2016 » Theme

Investigating what makes human culture unique (and why) is one of the most pressing of our time, involving research efforts from various disciplines (see Science special issue, 2005). However, conferences which directly address culture often focus on only one aspect and within one discipline.

In May 2015, we hosted a very successful first CultureConference on the Origins and Transmission of Culture. About 60 researchers and postgraduate students from the UK and abroad gathered to discuss their ideas and share their work. The very positive feedback, but also the many outstanding questions for debate encouraged us to host a second conference in 2016.

The aim of this conference will be to provide an interdisciplinary forum to discuss ideas, theories, and data concerned with the question(s) when and how cumulative culture emerges.

Cumulative culture represents a special subtype of culture. It refers to cultural traits that are the result of an accumulation process over time, the so-called ratchet effect (Tomasello, 1999). Several generations may have contributed to the design of the cumulative cultural trait so that at some point the trait could not be (re-)invented by a single individual without access to the culture in question (Boyd & Richerson, 1996).

We envision contributions from all relevant academic disciplines as well as debate on topics such as:

  • Which species have cumulative culture?
  • What are the likely key factors contributing to the emergence of cumulative culture (such as cognitive or environmental requirements)?
  • For species (potentially) lacking cumulative culture: Why do they not have it and what would be needed for cumulative culture to emerge?
  • What are key requirements for cumulative culture to occur ?
  • When did cumulative culture first appear in humans? Is it a recent occurrence or can it be traced in the early archaeological record?
  • How do the different disciplines approach the study of cumulative culture?
  • What are the future pathways for the study of cumulative culture?
  • How shall we best define cumulative culture?