The Cultured Chimpanzee: Bridging The Animal-Human Divide

Evening talk

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Volker Sommer

The Cultured Chimpanzee: Bridging The Animal-Human Divide

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 18:45

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

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Our evening talks include discussion, are free and open to all.

Next evening class

Chris Knight

A Christmas Fairy Tale: The Shoes That Were Danced To Pieces
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

This delightful fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm has become a RAG tradition, told every year on the last day of the autumn term, just before Christmas. It tells of twelve princesses and their periodic trips to the underworld, the narrator treating patriarchal marriage as a cruel punishment imposed on a coalition of sisters who had previously been free to dance the nights away. This magical tale introduces us to universal mythological themes which will be explored more fully in the Spring Term. Chris Knight will show how all such tales make sense in the light of the theory that human sexual morality was initially established by women.