How Traditions Live and Die

Paperback | December 14, 2015

byOlivier Morin

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Of all the things we do and say, most will never be repeated or reproduced. Once in a while, however, an idea or a practice generates a chain of transmission that covers more distance through space and time than any individual person ever could. What makes such transmission chains possible?For two centuries, the dominant view (from psychology to anthropology) was that humans owe their cultural prosperity to their powers of imitation. In this view, modern cultures exist because the people who carry them are gifted at remembering, storing and reproducing information. How Traditions Liveand Die proposes an alternative to this standard view. What makes traditions live is not a general-purpose imitation capacity. Cultural transmission is partial, selective, often unfaithful. Some traditions live on in spite of this, because they tap into widespread and basic cognitive preferences. These attractive traditions spread, not by being better retained or more accurately transferred, but because they are transmitted over and over. This theory is used to shed light on variouspuzzles of cultural change (from the distribution of bird songs to the staying power of children's rhymes) and to explain the special relation that links the human species to its cultures. Morin combines recent work in cognitive anthropology with new advances in quantitative cultural history, to mapand predict the diffusion of traditions. This book is both an introduction and an accessible alternative to contemporary theories of cultural evolution.

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Of all the things we do and say, most will never be repeated or reproduced. Once in a while, however, an idea or a practice generates a chain of transmission that covers more distance through space and time than any individual person ever could. What makes such transmission chains possible?For two centuries, the dominant view (from psy...

Olivier Morin is Fellow of the KLI Institute, Klosterneuburg, Austria.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.68 inPublished:December 14, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190210508

ISBN - 13:9780190210502

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Table of Contents

Introduction. The Flop Problem and the Wear-and-Tear Problem1. The Transmission and Diffusion of Traditions2. Communication and Imitation3. The Myth of Compulsive Imitation4. A Theory of Diffusion Chains5. The Passing of Generations6. An Ever More Cultural AnimalIndex