Agner Fog: Cultural selection 1999

15. Explanation of words

The following list explains the meaning of terms used in this book, especially where the meaning may be unclear. The explanations are intended as a help to the reader, not as complete and exclusive definitions. (The problems with precise definitions are discussed in note 12 in chapt. 4).

Actor, social
This expression is derived from the use of theater as a metaphor for social life. A social actor is anybody who participates in social life, especially somebody who does something significant.
Of a trait which increases fitness. The term may refer to any fitness-measure.
Agenda setting
Deciding which topics to talk about (McCombs 1993).
Alternative forms of a gene.
Artifact which is valued for aesthetic or cultural reasons rather than for practical usefulness. This includes song, music, dance, stories, theater, film, pictures, sculptures, monuments, architecture and body decoration.
The psychological characteristic of a person who supports strict discipline and finds security in submitting to a powerful leader. See chapt. 4.7.
Behavior therapy
Psychotherapy based on learning theory, with the aim of changing the patient's behavior.
Button, psychological
Many memes gain their fitness from pushing the right buttons in our psyche. A button is a metaphor for the psychological mechanisms that make us pay special attention to certain topics, such as sex, opportunities for making easy money, or dangers to children. Some of the most effective buttons are described on page 44. Psychological button pushing is profuse in commercial advertising and political campaigning.
Systematic, quantitative characterization of song style (see chapt. 11.4).
The coupling between two or more evolutionary processes which mutually influence one another, for example between genetic and cultural evolution.
Cognitive therapy
Psychotherapeutic technique attempting to change the conceptions of the patient, based on the theory that irrational beliefs in the patient cause the unwanted symptoms, and that the worldview of the therapist is more true than that of the patient.
A general idea or notion.
A way of thinking of and understanding something. A cognitive image.
(Note that I am not using the words 'concept' and 'conception' as synonyms. The latter term is used here in the same meaning as it has in compounds like 'misconception' and 'preconception'.)
The problem in a statistical analysis that the effect of one factor cannot be distinguished from the effect of another factor because they are both varying at the same time.
A conservative culture is a culture which is intolerant towards new and deviant ideas and ways of life. A conservative culture is more stable than an innovative culture when the external conditions remain static (see chapt. 4.12).
A social construction is a phenomenon as it is conceived in the shared cognition of the members of a culture. Social constructionism is the sociological study of phenomena based on the way they are defined and conceived by the members of the culture in question regardless of whether these conceptions would make sense in the scientist's own culture.
A coherent pattern of symbols, traditions, ideas, values, norms, rules, and meanings, transmitted and reproduced through non-genetic inheritance, as well as the behaviors and artifacts shaped thereof (See Kroeber & Parsons 1958).
The change of a system through time. The word often implies the conception that the changes will follow a predetermined path. Such an implication is not intended here when the word is used as a synonym for evolution.
Deviance, Deviation
This term is used in the constructionist sense as a name for persons, objects, or actions which a society regards as deviant, unwanted, and dangerous (see chapt. 8).
The process of defining something or somebody as deviant.
Having no function or failing to fulfill the expected function.
Behavioral biology.
The change of a system through time, usually due to a selection process. The word often implies the conception that the changes will follow a particular direction called progress. Such a conception is contradicted by the theory of the present book.
Explanatory power
A theory or model has explanatory power if it explains observations well and if predictions based on the model are likely to be accurate.
Selective value. The relative ability of an individual, a group, or a trait to survive and be reproduced by genetic or cultural inheritance under given conditions.
Defining an issue within a certain interpretive paradigm, thereby communicating some aspects of an issue more saliently than others in such a way that a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, or treatment recommendation is promoted (Pan & Kosicki 1993, Entman 1993).
The function of a trait or phenomenon is the effect it has which contributes to the fitness of itself or of the carrying organism. This effect is the basis for the selection process which has been responsible for the evolution and persistence of the trait or phenomenon. The function does not have to be recognized by the individuals affected.
Having a function.
A school within cultural anthropology focusing on the function of social institutions. See chapt. 2.3.
An assembly of individuals tied together by the perception of a common social identity, for example a tribe or a nation.
Group selection
Genetic or cultural selection working on groups rather than on individuals. See chapt. 4.2.
Of organs having a common evolutionary origin.
Irrational fear of homosexuality.
The person bearing a meme.
Of a scientific method which regards any incident as unique and makes no attempt to systematize or find regularities (opposite: nomothetic).
Heterosexual intercourse between blood-related persons, such as brother and sister.
A newly arisen cultural phenomenon, for example a religious idea, a new fashion, or a new way of life. An innovation may be created merely by chance, or it may be the result of intelligent planning. See chapt. 3.4.
Of a culture which is tolerant of new ideas and which shows a fondness of everything new. An innovative culture is able to adapt to changes in external conditions faster than can a conservative culture (see chapt. 4.12).
