The Evolution of Social Complexity

How have rituals contributed to the evolution of social complexity? SESHAT: GLOBAL HISTORY DATABANK ➞ will enable us to test a range of hypotheses about the evolution of social complexity, including the role of rituals in that process. A major puzzle in the study of cultural evolution is how small-scale human groups made the transition to larger-scale, hierarchically more complex ones. As well as addressing this puzzle empirically we are developing spatially explicit agent based models as a first step toward understanding the ecological dynamics of small- and large-scale human groups. 

Oxford Team:
Ken Kahn
Harvey Whitehouse

Joanna Bryson (Bath)
Thomas Currie (Exeter)
Kevin Feeney (Dublin)
Pieter François (Hertfordshire)
Michael Hochberg (Montpellier)
Daniel Mullins (Hertfordshire)
Gul Deniz Salali (London)
Peter Turchin (Connecticut)


Selected Publications

Wilson, David Sloan, Yasha Hartberg, Ian MacDonald, Jonathan A. Lanman, and Harvey Whitehouse (In press). The Nature of Religious Diversity: A Cultural Ecosystem Approach. Religion, Brain, and Behavior.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2015) The Role of Ritual in the Evolution of Social Complexity: Five predictions and a drum roll

17 September 2015, “Why Are Rituals Important?” A Conversation with Dr Daniel Mullins describing how SESHAT: The Global History Databank can help researchers examine the role of rituals in binding communities together throughout human history. The Evolution Institute 

Turchin, Peter, Rob Brennan, Thomas E. Currie, Kevin C. Feeney, Pieter François, Daniel Hoyer, J. G. Manning, Arkadiusz Marciniak, Daniel Mullins, Alessio Palmisano, Peter Peregrine, Edward A. L. Turner, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Seshat: The Global History Databank. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 6(1): 77-107.

Currie, Thomas E., Amy Bogaard, Rudolf Cesaretti, Neil R. Edwards, Pieter François, Phillip B. Holden, Daniel Hoyer, Andrey Korotayev, Joe Manning, Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia, Oluwole K. Oyebamiji, Cameron Petrie, Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, and Alice Williams (2015). Agricultural Productivity in Past Societies: Toward an Empirically Informed Model for Testing Cultural Evolutionary Hypotheses. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 6(1): 24-56.

Salali, Gul Deniz, Harvey Whitehouse, and Michael E. Hochberg (2015). A Life-Cycle Model of Human Social Groups Produces a U-Shaped Distribution in Group Size. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0138496. 

Hochberg, Michael E. & Harvey Whitehouse 2013. To Understand Present Day Cultures We Must Study the Past: a Commentary on David Sloan Wilson. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, 4:126-128.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2013). Rethinking Proximate Causation and Development in Religious Evolution. In P. J. Richerson and M. H. Christiansen. (eds.) Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion (Strungmann Forum Reports). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Joseph Bulbulia, Armin W. Geertz, Quentin D. Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Nicholas Evans, Pieter Francois, Herbert Gintis, Russell D. Gray, Joseph Henrich, Fiona M. Jordon, Ara Norenzayan, Peter J. Richerson, Edward Slingerland, Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, Thomas Widlok, and David S. Wilson (2013). The Cultural Evolution of Religion. In P. J. Richerson & M. H. Christiansen. (eds.) Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion (Strungmann Forum Reports). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2012). Ritual, Cognition, and Evolution. In R. Sun (ed.) Grounding the Social Sciences in the Cognitive Sciences, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Whitehouse, Harvey, Ken Kahn, Michael E.  Hochberg, and Joanna J. Bryson. (2012). The role for simulations in theory construction for the social sciences:  Case studies concerning Divergent Modes of Religiosity. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, Vol. 2, No. 3: pp 182-201.

Turchin, Peter, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter Francois, Edward Slingerland and Mark Collard (2012). A Historical Database of Sociocultural Evolution. Cliodynamics, Vol. 3, No. 2: pp 271 - 293.

Mullins, Dan, Harvey Whitehouse and Quentin Atkinson (2013). The role of writing and recordkeeping in the cultural evolution of human cooperation. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Vol. 90, Supplement, June 2013: pp S141 - S151