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

Rebekah Pluekhahn

Music, Morality And The Creation Of Value In Mongolia
Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - 18:45
Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square. map

Among the Altai Urianghai people in a rural district of western Mongolia’s Hovd province, musical knowledge, practice and performance are means through which people engage with overlapping historical influences, create and maintain different cultural traditions and attempt to ensure good future outcomes. This talk will explore how musical knowledge is an important, highly valued resource, leading to performers being highly venerated. Musical performance becomes an ethical practice, one that is collectively shared although key custodians hold individual responsibilities. In this talk, I will ask how understandings of value can move beyond economics to encompass shared cultural resources of other kinds, along with their esoteric potential. I will also explore how the moral musical practice of Altai Urianghai performers engages with national discussions and delineations of contemporary Mongolian culture.