Cultural ecology & Cliodynamics

Like any living system, human societies continuously re-construct themselves through their own activity. Humans integrate cultural expectations through their social interactions, but can only do so by recreating the meaning of their experience from their own viewpoint. This gives the opportunity for ambiguity in the relation between the patterns instantiated by social norms and their understanding by individual agents, and therefore for the creative evolution of norms, values and organization. In other words, social organization is maintained into existence because humans learn the landscapes of cultural expectations in which they are immersed, but since this learning is intrinsically subjective and reconstructive, the very same process also drives the continuous evolution of social organization. In the same way that biology centers on the organizational properties of living systems, the vision of historical dynamics we present here centers on the organizational properties of human societies - the cultural landscapes which humans collectively enact, and the social constraints they produce over collective patterns of behavior.

But it prompts the question: how do cultural landscapes and social constraints affect individual behavior, and how can we describe their change through time? These questions are the central topic of our Cultural Ecology & Cliodynamics research project. At its core, our approach is based in the cognitive science describing human engagement with material and cultural landscapes. We aim to articulate a broader framework accounting for sociocultural autopoiesis (the self-creation of human societies) based on the internalization and externalization of cultural expectations by individual humans. In doing so, we hope to understand the relation between the patterns of meaning projected by human societies and the cultural and material environment they construct. Our goal is ultimately to relate this framework to more classical (quantitative and qualitative) research on longue durée history and on the historical patterns of social dynamics to study the coevolution between cultural traits. In other words, we want to analyse how specific cultural traits or frames of reference constrains social activity, and indirectly the long term evolution of societies.

Given this core demarch, the topics we take interest in are too various to be exhaustively listed here. What is the role of the material environment in cultural evolution, and in the development of core technology for early human ecology? What is the historical role of urbanization in political and economic organization? Was the role mediated by shared cultural norms embedded in the material niche of the city, by the organic development of social and economic organization, by political authority, or by all of the above? Is the process of urbanization the cradle of contemporary social hierarchies, or is it State stratification? Or patriarchy? If the answer changes across cultural contexts, why does it and how does that inform patterns of social evolution? What drives the relation between economical complexity and democracy across States? Can we model the assumptions of Modern Monetary Theory from the ground up, assuming only what we know about the mechanisms of human cognition? We believe that any student of the historical patterns of change in human societies may find an interest in engaging with us on these topics, and many others.

Our publications

Our talks

  • 2023 August 22 : “On Embedded Normativity - “, Research conference, in the 3rd Applied Active Snference Symposium, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT
  • 2023 July 28 : “The Cognitive Archeology of Sociocultural Lifeforms”, Poster presentation, in the ALife 2023 conference, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT
  • 2023 March 24 : “Embodied Normativity”, Research conference, in the Embodied Intelligence Conference 2023, by Manon JOB, Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT and Mahault ALBARRACIN,
  • 2023 March 16 : “Creating material and cultural landscapes - A constraints ontology for multiscale socio-historical dynamics”, Research conference, in the Kiel Conference 2023: Scales of Social, Environmental, and Cultural Change in Past Societies, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT.
  • 2021 October 16 : “Thinking like a State - Embodied intelligence in the deep history of our collective mind”, Research conference, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT, Virginia Bleu KNIGHT and Daniel FRIEDMAN, in Cognitio 2021.
  • 2021 June 29 : “Grounding collective intelligence”, Research talk, in ACM Collective Intelligence Conference 2021, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT and Daniel FRIEDMAN. Open access slides and video
  • 2021 June 10 : “Social morphogenesis as enactive agency”, Discussion panel, in Cultural Evolution Society Conference 2021, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT. Open access slides and video
  • 2020 November 27 : “Cultural evolution of psychedelics usage, and the “entropic brain” hypothesis”, Invited talk, in Cultural Evolution Online’s seminar, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT. Open access notes
  • 2020 May 5 & 26 : “Do collective brains dream of cultural evolution ?”, Invited talk, in Frederic NEF’s “Structures et agents” class, ENS Ulm, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT.
  • 2019 March 30 : “Is cognition an exemple of evolution ?”, Conference, in French Federation of Students & Young Researchers in Cognitive Science (FRESCO)’s Young Researchers Symposium, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT.

This article was updated on October 23, 2023