Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

CFP: Special Evolutionary Issue of Politics and Culture

Expand Messages
  • Carroll, Joseph C.
    Hello again, I ve agreed to be guest editor for a special issue of the online journal Politics and Culture devoted to the topic: Bioculture: Evolutionary
    Message 1 of 4 , Nov 11, 2009
    • 0 Attachment

      Hello again,

       

      I’ve agreed to be guest editor for a special issue of the online journal Politics and Culture devoted to the topic: “Bioculture: Evolutionary Cultural Studies.”  If you wish to contribute to this special issue of Politics and Culture, please send your essay to me (jcarroll@...).

       

      Here’s the web address for the journal: http://sct.temple.edu/web/politics-culture/.” The editors are switching servers, so all the features of the website might not yet be functional, but you can look at current and back issues of the journal.

       

      After discussing the format for this special issue with Michael Ryan, one of the regular editors of Politics and Culture, I’ve decided that contributions to this issue can follow either of two basic options. I’ll describe the two options below. 

       

      Contributors to this issue can choose to participate under option one alone, under option two alone, or under both options. 

       

      *************************************************************  

       

      OPTION ONE:

       

                  This option is the same as that in the original call for papers for this special issue:

       

      Essays and reviews on any topic of your choosing, so long as it falls under the rubric “Bioculture: Evolutionary Cultural Studies.”

       

      Deadline: March 15, 2010

       

      Any citation style you like—MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

       

      Word Count: no limits as to length. (Essays and reviews can be short or long, anything from, say, 1,000 words to 15,000 words.  Bear in mind, though, the likely tolerance of readers; shorter pieces are more likely to be read than longer pieces; condensation and concision are better than inflation; direct and incisive prose is more likely to hold attention than niggling over details of exposition.)

       

      These contributions can be primarily theoretical or primarily exercises in practical criticism, but practical criticism should have some explicit bearing on general principles of biocultural critique, and theoretical pieces would probably be helped by reference to specific examples.

       

      ******************************************************************   

       

      OPTION TWO:

       

      In addition to essays and reviews on any topic in biocultural critique, this special issue will feature a round-table discussion on a single question. 

       

      Here is the question under discussion: “How is culture biological?” 

       

      The roundtable discussion will consist in three phases:

       

      (Phase 1) short essays answering the question under discussion (“How is culture biological?”) (up to 3,000 words) (We’ll call these essays “primary essays.)

       

      (Phase 2) responses to the short essays (up to 1,000 words)

       

      (Phase 3) rejoinders to the responses (no word limit)

      ___________

       

      Stipulations for phase one of option two: primary essays answering the question “How is culture biological?”

       

      Word Count: The essays in this first phase will be limited to 3,000 words and can be as short as 500 words.

       

      Deadline for the essays in phase one: January 20, 2010. 

       

      Any citation style you like—MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

       

      It might be a good idea if essays on this topic were to make illustrative reference to at least one specific example of a cultural phenomenon (for example, a human cultural universal, a specific cultural period, a specific work of art or literature, a specific cultural movement, a technology, a feature of social organization, a particular ideology, or a specific political issue).  However, that is not an absolute requirement. Essays operating in purely theoretical terms would also be acceptable.

       

      Note that in answering this question, you can but are not required to position your arguments relative to other published arguments on the relations (or lack of relations) between biology and culture. You could for example position your arguments in relation to “cultural constructivism,” the idea of “memetics,” “cultural evolution,” or “gene-culture co-evolution.”  You could work out from the ideas in other specific theoretical schools such as the Freudian, Marxist, or feminist.  Or you could build your own arguments from the ground up. 

      __________

       

      Stipulations for phase two of option two: responses to the short primary essays:

       

      On January 21, after having received all the essays designed to answer this specific question (“How is culture biological?), I’ll distribute all the essays to every person who has written one of the essays.  

       

      Everyone who has contributed an essay answering the discussion question will be asked to comment on at least one of the other essays answering the discussion question. Respondents can choose the essay or essays to which they wish to respond.

       

      Deadline for the responses:  February 20, 2010.

       

      Word limit for responses to individual primary essays: 1,000 words.

       

      Any citation style you like—MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

       

      There is no limit to the number of primary essays to which a respondent can respond.  A respondent could, if he or she wished, write a response to every primary essay.

       

      Anyone contributing an essay under option one (that is, writing on any aspect of biocultural critique) can also, if he or she wishes, write a response to one or more of the primary essays under option two.

       

      If I hear from others who are not contributing to the special issue but who would like to read and respond to the essays answering the question under discussion, they will be allowed to do so.  Respondents might thus even include commentators who think that biology has no relation to culture.  (So, if you know of people who might offer a stimulating critique, feel free to have them contact me to ask to see the primary essays so that they can decide whether to write responses to those primary essays.)

       

      I shall distribute the primary essays to anyone who has already turned in an essay or review on some other topic (the first of the two options in this special issue).  I’ll also send the primary essays to anyone who plans to contribute an essay under option one and lets me know that he or she would like to see the essays answering the question posed under option two.

       

      The format here, then, is something like that of a symposium in which the main participants present papers and comment on each others’ papers, and in which the audience is also allowed to ask questions or make comments.

       

      Responses to the essays submitted under option two can be critical (“I beg to differ”), supportive (“As my distinguished colleague so astutely observes”), qualifying (“Yes, but”), or elaborative (“Yes, not only that, but also. . . “).

       

      Authors writing responses to the primary essays should stipulate, at the top of the response, the target of their commentary, thus: “Response to George Lincoln.”  If writing responses to more than one primary essay, authors should write individual responses to each primary essay, not a single commentary responding to multiple primary essays.  Thus, an author responding to essays by both George Lincoln and Abraham Washington would write two separate responses, one labelled “Response to George Lincoln” and the other labelled “Response to Abraham Washington.”  The reason for avoiding conglomerate responses is that the responses will be published directly under the primary essays to which they are responding. Authors can still make points that apply to more than one author.  For instance, “The point I made in response to George Lincoln’s essay applies with even greater force to the essay by Abraham Washington. In brief, . . . “

       

      Note: the 1,000 word limit applies only to responses to individual essays.  An author responding to two primary essays, for example, would have a word limit of 1,000 words for each of the two essays.

