Thursday, December 22, 2016

FAIL: Elderly Unitarian Academic Social Movement

medium |  The Cultural Evolution Society is now off the ground and ready to soar. We have an ambitious agenda to bring much-needed synthesis to biology, the social sciences, and humanities. 

This is what our founding members called for in a survey they filled out as we set out last fall.It is the rallying cry for birthing the field of cultural evolution with intellectual and cultural diversity that spans the globe. We have taken great care to ensure this diversity is present in the leadership structure of our governing body. 

Cultural evolution is a field that studies the historic development of all social behavior. It takes the tools and frameworks of biological evolution and adapts them to the patterns of cultural change — both for human societies and across the non-human world. It’s researchers study everything from anatomical changes that enable tool use to cooperative behaviors that give rise to the complex organization for social insects.

This kind of work is deeply interdisciplinary. It requires sophisticated practices of social organization in its own right to tackle the hard problems of cultural studies across such a great diversity of situations. How is it that everyday people can get “radicalized” to become terrorists? What are the factors that make technology innovation flourish in regional economies?

Questions like these have historically been approached within the silos of traditional academic fields. Adequately addressing them requires approaches that are integrated and holistic. Our solutions — so far — are not. They are fragmented and piecemeal because the knowledge we use to approach them is fragmented and piecemeal.

Now is the time to navigate the many islands of scientific knowledge and weave them into a constellation of landmarks in the same landscape. This is one of the primary tasks for our newly formed Cultural Evolution Society.

 If a map of knowledge for all the sciences were created, what shape might it take? Would it be like a spider web with linkages in multiple directions for every node? Or perhaps a labyrinth of maze-like pathways leading to lots of dead ends?

We asked this question in a more narrow domain — for the 351 members of our fledgling Cultural Evolution Society who provided information, we gathered data on the other associations and societies they are currently active in. This led to the map above with its distinctive archipelago structure. It is like a vast sea of possibilities populated with branching arms of clustered islands where people already gather.

The field of cultural evolution is uncommonly vast in its meshwork of relationships to other fields. This creates an advantage for the mission identified by our membership last year when we conducted a survey of grand challenges for the field.

The message was loud and clear that the highest priority for our community is to achieve knowledge synthesis across biology, the social sciences, and humanities.

All academic societies should strive to include a diversity of backgrounds and views in their membership and leadership. This goal is an imperative for a society dedicated to the study of cultural evolution. The CES is therefore taking special steps to include four kinds of diversity: 1) Gender; 2) Age; 3) Academic background; and 4) Nationality and Ethnicity.

To make sure that diversity is represented in the leadership in addition to the membership, we formed special committees around bylaws and electoral policy in preparation for our inaugural election — drafting a diversity mandate appropriate to the mission and agenda outlined above.