A key factor at the intersection of culture and evolution is the bedrock of the societies in which those cultures take root. It is a topic that remains relatively unexplored, even though society affiliations, ranging in evolved humans from pre-agricultural tribes to nations, are likely to be even more ancient than the cultures themselves.
My ultimate objective is to shift how both scholars and the public look at societies, including the strengths and frailty of our own. Understanding why societies break apart is paramount to resolving many sociocultural crises, but the subject has never been investigated from a synthetic, interdisciplinary perspective. If we identify a society as having a specific membership—to psychologists, an ingroup—persistent across generations, other species form them, too.
I propose that the difficulties animals face in keeping a society intact, exacerbated by divisiveness and inequalities, will suggest insights on the human condition. Resolving such questions will require biologists and anthropologists frame their work on sociocultural stability and evolution around problems normally considered the realm of psychology: How do individuals draw on defining traits, including cultures, to recognize their fellows, and what causes this shared identity to fail?
My research aligns with the Foundation's priorities for cultural evolution, with my thesis, as a biologist, being that we look beyond not just Western cultures but beyond people generally to include animals when considering the forces that allow societies, and in some species, their cultures, to flourish. I will produce scholarly treatises, lead a cross-disciplinary workgroup, lecture academically and to the public, place timely articles in major media outlets, plan my third museum exhibit and begin a fourth book that will evaluate what animal societies intimate about humankind, turning to nature for guidance in managing social divisions and shaping a positive future for ourselves.