      __________

       

      Stipulations for phase three of option two: rejoinders to the responses:

       

      On February 21, after having received all the responses to the essays, I’ll send all the responses to their target authors.  For instance, let’s say Charles Huxley has written an essay answering the discussion question. Karl Engels and Sigmund Jung have both written commentaries on Huxley’s essay. I’ll send Engel’s and Jung’s commentaries to Huxley.  Huxley will then have until March 15 to write a rejoinder.

       

      Deadline for the rejoinder to the responses:  March 15, 2010.

       

      Word limit for rejoinders: no word limit.

       

      Any citation style you like—MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

       

      Authors who have received responses to their primary essays can answer or not answer the responses as they please.  No author is required to write a rejoinder to any particular response.

      ____________ 

       

      In the part of the special issue devoted to the roundtable discussion, the primary essays will be arranged in alphabetical order of the authors names.  Responses will also be arranged in alphabetical order. 

       

      When responding to comments by specific, named people, please put the respondents’ names in bold-face font.  For example: “In his thoughtful commentary on my paper, Sigmund Jung raised a question I’d like to answer. Karl Engels raised a similar question, so my answer to Jung can be taken also as an answer to Engels.

       

      **********************************************************************   

       

      Acknowledgment: Michael Ryan suggested the question for the roundtable discussion.  I like this question a lot.  It cuts right past the idea that culture is not biological, but it also challenges essayists to formulate ideas focused specifically on culture, not just behavior. 

       

      I think it’s easier to answer a specific question, even a hard specific question (“How is culture biological?”) than to speak to some general topic: “Discuss the interactions between genetically transmitted dispositions and specific cultural forms.” 

       

      *************************************************************************   

       

      That’s it for the format of the special issue.  Just two options: either an essay or review on any aspect of biocultural critique, or a contribution to the roundtable discussion answering the question “How is culture biological?”  If you choose to contribute only under the first option (an essay or review on any aspect of biocultural critique), you needn’t trouble yourself with the details of the second option. 

       

      The rest of this note, below, just offers some reflections on the topic of the special issue.  These comments are designed to suggest the scope of the topic and perhaps offer some starting points for discussion.

       

      *******

       

      Culture is the great unexplored interior of the evolutionary human sciences. The evolutionary anthropologist Kim Hill puts his finger on this problem:   

       

      “Given the recent convergence of evolutionary psychology and human behavioural ecology-sociobiology, one might expect that the next generation of researchers will rapidly untangle all the major mysteries of human behavior and cognition. Unfortunately, I do not think that this will happen quickly.  The main reason is that no branch of the evolutionary social sciences has an adequate understanding of human culture.  Culture is a product of evolved cognitive mechanisms, but its very existence may significantly alter behavioral patterns from those normally expected (from non-cultural organisms), and its emergence has probably uniquely shaped evolved human cognition and emotion. Because of culture, evolutionary researchers will need to develop some special theoretical models to predict adequately and understand human behavior.” (In The Evolution of Mind: Fundamental Questions and Controversies, ed. by Steven W. Gangestad and Jeffry A. Simpson [Guilford, 2007], p. 351, emphasis added.)

       

      So, historically, you and I are exceptionally privileged.  We have a unique historical opportunity—a chance to join a collective effort in one of the great transitions in human understanding.  Everybody on this address list knows a good deal about specific cultural formations, and we all know a lot, too, about the biological constraints on human behavior.

       

      Kim Hill thinks we need theoretical models, and we do.  That’s “top-down” work.  We also need studies that take the “bottom-up approach,” teasing out the precise relations between human nature and culture in particular works and particular contexts.  To offer the most illumination, top-downers need to illustrate their models with reference to specific cases, and bottom-uppers need to extrapolate from their specific cases to general principles. 

       

      In a forthcoming essay, I discuss about the kind of challenge “literary Darwinists” face in writing interpretive essays that are genuinely “biocultural,” that is, both biological and cultural.  Here below are a couple of paragraphs excerpted from that essay:

       

      To qualify as evolutionary, an interpretive reading would have to bring all its particular observations into line with basic evolutionary principles: survival, reproduction, kinship (inclusive fitness), basic social dynamics, and the reproductive cycle that gives shape to human life and organizes the most intimate relations of family. While retaining a sense of the constraining force of underlying biological realities, literary Darwinism would also have to emulate the chief merit of Foucauldian cultural critique—its understanding that the forms of cultural representation are highly variable, that these variations subserve social and political interests, and that every variation has its own specific imaginative quality. As it is currently practiced, cultural critique usually arrives at its conclusions in a theoretically illegitimate way, by assuming the causal primacy of representation. This is what it means to say that reality and social identity are “constructed.” Despite the obvious fallacies in this idea, Foucauldian critique often has rich descriptive power. The Foucauldians have achieved dominance in literary study partly because they recognize that the chief purpose of literary study is to examine the forms of cultural imagination. . . . 

       

      Practitioners of the more sophisticated forms of evolutionary cultural critique recognize that literature does not simply represent typical or average human behavior. Human nature is a set of basic building blocks that combine in different ways in different cultures to produce different kinds of social organization, different belief systems, and different qualities of experience. Moreover, every individual human being (and every artist) constitutes another level of “emergent” complexity, a level at which universal or elemental features of human nature interact with cultural norms and with the conditions of life that vary in some degree for every individual. Individual artists negotiate with cultural traditions, drawing off of them but also working in tension with them. The tension derives from differences in individual identity, the pull of universal forms of human nature, and the capacity for creative innovation in the artist. Individual works of art give voice to universal human experience, to the shared experience of a given cultural community, and to the particular needs of an individual human personality. Literary meaning consists not just in what is represented—characters, setting, and plot—but in how that represented subject is organized and envisioned by the individual human artist. Moreover, literary meaning is a social transaction. Literary meaning is only latent until it is actualized in the minds of readers, who bring their own perspectives to bear on the author’s vision of life. A thorough interpretive effort would subsume represented subjects and formal organization into an overarching concept of literary meaning, and it would expand the concept of meaning to include its transmission and interpretation. Still further, instead of looking only at intentional meanings and the responses of readers, a thorough evolutionary critique would look at the kinds of psychological and cultural work specific literary texts actually accomplish—the functions they fulfill—and it would locate those functions in relation to broader ideas of adaptive function, thus bringing the interpretation of individual works to bear as evidence on the larger, still controverted question of the adaptive function of the arts.

       

      ****

       

      David Brooks had an op-ed column in the New York Times yesterday that suggests just how much an evolutionary understanding of cultural imagination has become a viable idea within elite popular culture: 

       

      We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.

      But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.

      Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.

       

      I quote this partly to serve as a possible prompt: Do we “have some control over our stories?”  Are we passive reflexes not just of historical conditions and internal chemistry but also of the imaginative forms of the cultures into which we are born?  How much can self-aware critical reflection enter into the way we construct the narratives that make sense of our personal lives and the larger communities in which we live? 

       

                  These are very general, abstract questions, but consider them in some context in which you yourself have expertise.  What kind of control does Shakespeare exercise over this stories?  Is Wordsworth merely the sum total of all the conditions that shape him?  Or does he have some originative power that alters the cultural stream in which he lives?  How does self-awareness influence the way Willa Cather or Edith Wharton construct their narratives? Are video gamesters robots, more than the rest of us?  Do producers of advertisements display critical self-awareness about the way their products enter into the larger cultural narrative?  How about consumers of advertisements?  To what extent do liberal-radical and conservative-reactionary political views display a grasp of human nature? To what extent are political protesters merely reflexes of their cultural conditions, and to what extent do they exercise some kind of critical choice in constructing the larger narratives in which we all live?

                 

      ****

       

      One last remark.  “Culture” is a large concept, extending all the way from the use of fire, the domestication of milk-producing animals, to language, the arts, and politics.  If you choose to contribute an essay under the first option (not the roundtable), and if you’d like to talk about capitalism, socialism, and libertarianism, the role of the black death in shaping the imagination of the middle ages, the curious ironies of industrialism—giving us comforts and calories while elevating cortisol and rotting our teeth—slavery, patriarchy, the tension between liberal-radical and conservative-reactionary temperaments, the way “folk psychology” interacts with religion and ideology (Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Nazism), the Holocaust, deep ecology, evolutionary feminism, the ethos of war, dog shows, vegetarianism, action movies, conceptual art, hooking up, twitter, spiritualism, video games, or anything else that falls under the capacious rubric “culture,” you should feel free. 

       

      Joe Carroll

       

       

      Joseph Carroll

      Curators' Professor

      English Department

      University of Missouri , St. Louis

      St. Louis , MO 63121

       

      jcarroll@...

       

      314 432 5583

       

      http://www.umsl.edu/~carrolljc/

       

       

    • Carroll, Joseph C.
      Hi Bill, You have an interesting topic here in the transmission of a literary image or idea. It isn t the kind of thing I m looking for to fill out this
      Message 2 of 4 , Mar 14, 2010
      • 0 Attachment

        Hi Bill,

         

                    You have an interesting topic here in the transmission of a literary image or idea.  It isn’t the kind of thing I’m looking for to fill out this special issue.  The word “meme” is the only quasi-evolutionary content through the main body of the essay.  For this special issue, I want readers to be engaged foremost with explicitly evolutionary ideas and concerns.  The overwhelming bulk just a case study of the variation of a literary term. 

         

                    I’d recommend that you try another journal and that you drastically reduce the exposition of raw information. Few journals will even consider publishing an essay of this length, and readers want more propositional content relative to the transmission of raw information.  They want the writer to condense and summarize the information and concentrate on his or her own argument.

         

                    If you condensed this essay and made propositional content a leading feature of it, taking some of the topics just sketched in at the end and working them out into definite arguments, you might consider submitting this to the journal Style.

         

                    Thanks for letting me see it.

         

        Joe

         


        From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com [mailto: biopoet@yahoogroups.com ] On Behalf Of William Benzon
        Sent: Sunday, March 14, 2010 11:13 PM
        To: Biopoetics
        Subject: Re: [biopoet] CFP: Special Evolutionary Issue of Politics and Culture

         

         

        Hi Joe,

        I’ve attached an article that I’m submitting for the special issue. It’s a case study in cultural evolution than being about the biological roots of culture, but it may be suitable for the issue.

        Regards,

        Bill Benzon


        on 11/11/09 3:26 PM, Carroll, Joseph C. at jcarroll@umsl. edu wrote:


         
         
           

        Hello again,
         
        I’ve agreed to be guest editor for a special issue of the online journal Politics and Culture devoted to the topic: “Bioculture: Evolutionary Cultural Studies.”  If you wish to contribute to this special issue of Politics and Culture, please send your essay to me (jcarroll@umsl. edu).
         
        Here’s the web address for the journal: http://sct.temple. edu/web/politics -culture/ .” The editors are switching servers, so all the features of the website might not yet be functional, but you can look at current and back issues of the journal.
         
        After discussing the format for this special issue with Michael Ryan, one of the regular editors of Politics and Culture, I’ve decided that
        contributions to this issue can follow either of two basic options. I’ll describe the two options below.  

        Contributors to this issue can choose to participate under option one alone, under option two alone, or under both options.  

        ************ ********* ********* ********* ********* ********* ****  

        OPTION ONE:

                    
        This option is the same as that in the original call for papers for this special issue:

        Essays and reviews on any topic of your choosing, so long as it falls under the rubric “Bioculture: Evolutionary Cultural Studies.”

        Deadline:
        March 15, 2010

        Any citation style you like—
        MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

        Word Count:
        no limits as to length. (Essays and reviews can be short or long, anything from, say, 1,000 words to 15,000 words.  Bear in mind, though, the likely tolerance of readers; shorter pieces are more likely to be read than longer pieces; condensation and concision are better than inflation; direct and incisive prose is more likely to hold attention than niggling over details of exposition.)

        These contributions can be primarily theoretical or primarily exercises in practical criticism, but practical criticism should have some explicit bearing on general principles of biocultural critique, and theoretical pieces would probably be helped by reference to specific examples.
         
        ************ ********* ********* ********* ********* ********* *********   
         
        OPTION TWO:

        In addition to essays and reviews on any topic in biocultural critique, this special issue will feature a round-table discussion on a single question.  

        Here is the question under discussion:
        “How is culture biological?”  

        The roundtable discussion will consist in three phases:
         
        (Phase 1)
        short essays answering the question under discussion (“How is culture biological?”) (up to 3,000 words) (We’ll call these essays “primary essays.)

        (Phase 2)
        responses to the short essays (up to 1,000 words)

        (Phase 3)
        rejoinders to the responses (no word limit)
        ___________
         
        Stipulations for phase one of option two: primary essays answering the question “How is culture biological?”

        Word Count: The essays in this first phase will be limited to 3,000 words and can be as short as 500 words.

        Deadline for the essays in phase one:
        January 20, 2010.  

        Any citation style you like—MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

        It might be a good idea if essays on this topic were to make illustrative reference to at least one specific example of a cultural phenomenon (for example, a human cultural universal, a specific cultural period, a specific work of art or literature, a specific cultural movement, a technology, a feature of social organization, a particular ideology, or a specific political issue).  However, that is not an absolute requirement. Essays operating in purely theoretical terms would also be acceptable.
         
        Note that in answering this question, you can but are not required to position your arguments relative to other published arguments on the relations (or lack of relations) between biology and culture. You could for example position your arguments in relation to “cultural constructivism,” the idea of “memetics,” “cultural evolution,” or “gene-culture co-evolution.”  You could work out from the ideas in other specific theoretical schools such as the Freudian, Marxist, or feminist.  Or you could build your own arguments from the ground up.  
        __________

        Stipulations for phase two of option two: responses to the short primary essays:

        On January 21, after having received all the essays designed to answer this specific question (“How is culture biological?) , I’ll distribute all the essays to every person who has written one of the essays.  
         
        Everyone who has contributed an essay answering the discussion question will be asked to comment on at least one of the other essays answering the discussion question. Respondents can choose the essay or essays to which they wish to respond.
         
        Deadline for the responses:  
        February 20, 2010.

        Word limit for responses to individual primary essays:
        1,000 words.

        Any citation style you like—
        MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

        There is no limit to the number of primary essays to which a respondent can respond.  A respondent could, if he or she wished, write a response to every primary essay.
         
        Anyone contributing an essay under option one (that is, writing on any aspect of biocultural critique) can also, if he or she wishes, write a response to one or more of the primary essays under option two.
         
        If I hear from others who are not contributing to the special issue but who would like to read and respond to the essays answering the question under discussion, they will be allowed to do so. Respondents might thus even include commentators who think that biology has no relation to culture.  (So, if you know of people who might offer a stimulating critique, feel free to have them contact me to ask to see the primary essays so that they can decide whether to write responses to those primary essays.)
         
        I shall distribute the primary essays to anyone who has already turned in an essay or review on some other topic (the first of the two options in this special issue).  I’ll also send the primary essays to anyone who plans to contribute an essay under option one and lets me know that he or she would like to see the essays answering the question posed under option two.
         
        The format here, then, is something like that of a symposium in which the main participants present papers and comment on each others’ papers, and in which the audience is also allowed to ask questions or make comments.
         
        Responses to the essays submitted under option two can be critical (“I beg to differ”), supportive (“As my distinguished colleague so astutely observes”), qualifying (“Yes, but”), or elaborative (“Yes, not only that, but also. . . “).
         
        Authors writing responses to the primary essays should stipulate, at the top of the response, the target of their commentary, thus: “Response to George Lincoln.”  If writing responses to more than one primary essay, authors should write individual responses to each primary essay, not a single commentary responding to multiple primary essays.  Thus, an author responding to essays by both George Lincoln and Abraham Washington would write two separate responses, one labelled “Response to George Lincoln” and the other labelled “Response to Abraham Washington.”  The reason for avoiding conglomerate responses is that the responses will be published directly under the primary essays to which they are responding. Authors can still make points that apply to more than one author.  For instance, “The point I made in response to George Lincoln’s essay applies with even greater force to the essay by Abraham Washington. In brief, . . . “
         
        Note: the 1,000 word limit applies only to responses to individual essays.  An author responding to two primary essays, for example, would have a word limit of 1,000 words for each of the two essays.
        __________

        Stipulations for phase three of option two: rejoinders to the responses:

        On February 21, after having received all the responses to the essays, I’ll send all the responses to their target authors.  For instance, let’s say Charles Huxley has written an essay answering the discussion question. Karl Engels and Sigmund Jung have both written commentaries on Huxley’s essay. I’ll send Engel’s and Jung’s commentaries to Huxley.  Huxley will then have until March 15 to write a rejoinder.
         
        Deadline for the rejoinder to the responses:  
        March 15, 2010.

        Word limit for rejoinders:
        no word limit.

        Any citation style you like—
        MLA, APA, Chicago , etc.

        Authors who have received responses to their primary essays can answer or not answer the responses as they please.  No author is required to write a rejoinder to any particular response.
        ____________  
         
        In the part of the special issue devoted to the roundtable discussion, the primary essays will be arranged in alphabetical order of the authors names.  Responses will also be arranged in alphabetical order.  
         
        When responding to comments by specific, named people, please put the respondents’ names in bold-face font.  For example:
        “In his thoughtful commentary on my paper, Sigmund Jung raised a question I’d like to answer. Karl Engels raised a similar question, so my answer to Jung can be taken also as an answer to Engels.

        ************ ********* ********* ********* ********* ********* ********* ****   

        Acknowledgment:
        Michael Ryan suggested the question for the roundtable discussion.  I like this question a lot.  It cuts right past the idea that culture is not biological, but it also challenges essayists to formulate ideas focused specifically on culture, not just behavior.  

        I think it’s easier to answer a specific question, even a hard specific question (“How is culture biological?”) than to speak to some general topic: “Discuss the interactions between genetically transmitted dispositions and specific cultural forms.”
         
        ************ ********* ********* ********* ********* ********* ********* *******   
         
        That’s it for the format of the special issue.  Just two options: either an essay or review on any aspect of biocultural critique, or a contribution to the roundtable discussion answering the question “How is culture biological?”  If you choose to contribute only under the first option (an essay or review on any aspect of biocultural critique), you needn’t trouble yourself with the details of the second option.  
         
        The rest of this note, below, just offers some reflections on the topic of the special issue.  These comments are designed to suggest the scope of the topic and perhaps offer some starting points for discussion.
         
        *******

        Culture is the great unexplored interior of the evolutionary human sciences. The evolutionary anthropologist Kim Hill puts his finger on this problem:   
         
        “Given the recent convergence of evolutionary psychology and human behavioural ecology-sociobiolog y, one might expect that the next generation of researchers will rapidly untangle all the major mysteries of human behavior and cognition. Unfortunately, I do not think that this will happen quickly.  The main reason is that no branch of the evolutionary social sciences has an adequate understanding of human culture.  Culture is a product of evolved cognitive mechanisms, but its very existence may significantly alter behavioral patterns from those normally expected (from non-cultural organisms), and its emergence has probably uniquely shaped evolved human cognition and emotion. Because of culture, evolutionary researchers will need to develop some special theoretical models to predict adequately and understand human behavior.” (In The Evolution of Mind: Fundamental Questions and Controversies, ed. by Steven W. Gangestad and Jeffry A. Simpson [Guilford, 2007], p. 351, emphasis added.)
         
        So, historically, you and I are exceptionally privileged.  We have a unique historical opportunity—a chance to join a collective effort in one of the great transitions in human understanding.  Everybody on this address list knows a good deal about specific cultural formations, and we all know a lot, too, about the biological constraints on human behavior.
         
        Kim Hill thinks we need theoretical models, and we do.  That’s “top-down” work.  We also need studies that take the “bottom-up approach,” teasing out the precise relations between human nature and culture in particular works and particular contexts.  To offer the most illumination, top-downers need to illustrate their models with reference to specific cases, and bottom-uppers need to extrapolate from their specific cases to general principles.  
         
        In a forthcoming essay, I discuss about the kind of challenge “literary Darwinists” face in writing interpretive essays that are genuinely “biocultural,” that is, both biological and cultural.  Here below are a couple of paragraphs excerpted from that essay:
         
        To qualify as evolutionary, an interpretive reading would have to bring all its particular observations into line with basic evolutionary principles: survival, reproduction, kinship (inclusive fitness), basic social dynamics, and the reproductive cycle that gives shape to human life and organizes the most intimate relations of family. While retaining a sense of the constraining force of underlying biological realities, literary Darwinism would also have to emulate the chief merit of Foucauldian cultural critique—its understanding that the forms of cultural representation are highly variable, that these variations subserve social and political interests, and that every variation has its own specific imaginative quality. As it is currently practiced, cultural critique usually arrives at its conclusions in a theoretically illegitimate way, by assuming the causal primacy of representation. This is what it means to say that reality and social identity are “constructed.” Despite the obvious fallacies in this idea, Foucauldian critique often has rich descriptive power. The Foucauldians have achieved dominance in literary study partly because they recognize that the chief purpose of literary study is to examine the forms of cultural imagination. . . .  
         
        Practitioners of the more sophisticated forms of evolutionary cultural critique recognize that literature does not simply represent typical or average human behavior. Human nature is a set of basic building blocks that combine in different ways in different cultures to produce different kinds of social organization, different belief systems, and different qualities of experience. Moreover, every individual human being (and every artist) constitutes another level of “emergent” complexity, a level at which universal or elemental features of human nature interact with cultural norms and with the conditions of life that vary in some degree for every individual. Individual artists negotiate with cultural traditions, drawing off of them but also working in tension with them. The tension derives from differences in individual identity, the pull of universal forms of human nature, and the capacity for creative innovation in the artist. Individual works of art give voice to universal human experience, to the shared experience of a given cultural community, and to the particular needs of an individual human personality. Literary meaning consists not just in what is represented—characters, setting, and plot—but in how that represented subject is organized and envisioned by the individual human artist. Moreover, literary meaning is a social transaction. Literary meaning is only latent until it is actualized in the minds of readers, who bring their own perspectives to bear on the author’s vision of life. A thorough interpretive effort would subsume represented subjects and formal organization into an overarching concept of literary meaning, and it would expand the concept of meaning to include its transmission and interpretation. Still further, instead of looking only at intentional meanings and the responses of readers, a thorough evolutionary critique would look at the kinds of psychological and cultural work specific literary texts actually accomplish—the functions they fulfill—and it would locate those functions in relation to broader ideas of adaptive function, thus bringing the interpretation of individual works to bear as evidence on the larger, still controverted question of the adaptive function of the arts.
         
        ****
         
        David Brooks had an op-ed column in the New York Times yesterday that suggests just how much an evolutionary understanding of cultural imagination has become a viable idea within elite popular culture:  
         
        We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.
        But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.
        Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.
         
        I quote this partly to serve as a possible prompt:
        Do we “have some control over our stories?”  Are we passive reflexes not just of historical conditions and internal chemistry but also of the imaginative forms of the cultures into which we are born?  How much can self-aware critical reflection enter into the way we construct the narratives that make sense of our personal lives and the larger communities in which we live?  

                    These are very general, abstract questions, but consider them in some context in which you yourself have expertise.  What kind of control does Shakespeare exercise over this stories?  Is Wordsworth merely the sum total of all the conditions that shape him?  Or does he have some originative power that alters the cultural stream in which he lives?  How does self-awareness influence the way Willa Cather or Edith Wharton construct their narratives? Are video gamesters robots, more than the rest of us?  Do producers of advertisements display critical self-awareness about the way their products enter into the larger cultural narrative?  How about consumers of advertisements?  To what extent do liberal-radical and conservative- reactionary political views display a grasp of human nature? To what extent are political protesters merely reflexes of their cultural conditions, and to what extent do they exercise some kind of critical choice in constructing the larger narratives in which we all live?
                    
        ****
         
        One last remark.  “Culture” is a large concept, extending all the way from the use of fire, the domestication of milk-producing animals, to language, the arts, and politics.  If you choose to contribute an essay under the first option (not the roundtable), and if you’d like to talk about capitalism, socialism, and libertarianism, the role of the black death in shaping the imagination of the middle ages, the curious ironies of industrialism—giving us comforts and calories while elevating cortisol and rotting our teeth—slavery, patriarchy, the tension between liberal-radical and conservative- reactionary temperaments, the way “folk psychology” interacts with religion and ideology (Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Nazism), the Holocaust, deep ecology, evolutionary feminism, the ethos of war, dog shows, vegetarianism, action movies, conceptual art, hooking up, twitter, spiritualism, video games, or anything else that falls under the capacious rubric “culture,” you should feel free.  
         
        Joe Carroll
         
         
        Joseph Carroll
        Curators' Professor
        English Department
        University
        of Missouri , St. Louis
        St. Louis, MO 63121

        jcarroll@umsl. edu
         
        314 432 5583
         
        http://www.umsl. edu/~carrolljc/
         
         

           

         

      • Carroll, Joseph C.
        My apologies to Bill and the Biopoetics listserv. I meant to send a private note to him and just hit reply, not realizing that the return address was the
        Message 3 of 4 , Mar 14, 2010
        • 0 Attachment

          My apologies to Bill and the Biopoetics listserv.  I meant to send a private note to him and just hit reply, not realizing that the return address was the listserv’s.

           

          Joe Carroll

        • William Benzon
          Hi Joe, I¹ve attached an article that I¹m submitting for the special issue. It¹s a case study in cultural evolution than being about the biological roots of
          Message 4 of 4 , Mar 14, 2010
          • 0 Attachment
            Re: [biopoet] CFP: Special Evolutionary Issue of Politics and Culture Hi Joe,

            I’ve attached an article that I’m submitting for the special issue. It’s a case study in cultural evolution than being about the biological roots of culture, but it may be suitable for the issue.

            Regards,

            Bill Benzon


            on 11/11/09 3:26 PM, Carroll, Joseph C. at jcarroll@... wrote:


             
             
               

            Hello again,
             
            I’ve agreed to be guest editor for a special issue of the online journal Politics and Culture devoted to the topic: “Bioculture: Evolutionary Cultural Studies.”  If you wish to contribute to this special issue of Politics and Culture, please send your essay to me (jcarroll@...).
             
            Here’s the web address for the journal: http://sct.temple.edu/web/politics-culture/.” The editors are switching servers, so all the features of the website might not yet be functional, but you can look at current and back issues of the journal.
             
            After discussing the format for this special issue with Michael Ryan, one of the regular editors of Politics and Culture, I’ve decided that
            contributions to this issue can follow either of two basic options. I’ll describe the two options below.
             

            Contributors to this issue can choose to participate under option one alone, under option two alone, or under both options.  

            *************************************************************  

            OPTION ONE:

                        
            This option is the same as that in the original call for papers for this special issue:

            Essays and reviews on any topic of your choosing, so long as it falls under the rubric “Bioculture: Evolutionary Cultural Studies.”

            Deadline:
            March 15, 2010

            Any citation style you like—
            MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.

            Word Count:
            no limits as to length
            . (Essays and reviews can be short or long, anything from, say, 1,000 words to 15,000 words.  Bear in mind, though, the likely tolerance of readers; shorter pieces are more likely to be read than longer pieces; condensation and concision are better than inflation; direct and incisive prose is more likely to hold attention than niggling over details of exposition.)

            These contributions can be primarily theoretical or primarily exercises in practical criticism, but practical criticism should have some explicit bearing on general principles of biocultural critique, and theoretical pieces would probably be helped by reference to specific examples.
             
            ******************************************************************   
             
            OPTION TWO:

            In addition to essays and reviews on any topic in biocultural critique, this
            special issue will feature a round-table discussion on a single question.  

            Here is the question under discussion:
            “How is culture biological?”  

            The roundtable discussion will consist in three phases:
             
            (Phase 1)
            short essays answering the question under discussion (“How is culture biological?”) (up to 3,000 words) (We’ll call these essays “primary essays.)

            (Phase 2)
            responses to the short essays (up to 1,000 words)

            (Phase 3)
            rejoinders to the responses (no word limit)
            ___________
             
            Stipulations for phase one of option two: primary essays answering the question “How is culture biological?”

            Word Count:
            The essays in this first phase will be limited to 3,000 words and can be as short as 500 words.

            Deadline for the essays in phase one:
            January 20, 2010.  

            Any citation style you like—MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.

            It might be a good idea if essays on this topic were to make illustrative reference to at least one specific example of a cultural phenomenon (for example, a human cultural universal, a specific cultural period, a specific work of art or literature, a specific cultural movement, a technology, a feature of social organization, a particular ideology, or a specific political issue).  However, that is not an absolute requirement. Essays operating in purely theoretical terms would also be acceptable.
             
