Skip to content

Your Cart


You have 0 items in your cart.

Register Sign in Wishlist

Cultural Evolution

$99.00 (P)

  • Date Published: May 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521769013

$ 99.00 (P)

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Paperback, eBook

Looking for an examination copy?

If you are interested in the title for your course we can consider offering an examination copy. To register your interest please contact providing details of the course you are teaching.

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • In this book, Kate Distin proposes a theory of cultural evolution and shows how it can help us to understand the origin and development of human culture. Distin introduces the concept that humans share information not only in natural languages, which are spoken or signed, but also in artefactual languages like writing and musical notation, which use media that are made by humans. Languages enable humans to receive and transmit variations in cultural information and resources. In this way, they provide the mechanism for cultural evolution. The human capacity for metarepresentation – thinking about how we think – accelerates cultural evolution, because it frees cultural information from the conceptual limitations of each individual language. Distin shows how the concept of cultural evolution outlined in this book can help us to understand the complexity and diversity of human culture, relating her theory to a range of subjects including economics, linguistics, and developmental biology.

    • Explains the origin of culture as the product of both natural and artefactual languages
    • Introduces a powerful new conceptual tool, namely the distinction between natural and artefactual languages
    • Presents evidence, from a range of academic disciplines, that cultural evolution is a defensible theory with genuine explanatory value
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    “Why cultural evolution is cumulative in humans, but not in other species, remains a significant puzzle. Distin argues that our brain’s ability to represent information to itself (so-called metarepresentation) enabled the accelerating increases in cultural complexity that are so distinctive of our species. She suggests that metarepresentation, first manifest in syntactic language, was later augmented by the storage and transmission of information through artifacts. Further, as stores of information, artifacts have significant advantages – they are stable, durable, and almost infinite in capacity – features that make it possible for cultural information to increase and diversify. Her approach brings fresh insights and novel perspectives to this difficult problem at the center of human evolution.”
    – Robert Aunger, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

    “In The Selfish Meme, Kate Distin brought conceptual clarity to a term that had been overly complicated. The advantages of the term ‘meme’ had been obscured – sometimes by the term’s champions, but more often by those with pretheoretical agendas that made them hostile to the aspects of cognition (human irrationality) that the term highlighted. In The Selfish Meme, Distin restored the term’s usefulness. In Cultural Evolution, Distin has a larger goal in mind – nothing less than a full-blown theory of the development of human knowledge. Given the Promethean goal of the book, it is remarkable how much the volume succeeds. Using various tools of modern cognitive science – from knowledge of the structure of language to the notion of metarepresentation – Distin gives us an expansive framework for understanding cultural evolution.”
    – Keith E. Stanovich, University of Toronto, author of What Intelligence Tests Miss and The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin

    "....There are a number of positive aspects of this book. Foremost is Distin’s clear exposition of her ideas, evident in both this book and her earlier book on memetics; and, in the context of contributions incorporated from an impressive number of fields.... The organization of the sections and chapters is very sensible, and a good number of the citations are from the very latest research in linguistics, memetics, and biological and cultural evolutionary theory...."
    – Rebecca Wells-Jopling, Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto, Philosophy in Review

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2010
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521769013
    • length: 282 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: small consequences of one general law
    Part I. The Inheritance of Cultural Information:
    2. What is information?
    3. How is information inherited?
    Part II. The Inheritance of Cultural Information: Natural Language:
    4. Natural language and culture: the biological building blocks
    5. How did natural language evolve?
    6. Language, thought, and culture
    Part III. In Inheritance of Cultural Information: Artefactual Language:
    7. How did artefactual language evolve?
    8. Artefactual language, representation and culture
    9. Money: an artefactual language
    10. Money: the explanatory power of artefactual languages
    Part III. The Receivers of Cultural Information:
    11. How does human diversity affect cultural evolution?
    Part IV. The Expression of Cultural Information:
    12. Aspects of the cultural ecology
    13. Patterns of cultural taxonomy
    14. Conclusion: a representational understanding of cultural evolution
    Appendix: what about memetics?

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Evolutionary Social Science and Public Policy
  • Author

    Kate Distin
    Kate Distin was educated at Cambridge University and the University of Sheffield. She is the author of The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and the editor of the award-winning Gifted Children: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (2006).

Sign In

Please sign in to access your account


Not already registered? Create an account now. ×

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×

Find content that relates to you

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.