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ANR funded project

Métamorphoses des sociétés. Emergences et évolutions des cultures et des phénomènes culturels. (CULT)
Edition 2012


LICORNES


The interface between culture, organism, nature, and society

Nature, Society and Culture in human and animal worlds
A study of the interactions between biological, psychological, social and cultural phenomena among three main fields: child development ;beliefs attached to the classification of living species and to their origins; human/animal interaction (e.g. dogs, monkeys). The study is based on a comparison between two cultural areas: Europe and North Africa.

Considering the articulation between social sciences and natural sciences as an empirical strand of research.
The topic “nature/culture” is traditionally tackled through two main questions, which are connected to each other despite their own characteristics. The first question is about the foundation of cultural phenomena: to what extent and in what circumstances are biological factors involved in the emergence of cultural phenomena and their evolution? The second question bears on the limits of cultural phenomena: is culture a typically social human phenomenon or can it be found also amongst animals' societies? Debates over these questions have been very heated since the birth of the Social Sciences. The project LICORNES aims at proposing alternative options to the clear-cut postures that frequently appear in these highly polarized debates. This project addresses the issue in a different way: it is not a question to which one can give a single answer or an answer a priori, it constitutes a vast field of research which requires empirical backing and into which a range of modalities of articulation between nature and culture is possible. The project LICORNES unfolds in two areas of research, which include the two questions mentioned above. The first area of research is based on three surveys. The first one will bear on the emergence of social and cultural skills in children that we will study with methodologies combining experimentation and ethnography, in Europe and in Morocco. The second one will offer a theoretical discussion over the concept of representation - which is at the heart of the debates between the cognitive and the social sciences - through a study of beliefs regarding diversity and the evolution of living organisms, in France and in North Africa. Finally, the third survey will examine the history of naturalist theories. The second area of research focuses on the diffusion of cultural phenomena in the living world. This issue is addressed through the study of interactions between humans and animals, and in particular dogs and apes, in France and in Morocco.

A pluridisciplinary research program based on crossed methodologies
LICORNES program is deeply pluridisciplinary. It aims at developing a collaboration between strong disciplinary fields, which seems a sine qua non condition for conducting inquiries at the interface between nature and culture. Thus it gathers together researchers from many disciplines, even outside humanities: social sciences, anthropology, linguistics, conversation analysis, ethology, genetics, psychology, cognitive sciences, philosophy, political sciences. But above all – and that element is may be the most important for this interdisciplinarity to be fruitful – these researchers are specialized, in their own domain, on the nature/culture relationship and have published on this theme in books, or in international peer-rewied journals. Besides, LICORNES program aims at going through the paradigmatical opposition between internalists and externalists approach of Mind, which is too simplist and affects the dialogue between the disciplines. One of the epistemological conviction that carry out all the participants to this project is that explicative models of culture are less important for the general principles on which they lie, than for the empirical and theoretical outcomes they make visible, thanks to their own methods. For this reason this project will be also multi-methodological in the way it will mobilize ethnographic observation, conversation analysis, experimentation, modelisation, conceptual analysis and history. Eventually, as mentioned above, this program has a comparative and cross-cultural dimension – and socio-anthropological researchs that fall within the cognitive framework often lack this dimension.

Results

From this stage of the program, that would be premature to put forward definitive results. Nevertheless, the first investigations, especially the ones on young children and on human/animal interaction confirms the program’s central hypothesis: social interactions play a major role in the emergence and evolution of cultural phenomena. It is through social interactions that psychological aptitudes, their combination and mutual support, produce and ensure the perpetuation and crystallization of the phenomena traditionally grouped together by anthropology under the word ‘culture’. This hypothesis is confirmed by studies on young children that shows that social competences play a crucial role in their development, even before the apparition of the “theory of mind”. Concerning the human/animal interaction, the first investigations show that dogs and monkeys cannot be considered as passive objects in their interaction with humans. On the contrary they are actors, though of a specific kind. Eventually, the inquiry on creationism in Morocco suggests that, on this theme, many social actors do not have a precise representation and show no particular interest for the question. In other words, raising the question of the origin of mankind does not appear as a sacrilege, even for the strong believers. Collective representations are, in such cases, intrinsically blurred.

