sábado, 1 de janeiro de 2011

Tim Ingold - Beyond Genes and Memes

"Beyond Genes and Memes: A Relational Approach to the Evolution of Language and Culture". Full talk Audio [mp3: 6.3 Mb].

Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Brussels, Belgium, 04/26-28/05

Neo-Darwinian theorists typically regard culture as comprising a body of rules and representations that are transmitted across the generations by non-genetic means. Such a view entails the assumptions: (i) that the informational content or 'meanings' of transmitted culture can be read off from its manifest components (such as words, gestures, artefacts and designs) through decoding rules that are given independently of the social and environmental contexts of transmission; and (ii) that the process by which culture is acquired -- classically known as 'social learning', and involving some combination of observation and imitation -- is separable from the process by which acquired knowledge is applied, in practice, within the lifetime of each individual.

I argue that both assumptions are untenable. As regards the first, I show that there is no 'reading' of words, gestures, etc. that is not part of the novice's practical orientation towards his or her environment. Thus they do not carry meaning into contexts of interaction, as the neo-Darwinian model of information transmission requires, but rather gather their meanings from the contexts of the activities and relationships in which they are in play. As regards the second, I argue that learning is not a matter of acquiring mental templates, in the form of rules and representations for the production of appropriate behaviour, prior to running off exemplars of the behaviour from the templates. Rather, novices learn by being placed in practical situations where, through the repeated performance of certain tasks, they can develop and fine-tune their own skills of awareness and response. In this process, each generation contributes to the next not by handing on a corpus of representations, or information in the strict sense, but by introducing novices into contexts that afford selected opportunities for perception and action, and by providing the scaffolding that enables them to make use of these affordances.

A crucial implication of this argument is that variations of skill that we are inclined to call cultural are, in reality, developmentally embodied properties of the organism, and in that sense fully biological. If, by evolution, we mean differentiation and change over time in the forms and capacities of organisms, then we must admit that such skills have evolved. We cannot, however, attribute this evolution to changing gene frequencies. Skills are no more the operations of a mind impregnated by culture than they are of a body designed by natural selection. They are rather achievements of the whole organism, at once body and mind, positioned within an environment. And to account for these achievements, we need nothing less than a new approach to evolution, one that sets out to explore not the variation and selection of intergenerationally transmitted attributes (whether genes or memes), but the self-organising dynamics and form-generating potentials of relational fields.