My work addresses the sciences of diversity, examining the foundations of and differences between scientific, political, and vernacular accounts of human culture. Each of these provide descriptive and explanatory roles for human culture and adopts distinct assumptions about the nature of human sociality, evolution, and cognition. As a philosopher of science, I am interested in how such assumptions influence the creation of scientific knowledge about human life—and how this knowledge itself feeds back into contemporary political and practical decision-making.
To date my work has focused on four main themes: (i) the application of representational, inferential, and statistical tools from evolutionary theory to the social sciences; (ii) the foundational concepts and intellectual history of cultural and biological evolution; (iii) the logic and epistemology of cross-cultural comparative research, and; (iv) the intersection of empirical work with political and moral issues.
My current research project as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow develops all of these themes. This project starts from the observation that political, normative, and empirical theorizing often assumes that cultures form a plurality: that there are a number of distinct cultures which can be individuated. This assumption is embedded in a wide range of projects: UNESCO’s declaration that cultural diversity is an analog to biology diversity, the Supreme Court of Canada’s ‘Integral to a Distinctive Culture Test’ for protecting cultural practices, and the use of phylogenetic modelling to reconstruct human history. As this brief list of examples make clear, concerns about diverse and changing cultures have a home in a wide range of literatures. Thus, it should not be surprising to discover that researchers have a similarly diverse range of priorities and goals. These factor in the adoption of various individuation strategies: principled means for individuating cultures. To put it succinctly, my project extracts, articulates, and explains the ontological assumptions of these individuation strategies, and explores their political, ethical, and empirical consequences.