Outlook

One of the major ambition of this program is to contribute to the development of a field of research: the articulation between the gathered knowledge of social sciences and natural sciences, each with their own methods. With this program, options developed by social sciences might also take root in the theory of evolution, without reducing them to biological phenomena. It should also allow to shed a new light on some animals – nor passive mechanisms, nor anthropomorphic agents – and on the link between men and their environment, especially considering the process of domestication.

Scientific outputs and patents

At this early stage, some articles in peer-reviewed journals were published. Many publications are in progress, notably two collective books, a single author book, and many articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Partners

CJB Centre Jacques Berque pour les études en sciences humaines et sociales

Laboratoire public

LabSo Laboratoire de Sociologie

ANR grant: 170 000 euros
Beginning and duration: janvier 2013 - 36 mois

Submission abstract

The project LICORNES is about the relationship between nature and culture. This topic is traditionally tackled through two main questions, which are connected to each other despite their own characteristics. The first question is about the foundation of cultural phenomena: to what extent and in what circumstances are biological factors involved in the emergence of cultural phenomena and their evolution? The second question bears on the limits of cultural phenomena: is culture a typically social human phenomenon or can it be found also amongst animals' societies? Debates over these questions have been very heated since the birth of the Social Sciences. These fierce debates have often prevented researchers from dispassionately examining the delicate yet crucial questions of the articulation of knowledge produced in both the natural and the social sciences. The project LICORNES aims at proposing alternative options to the clear-cut postures that frequently appear in these highly polarized debates. This project addresses the issue in a different way: it is not a question to which one can give a single answer or an answer a priori, it constitutes a vast field of research which requires empirical backing and into which a range of modalities of articulation between nature and culture is possible.

The project LICORNES unfolds in two areas of research, which include the two questions mentioned above. The first area of research will examine the points of contact between nature and culture in humans. It will take into account the theoretical trends that are currently being developed – separately and with distinct methodologies – in anthropology and sociology on the one hand, and evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, ethology and cognitive science, on the other. This area of research is based on three surveys. The first one will bear on the emergence of social and cultural skills in children that we will study with methodologies combining experimentation and ethnography. The second one will offer a theoretical discussion over the concept of representation - which is at the heart of the debates between the cognitive and the social sciences - through an ethnographic and experimental investigation of collective beliefs regarding diversity and the evolution of living organisms. Finally, the third survey will examine the history of naturalist theories.

The second area of research focuses on the diffusion of cultural phenomena in the living world. This issue is addressed through the study of interactions between humans and animals, and in particular dogs. These interactions are of special interest for the theory of culture. As a research subject, they invite one to question the possibilities of the existence of cultures involving individuals from different species. It therefore constitutes a powerful revealing object, directly or indirectly shedding light on criteria that can be considered as central for cultural phenomena. More specifically, it highlights the fact that cultural dynamics, ultimately, is based more on social adjustment of actions than on the identity of individuals or the features they pass on to each other. In order to answer this question, various tools and methods from conversation analysis, to experimentation, to models from population genetics, to ethnography, will be used.

Broadly speaking, the investigation led in these two areas of research aims at supporting one main hypothesis: social interactions play a major role in the emergence and evolution of cultural phenomena. It is through social interactions that psychological aptitudes, their combination and mutual support, produce and ensure the perpetuation and crystallization of the phenomena traditionally grouped together by anthropology under the word culture.

 

ANR Programme: Métamorphoses des sociétés. Emergences et évolutions des cultures et des phénomènes culturels. (CULT) 2012

Project ID: ANR-12-CULT-0002

Project coordinator:
Monsieur Dominique GUILLO (GEMASS)

Project web site: http://www.cjb.ma/354-licornes.html

 

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The project coordinator is the author of this abstract and is therefore responsible for the content of the summary. The ANR disclaims all responsibility in connection with its content.