Radical Anthropology Group

Anthropology asks one big question: what does it mean to be human?

If you live in London, why not come to our regular Tuesday evening talks? Admission is free.

Next evening talk

Volker Sommer

The Cultured Chimpanzee: Bridging The Animal-Human Divide
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

Everyday language readily distinguishes animals from humans. The former are perceived as instinctual and savage, the latter as reflective and cultured. Indeed, depending on ethnic background, people favour different technologies, customs and values – traits considered to be hallmarks of "culture". However, recent studies reveal similar degrees of intraspecific variance for many non-human animals, too – particularly for societies of our closest living relatives, the primates. For example, chimpanzee populations differ in dietary preferences and tool use pattern, but also in terms of what is considered socially acceptable. This creates a quasi-religious group-based morality and identity. Such constructions of "us" versus "them" regularly lead to violent clashes between neighbouring ape communities – intergroup conflicts that also permeate the course of human evolution. Cultural boundaries therefore create a sense of belonging as well as xenophobic feelings – conceptualized by anthropologists as "we-ness" (entitativity) versus "other-ness" (alterity). An evolutionary perspective can help us to better understand our often parochial attitudes

Recent talks

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