) and conservation of species diversity; the effect of constructed social norms on cooperation and conflict; and niche construction in response to man-made global warming and dwindling fossil fuels.

Speakers at this workshop include:

  • John Odling-Smee (Oxford)
  • Kevin Laland (St. Andrews)
  • Stephen Shennan (UCL)
  • Mark Thomas (UCL)
  • Felix Riede (UCL)
  • Clive Jones (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies)
  • Deborah Rogers (Stanford)

The workshop is free and open to all. To register for this event or for more information please contact Dr Jamie Tehrani or Dr Jeremy Kendal. This workshop has been organised in association with the Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity.