Sonntag, 9. Oktober 2011

Division of Labour as a Driving Force in Cultural Evolution

Research in Sweden in Evolutionary Anthropology

With a big surprise I find, that researchers in Sweden - a research group around Professor Magnus Enquist - is working about the same theme that is important to me since 15 years (1). Mostly the mathematician Micael Ehn (a, b) is working about "Division of labour and specialization as a driving force in cultural evolution".

I am working about this theme since 1996, when I was as a doctoral student with Professor Eckart Voland in Giessen.

My focus is to combine cultural and genetic evolution (to combine "Adam Smith and W. D. Hamilton") in saying that specialization enables societies to dimish the mean kinship coefficient r between the specialist and the reciever of his "altruistic" acts in Hamilton's unequation c/b < r. By specialization it is easier for me to help more people with less of effort. And so the kinship coefficient r between me and other members of the group can sink without acting as an altruist toward members of the group is becoming genetically unfavourable. So maybe in groups beyond hunter-gatherer-societies - in sendentary, complex, agrarian societies - the same "strong" kinship-altruism can be the underlying mechanism of the evolution of human altruism, even if the mean kinship coefficient r inside these societies is becoming lower.

Micael Ehn
My expectation is, that this rationality is important for the future study of complex societies and economies and for a discipline like Evolutionary Economics. (For a long time theory in Evolutionary Economics and in Historical Demography was not developed as it could have been, if taking William D. Hamilton and Evolutionary Psychology would have been taken into account as a whole.)

I have begun to work about this theory by looking for data in pre-industrial, agrarian societies worldwide, for example in Early Modern Age Europe where we have good data of all sorts about the development of societies: demography, personal income, reproductivity of different agrarian regions, their different degrees of division of labour. Examples are: Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland. So that a comparative view and research is possible.

Now I have to read the paper "On the causes and effects of specialization - A mathematical approach" (2). But the paper "Modeling Specialization and Division of Labor in Cultural Evolution" (3) seems not to be available at the moment. It has five chapters:
1: Theoretic and Empirical studies of Division of Labor and Specialization: An interdisciplinary survey
2: Specialization leads to feedback cycles in cultural evolution
3: Under what circumstances can copying lead to increased cultural diversity?
4: Adaptive Strategies for Cumulative Cultural Learning
5: Temporal Discounting Leads to Social Stratification
- I have not published very much of my thoughts yet. Here you can find a short outline of them. But I am reading these papers with a lot of mixed emotions! Because they are the papers that I SHOULD (!!!!) have published 15 years ago! :-) Never mind! It is very welcome for me, not to be so alone any more with this themes, than I have been and I have felt with in the last two decades.

The economy of a village in pre-industrial times as a "modell organism"

For people, who are able to read german, maybe it is interesting, to read this review I have written in 2008 in which a lot of thoughts of my dissertation are outlined also: the economy of a village in pre-industrial times as a "modell organism". And there is given some german scientific literature of agrarian history, that is very useful for this work (e.g. Bernd Herrmann, Ernst Pitz, Michael Mitterauer, Eckart Schremmer and so on). Bernd Herrman for example has published - together with other researchers - a lot of good thoughts about a theory of the "flow of energy" in the village economy (that is always in one way or the other structured by division of labour). And demography is - according to Herrmann and coauthors - much more often in dependence of social factors but natural factors. Even in strange natural surroundings like Greenland, the Andes or the Oasis of Fachi.

So a good theory of division of labour has a lot to say for historical demography. Here there are to be explored the so called "demographic regimes", the "Bevölkerungsweise" according to famous historical demographer Gerhard Mackenroth, the good friend of the famous Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal. So we have reasons to look forward to a great contribution of Swedish science to the exploration of the function of complex human societies in evolutionary terms.

(It was some years ago, when the innovative research group of Magnus Enquist has already had come into my attention. Then I have made a research blogging post [in german] [4] about a paper concerning the human ability to differentiate between adaptive and maladaptive traits, which seemed to me also a very exciting and important point.)

  1. Micael Ehn, Anna-Carin Stymne and Magnus Enquist: Specialization: A Driving Force in Cultural Evolution – Theory and Data. EHBEA’11. 6th International Conference, March 24 - 26, 2011, Gießen, Germany, PROGRAMME & ABSTRACTS
  2. Micael Ehn: On the causes and effects of specialization - A mathematical approach. University dissertation from Västerås. Mälardalens högskola, 2009
  3. Micael Ehn: Modeling Specialization and Division of Labor in Cultural Evolution. University dissertation from Västerås. Mälardalen University, 2011
  4. Bading, Ingo: Die menschliche Fähigkeit zum Unterscheiden von günstigen und ungünstigen kulturellen Merkmalen, Studium generale, Research Blogging, 31.8.2008

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