            Note that in answering this question, you can but are not required to position your arguments relative to other published arguments on the relations (or lack of relations) between biology and culture. You could for example position your arguments in relation to “cultural constructivism,” the idea of “memetics,” “cultural evolution,” or “gene-culture co-evolution.”  You could work out from the ideas in other specific theoretical schools such as the Freudian, Marxist, or feminist.  Or you could build your own arguments from the ground up.  
            __________

            Stipulations for phase two of option two: responses to the short primary essays:

            On January 21, after having received all the essays designed to answer this specific question (“How is culture biological?), I’ll distribute all the essays to every person who has written one of the essays.  
             
            Everyone who has contributed an essay answering the discussion question will be asked to comment on at least one of the other essays answering the discussion question. Respondents can choose the essay or essays to which they wish to respond.
             
            Deadline for the responses:  
            February 20, 2010.

            Word limit for responses to individual primary essays:
            1,000 words.

            Any citation style you like—
            MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.

            There is no limit to the number of primary essays to which a respondent can respond.  A respondent could, if he or she wished, write a response to every primary essay.
             
            Anyone contributing an essay under option one (that is, writing on any aspect of biocultural critique) can also, if he or she wishes, write a response to one or more of the primary essays under option two.
             
            If I hear from others who are not contributing to the special issue but who would like to read and respond to the essays answering the question under discussion, they will be allowed to do so. Respondents might thus even include commentators who think that biology has no relation to culture.  (So, if you know of people who might offer a stimulating critique, feel free to have them contact me to ask to see the primary essays so that they can decide whether to write responses to those primary essays.)
             
            I shall distribute the primary essays to anyone who has already turned in an essay or review on some other topic (the first of the two options in this special issue).  I’ll also send the primary essays to anyone who plans to contribute an essay under option one and lets me know that he or she would like to see the essays answering the question posed under option two.
             
            The format here, then, is something like that of a symposium in which the main participants present papers and comment on each others’ papers, and in which the audience is also allowed to ask questions or make comments.
             
            Responses to the essays submitted under option two can be critical (“I beg to differ”), supportive (“As my distinguished colleague so astutely observes”), qualifying (“Yes, but”), or elaborative (“Yes, not only that, but also. . . “).
             
            Authors writing responses to the primary essays should stipulate, at the top of the response, the target of their commentary, thus: “Response to George Lincoln.”  If writing responses to more than one primary essay, authors should write individual responses to each primary essay, not a single commentary responding to multiple primary essays.  Thus, an author responding to essays by both George Lincoln and Abraham Washington would write two separate responses, one labelled “Response to George Lincoln” and the other labelled “Response to Abraham Washington.”  The reason for avoiding conglomerate responses is that the responses will be published directly under the primary essays to which they are responding. Authors can still make points that apply to more than one author.  For instance, “The point I made in response to George Lincoln’s essay applies with even greater force to the essay by Abraham Washington. In brief, . . . “
             
            Note: the 1,000 word limit applies only to responses to individual essays.  An author responding to two primary essays, for example, would have a word limit of 1,000 words for each of the two essays.
            __________

            Stipulations for phase three of option two: rejoinders to the responses:

            On February 21, after having received all the responses to the essays, I’ll send all the responses to their target authors.  For instance, let’s say Charles Huxley has written an essay answering the discussion question. Karl Engels and Sigmund Jung have both written commentaries on Huxley’s essay. I’ll send Engel’s and Jung’s commentaries to Huxley.  Huxley will then have until March 15 to write a rejoinder.
             
            Deadline for the rejoinder to the responses:  
            March 15, 2010.

            Word limit for rejoinders:
            no word limit.

            Any citation style you like—
            MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.

            Authors who have received responses to their primary essays can answer or not answer the responses as they please.  No author is required to write a rejoinder to any particular response.
            ____________  
             
            In the part of the special issue devoted to the roundtable discussion, the primary essays will be arranged in alphabetical order of the authors names.  Responses will also be arranged in alphabetical order.  
             
            When responding to comments by specific, named people, please put the respondents’ names in bold-face font.  For example:
            “In his thoughtful commentary on my paper, Sigmund Jung raised a question I’d like to answer. Karl Engels raised a similar question, so my answer to Jung can be taken also as an answer to Engels.

            **********************************************************************   

            Acknowledgment:
            Michael Ryan suggested the question for the roundtable discussion.  I like this question a lot.  It cuts right past the idea that culture is not biological, but it also challenges essayists to formulate ideas focused specifically on culture, not just behavior.  

            I think it’s easier to answer a specific question, even a hard specific question (“How is culture biological?”) than to speak to some general topic: “Discuss the interactions between genetically transmitted dispositions and specific cultural forms.”
             
            *************************************************************************   
             
            That’s it for the format of the special issue.  Just two options: either an essay or review on any aspect of biocultural critique, or a contribution to the roundtable discussion answering the question “How is culture biological?”  If you choose to contribute only under the first option (an essay or review on any aspect of biocultural critique), you needn’t trouble yourself with the details of the second option.  
             
            The rest of this note, below, just offers some reflections on the topic of the special issue.  These comments are designed to suggest the scope of the topic and perhaps offer some starting points for discussion.
             
            *******

            Culture is the great unexplored interior of the evolutionary human sciences. The evolutionary anthropologist Kim Hill puts his finger on this problem:   
             
            “Given the recent convergence of evolutionary psychology and human behavioural ecology-sociobiology, one might expect that the next generation of researchers will rapidly untangle all the major mysteries of human behavior and cognition. Unfortunately, I do not think that this will happen quickly.  The main reason is that no branch of the evolutionary social sciences has an adequate understanding of human culture.  Culture is a product of evolved cognitive mechanisms, but its very existence may significantly alter behavioral patterns from those normally expected (from non-cultural organisms), and its emergence has probably uniquely shaped evolved human cognition and emotion. Because of culture, evolutionary researchers will need to develop some special theoretical models to predict adequately and understand human behavior.” (In The Evolution of Mind: Fundamental Questions and Controversies, ed. by Steven W. Gangestad and Jeffry A. Simpson [Guilford, 2007], p. 351, emphasis added.)
             
