Peter N. Peregrine

Paper #: 2017-08-026

The history of anthropology reflects a sometimes contentious dynamic between the study of unique cultural features and ones that are broadly shared across cultures, indeed so broadly shared that scholars have identified some as regularly recurring social formations. One aspect of the contention between these two areas of study is that the study of recurrent social formations has been marred by a history of ethnocentric perspectives and, more significantly, by a taxonomic approach lacking a general theory of cultural evolution. I demonstrate one way to remedy problems in the taxonomic approach by applying methods used in evolutionary biology to link the study of cultural variation to similar studies of phylogenetic variation. I employ Guttman scaling, morphospace analysis, and the exploration of adaptive landscapes to suggest a path toward a general theory of recurrent social formations.