CCI Symposium 14: Jason Potts

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CCI in Retrospect and Prospect is an in-depth exploration of CCI's influence, impact and contributions since 2005, as well as its ongoing agenda.

Text of CCI Symposium 14: Jason Potts

PowerPoint Presentation

Intro1. Curiously Parallel The Nature of Culture Part I: Culture Makes Groups

2. Externalism Identity (Me is We)3. Demes Universal-Adversarial Groupishness 4. Malvoisine Bad Neighbours5. Citizens Demic Concentration Creates KnowledgePart II: Groups Make Knowledge

6. Meaningfulness The Growth of Knowledge7. Newness Innovation8. Waste Reproductive Success9. Extinction Resilience and OssificationPart III: Outro10. A Natural History of Demic Concentration


The purpose of a cultural science is to provide an analytic framework for a general reconceptualisation of the theory of culture in the original cultural studies ordinary uses sense one that is focused not on its political aspect but rather its evolutionary significance as a generator of newness and innovation.

Rereading Darwinians evolutionary theory

Raymond Williams 'culture is ordinary

semiotics (Lotman)

economic theory (from Schumpeter to McCloskey)

evolutionary science (Pagel & Gintis)

Building blocks of

Cultural Science

A Natural History of Stories, Demes, Knowledge & Innovation


We dont make culture,Culture makes us

Communication creates individuals - Luhmann

H. Sapiens is an extremely groupish animal that is our evolutionary niche

Demic concentration

deme (biology) inter-breeding pop.deme/demos (political) inter-voting pop./citizenDeme (cultural science) inter-knowing group

Demic diffusion (Cavelli-Sforza 2000)Knowledge in a population changes because individuals move into new populationsDemic concentration (Hartley-Potts 2014) Knowledge in a population changes because the group boundaries change


We-group (against they-group)Universal adversarial

Demes are created by culture, especially storytelling

Girlworld (Tavi Gevinson)Australian national character (& war journalism)Granddads (& stories they tell)Neolithic revolution (Gbekli Tepe)

Demic concentration makes knowledge/identity/meaningfulness


A groupish animalBad neighbours have different knowledge: when you fight & defeat them: what happens to knowledge?

Biologists say: group selection theoryCultural science: this (conquest) is actually cooperation

The clash of systems & demes is productive of newness, meaningfulness and successful reproduction of cultureWhat happens when culture gets big/global?

citizens & cities

urban culture and citizenship can best be explained by investigating how culture is used, and how newness and innovation emerge from unstable and contested boundaries between different meaning systems


Evolutionary theory resisted in the humanitiesgrowth of knowledge: elements of culture/memes etc?

Culture is not the issue, meaningfulness isMeaningfulness evolvesMeaningfulness is complex and semiotic

Example: the invention of the gentleman: a cultural innovation that created new demes


Culture is Janus-facedLooking back: preservation/protectionLooking forward: newness

Three theories of dynamic originRandomness makes varietyConsciousness makes creativityDemes make newness

Hutter & Starks economic sociology of newness: structural folds, tension, irritation


Optimal efficiency of cultural production is really, really wasteful (just like in nature)

Because thats how communication works

Example: the childish invention of culture


a prosocial groupish animal, honed by conflict & extinction

Cultural protection & cultural extinction

Cultural protection (UNESCO) = ossification Cultural extinction is loss of meaningfulness, not failure to replicateit is also demically relativistic (conquest as cooperation)

Creative cities as model of open cultural systems

Two applications

[1]A Cultural Science Model of Innovation

Cultural explanation for innovation

[2]A Natural History of Demic Concentration

A new theory of long duree/communications technology/economy

The cultural (science) model of innovation

Culture makes groupsGroups make knowledgeNewness occurs at the boundaries of groups

A new approach to cultural studiesA new approach to cultural economicsA new approach to innovation economics

What is culture?

Cultural studies/anthro/ sociology/

Cultural science

Capital Stock

Makes groups

(a) Produced and consumed (high-culture, cultural industries,etc)

Sourceof newness

(b) Common knowledge, socially learned, institution-like,for social coordination

Identity Statics/Politics

Identity Dynamics/Evolution

Origin of innovation


Cultural science

Production function model

Group dynamics and conflict model

Invest in more inputs

We-group dynamics ofmeaningfulnessExternalizeddemicconcentration

Cooperation: combine factors/resources

conflict,citizenry, childishness, cities

Innovation policy =economic policy

Innovation policy =cultural policy

A Natural History of Demic Concentration

Updating McLuhan/Ong (human groups/ not minds)Deme = unit of semiosphere (Lotman)

Hypothesis: number of demes-per-person grows with technology of knowledge reproduction. This gives us evolution in types of economy

Natural history of culture, knowledge-technology & economy

These epochs are a process: cumulative, separated by an explosionThe plot is logarithmic, meaning accelerationIncreasing specialization; time/space expansion of demes; literacy;

What happens when demes-per-person increases?Extent of access increases, & level of abstractionScale & wastefulness increaseChoice & imagination increase

A scientific theory, makes predictions, a testable hypothesis

Knowledge carrying technology reaches everyone: independent of literacy

Sending and receiving

Mass participatory


Democratization of knowledge: subject to literacy

Expanded access






Emergent specialization

Knowledge across time and space

Deme = Band

Sex division of labour

Caste specialization

Tribal hierarchy



Technology of knowledge reproduction

demes per person

type of economy




4000 BCE



speech/ stone


hunter/ gatherer