            So, historically, you and I are exceptionally privileged.  We have a unique historical opportunity—a chance to join a collective effort in one of the great transitions in human understanding.  Everybody on this address list knows a good deal about specific cultural formations, and we all know a lot, too, about the biological constraints on human behavior.
             
            Kim Hill thinks we need theoretical models, and we do.  That’s “top-down” work.  We also need studies that take the “bottom-up approach,” teasing out the precise relations between human nature and culture in particular works and particular contexts.  To offer the most illumination, top-downers need to illustrate their models with reference to specific cases, and bottom-uppers need to extrapolate from their specific cases to general principles.  
             
            In a forthcoming essay, I discuss about the kind of challenge “literary Darwinists” face in writing interpretive essays that are genuinely “biocultural,” that is, both biological and cultural.  Here below are a couple of paragraphs excerpted from that essay:
             
            To qualify as evolutionary, an interpretive reading would have to bring all its particular observations into line with basic evolutionary principles: survival, reproduction, kinship (inclusive fitness), basic social dynamics, and the reproductive cycle that gives shape to human life and organizes the most intimate relations of family. While retaining a sense of the constraining force of underlying biological realities, literary Darwinism would also have to emulate the chief merit of Foucauldian cultural critique—its understanding that the forms of cultural representation are highly variable, that these variations subserve social and political interests, and that every variation has its own specific imaginative quality. As it is currently practiced, cultural critique usually arrives at its conclusions in a theoretically illegitimate way, by assuming the causal primacy of representation. This is what it means to say that reality and social identity are “constructed.” Despite the obvious fallacies in this idea, Foucauldian critique often has rich descriptive power. The Foucauldians have achieved dominance in literary study partly because they recognize that the chief purpose of literary study is to examine the forms of cultural imagination. . . .  
             
            Practitioners of the more sophisticated forms of evolutionary cultural critique recognize that literature does not simply represent typical or average human behavior. Human nature is a set of basic building blocks that combine in different ways in different cultures to produce different kinds of social organization, different belief systems, and different qualities of experience. Moreover, every individual human being (and every artist) constitutes another level of “emergent” complexity, a level at which universal or elemental features of human nature interact with cultural norms and with the conditions of life that vary in some degree for every individual. Individual artists negotiate with cultural traditions, drawing off of them but also working in tension with them. The tension derives from differences in individual identity, the pull of universal forms of human nature, and the capacity for creative innovation in the artist. Individual works of art give voice to universal human experience, to the shared experience of a given cultural community, and to the particular needs of an individual human personality. Literary meaning consists not just in what is represented—characters, setting, and plot—but in how that represented subject is organized and envisioned by the individual human artist. Moreover, literary meaning is a social transaction. Literary meaning is only latent until it is actualized in the minds of readers, who bring their own perspectives to bear on the author’s vision of life. A thorough interpretive effort would subsume represented subjects and formal organization into an overarching concept of literary meaning, and it would expand the concept of meaning to include its transmission and interpretation. Still further, instead of looking only at intentional meanings and the responses of readers, a thorough evolutionary critique would look at the kinds of psychological and cultural work specific literary texts actually accomplish—the functions they fulfill—and it would locate those functions in relation to broader ideas of adaptive function, thus bringing the interpretation of individual works to bear as evidence on the larger, still controverted question of the adaptive function of the arts.
             
            ****
             
            David Brooks had an op-ed column in the New York Times yesterday that suggests just how much an evolutionary understanding of cultural imagination has become a viable idea within elite popular culture:  
             
            We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.
            But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.
            Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.
             
            I quote this partly to serve as a possible prompt:
            Do we “have some control over our stories?”  Are we passive reflexes not just of historical conditions and internal chemistry but also of the imaginative forms of the cultures into which we are born?  How much can self-aware critical reflection enter into the way we construct the narratives that make sense of our personal lives and the larger communities in which we live?  

                        These are very general, abstract questions, but consider them in some context in which you yourself have expertise.  What kind of control does Shakespeare exercise over this stories?  Is Wordsworth merely the sum total of all the conditions that shape him?  Or does he have some originative power that alters the cultural stream in which he lives?  How does self-awareness influence the way Willa Cather or Edith Wharton construct their narratives? Are video gamesters robots, more than the rest of us?  Do producers of advertisements display critical self-awareness about the way their products enter into the larger cultural narrative?  How about consumers of advertisements?  To what extent do liberal-radical and conservative-reactionary political views display a grasp of human nature? To what extent are political protesters merely reflexes of their cultural conditions, and to what extent do they exercise some kind of critical choice in constructing the larger narratives in which we all live?
                        
            ****
             
            One last remark.  “Culture” is a large concept, extending all the way from the use of fire, the domestication of milk-producing animals, to language, the arts, and politics.  If you choose to contribute an essay under the first option (not the roundtable), and if you’d like to talk about capitalism, socialism, and libertarianism, the role of the black death in shaping the imagination of the middle ages, the curious ironies of industrialism—giving us comforts and calories while elevating cortisol and rotting our teeth—slavery, patriarchy, the tension between liberal-radical and conservative-reactionary temperaments, the way “folk psychology” interacts with religion and ideology (Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Nazism), the Holocaust, deep ecology, evolutionary feminism, the ethos of war, dog shows, vegetarianism, action movies, conceptual art, hooking up, twitter, spiritualism, video games, or anything else that falls under the capacious rubric “culture,” you should feel free.  
             
            Joe Carroll
             
             
            Joseph Carroll
            Curators' Professor
            English Department
            University
            of Missouri, St. Louis
            St. Louis, MO 63121

            jcarroll@...
             
            314 432 5583
             
            http://www.umsl.edu/~carrolljc/
             
             

               



          Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.