Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0631200451
ISBN-10: 0631200452
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Dan Sperber is to be thanked for continuing to contribute to dialogue between the cognitive and social branches of the human sciences." Daniel Nettle, Merton College Oxford


"Apart from its wealth of insight, cogent arguments, apposite illustrations, and lucid and entertaining prose, Explaining Culture also offers a glimpse of what cultural study might be: rather than foreclosing possibilities on the strength of received wisdom or a selective interdisciplinary which rules out so much interesting thinking, it makes its own start on the formulation of fresh, apparently basic but at the same time far-reaching research questions. Alan Durant

"Sperber emphasizes macro-and micro-processes of distribution that make cultural transformation and individual development possible and most simply processes of replication. Sperber offers the beginnings of a naturalistic theory of both culture and religion that will interest students and scholars alike." Susan Henking, Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva

"Explaining Culture is a good read. It is full of interesting suggestions on a wide range of anthropological and psychological issues." Kim Sterelny, Music and Letters, Vol 110, July 2001.

From the Back Cover

Ideas, Dan Sperber argues, may be contagious. They may invade whole populations. In the process, the people, their environment, and the ideas themselves are being transformed. To explain culture is to describe the causes and the effects of this contagion of ideas. This book will be read by all those with an interest in the impact of the cognitive revolution on our understanding of culture.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Blackwell Publishers; 1 edition (November 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631200452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631200451
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #523,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on November 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Coming from a science background and now working in the humanities, I was initially critical of Sperber's application of empiricism to the social sciences. However, his book is an excellent and necessary resource for anyone studying the development and impact of culture or cultural phenomena. Though I take a different tack to the issues he raises, I will certainly refer to and discuss his ideas in my own future work.
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20 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Hiram Caton on February 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Sperber wants to make anthropology and psychology partners in the construction of a theory of culture centered on `the epidemiology of beliefs'. Epidemiology examines the factors determining the frequency and distribution of diseases in a population. Similarly, the aspiring culturology will map the frequency and distribution of beliefs in a population.

The choice of epidemiology as the model science seems to be based on nothing more than the insinuations of English idiom. Idiom likens the spread of ideas to contagion. We say that ideas, moods, personalities, and fads are infectious. Rumor and disaffection spread like fevers through the body politic. Cheerfulness is contagious-smile and the world smiles with you. But usage provides no clue to causality. It is equally content with mechanical metaphors, such as the `band wagon effect' and the `climate of opinion', while outbreaks of frenzy, mania or hysteria are likened to floods, cyclones and wild fire. Idioms are heedless of the difference between plague and weather as transmission mechanisms. Oddly for an anthropologist, Sperber takes no notice of these clues to how the natives perceive thought transmission. An assessment must be made if we are to avoid confounding `good enough' idiomatic analogies with causal mechanisms.

My suspicion that epidemiology is a red herring deepened on reading Sperber's account of the new culturology. On pages 109 and 112 he introduces graphs representing the spread and transformation of beliefs under the influence of `attractors'. Attractors are characterized in two ways. In one statement, an attractor is `an abstract, statistical concept, like a mutation rate or a transformation probability' (p. 111). Not much is said about it.
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8 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
Simply brilliant; Dan Sperber brings his realist view to an area which has previously been explained away with mystic, relativistic stances. Recommended reading for all cultural studies students
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