Cultural Evolution and Cliodynamics

Peter Turchin
2014 Cliodynamics  
during the 1970s and 1980s. This interdisciplinary field has been growing rapidly over the past two decades by attracting researchers with a variety of backgrounds in the social and biological sciences. The coming-of-age of Cultural Evolution can be dated to the Strüngmann Forum on Cultural Evolution held in Frankfurt-am-Main in 2012, which assembled more than 40 practitioners (Richerson and Christiansen 2013). What is cultural evolution? Culture is "the ideas, skills, attitudes, and norms that
more » ... des, and norms that people acquire by teaching, imitation, and/or other kinds of learning from other people" (Richerson and Christiansen 2013). Most broadly, culture is socially transmitted information. Cultural evolution, then, is the change of culture over time. Just as the most common definition of biological evolution is the change of gene frequencies with time, at the core of cultural evolution is the temporal change in the frequency of cultural traits. The concepts, models, and empirical methods of Cultural Evolution provide us with powerful tools for understanding human history. Thus, Cultural Evolution and Cliodynamics (which encompasses all scientific approaches to the study of history) are natural allies. I should note, however, that Cliodynamics is interested in a broad range of dynamical processes that extend beyond cultural evolution. For example, models of demographic growth and decline, dynamics of battles and wars, or mechanics of economic expansion and contraction do not need to involve cultural change. Typically, such political, economic, and demographic processes operate on a faster time scale than cultural change (but see below). For this reason, there are many classes of cliodynamic models that simply assume certain fixed cultural arrangements. For example, demographic dynamics are affected by many cultural elements, 1 I capitalize Cultural Evolution when referring to it as a scientific discipline, characterized by a shared set of concepts and approaches; uncapitalized cultural evolution refers to the change of culture over time.
doi:10.21237/c7clio5125308 fatcat:jkyuws3lrjesdk6q3letioeuiy