Reaction pattern which is controlled to a significant degree by genes rather than by learning. This concept has often been criticized and alternative terms have been proposed. The main problem with the word 'instinct' is that it may have the connotation of a fixed, unconditioned, robot-like behavior beyond conscious control. Such a meaning is not intended here. I will not claim that there is a specific identifiable gene behind every possible instinctive behavioral pattern or that such a pattern is uninfluenced by cultural differences. I am only saying that genes have a significant influence on people's preference for behaving in a certain way under certain conditions.
A social practice which is regularly repeated, sanctioned, and maintained by social norms, and which has a major significance in the social structure.
Learning process whereby an external concept becomes a permanent part of the mental structure of the individual. An internalized norm is regarded as natural and therefore eludes criticism.
See chapt. 4.5.
Laissez faire-policy
The policy of non-interference.
A lamarckian process is an evolutionary mechanism where acquired traits can be inherited.
Lamarckism is the theory that acquired traits can be inherited (see chapt. 2.1).
Singing style where the lead singer sings a line which the chorus repeats.
The specific place on a chromosome that holds the gene coding for a particular trait.
The process of declaring a particular problem a disease and giving the medical profession the responsibility and authority to discuss and combat it.
Unit of cultural information analogous to a gene. A problem with this concept is that it may imply the belief that culture is controlled by discrete indivisible units (see chapt. 3.3).
Meme complex
A bundle of memes being selected together as a package. See chapt. 3.7.
An evolved trait of which the main adaptive value lies in the fact that it facilitates the evolution of other traits. (sometimes called 'pre-adaptation', but the former term is preferred because a metaadaptive trait is likely to co-evolve with at least one of the traits it facilitates rather than to predate them).
Moral panic
A highly exaggerated collective fear of a real or imaginary danger within society believed to threaten the established social order. The moral panic involves strong emotional reactions and drastic measures to fight the perceived danger. An organized moral panic is called a witch-hunt (see chapt. 8.4).
Natural selection
Simple evolution process according to Darwin's model, based on random mutations and differential survival.
The selection criterion applied by journalists when judging how interesting they think the readers will find a particular story.
Of a scientific method which attempts to systematize and find regularities rather than regarding each incident as unique (opposite: idiographic).
The development of an individual organism.
Finding more hidden messages in a text than there actually are. Attaching meaning to details that do not have a meaning. Reading too much into something.
A theoretic tradition or school integrating worldview, axioms, definitions, symbols, methods, and way of thinking into a coherent system (see also: symbolic-moral universe).
Genetic evolutionary history of species.
Play is an activity engaged in for the pleasure it gives without any immediate serious aims or ends, especially the spontaneous activity of children and young animals. An exact definition is hardly possible without reference to the assumed learning function or the undefinable feeling of fun. Since play is easy to recognize, the lack of definition is no big problem (see Fagen 1981 and Garvey 1977).
The way an issue is framed the first time it is mentioned. This influences the way the listener will think about this issue in the future.
Original, resembling the life form of primeval man.
Not sacred.
Psychological defense mechanism against unwanted internal impulses whereby the person attributes these impulses to another person or group.
r/k-selection, cultural
See chapt. 4.5.
r/K-selection, genetic
See chapt. 4.3.
Psychological mechanism whereby an action is given a constructed rational reason which justifies it to the actor and hides the true motive. The person is not consciously aware that he is cheating his own intellect.
Attempt to explain all phenomena with reference to one particular paradigm without recognizing the explanatory possibilities of other paradigms. Especially about attempts to explain a complex system by analyzing its isolated constituent parts, as for example when explaining group phenomena with reference to individual psychology.
See chapt. 4.5.
The part of a culture which relates to the sacred or is given a sacred reason.
Psychological defense mechanism whereby an unacceptable impulse is rendered unconscious.
Stereotypical action with symbolic meaning.
I am using a sociological definition of sacredness which is broader than the theological definition. Sacred denotes anything which in the conception of people belongs to a transcendent, invisible world or to invisible, supernatural forces or beings, or which is tabooed and belonging to a dangerous disorder. Sacred beings may be good (God, angels), evil (the Devil, demons), or ambivalent and awe inspiring (spirits, forces of nature). See chapt. 10.4.
The socially learned cognition and production of action. The social script does not only describe roles and actions, but also the motives and feelings that the actors are assumed to have. See chapt. 10.3.
Secondary deviation
Deviant behavior and identity caused by the reaction of a person to the social isolation, stigmatization, and oppression to which an original (primary) deviation has given rise. Also called deviancy amplification. (see Lemert 1967:40ff)
1. Differential survival or differential reproduction.
2. Evolutionary process involving selection.
Selection criterion
A trait that has a major influence on fitness. See chapt. 4.1.
1. Inspired by freudian tradition, I am defining the concept of sexuality very broadly, including any emotional attraction between people and any ritual expression thereof, such as hugs or handshakes. It is impossible to draw a precise distinction between sexuality and other pleasurable feelings. See chapt. 10.
2. In addition, I am using the word in the constructionist sense as a name for anything which is regarded as sexual by the society in question, i.e. anything which is assigned to the same concept category as the reproductive act.
The biological study of social behavior. See chapt. 2.6.
Medieval religious concept including any sexual act which is regarded as unnatural or sinful, including homosexuality, bestiality, and oral and anal intercourse. The word is still used with various meanings in some jurisdictions although it has never been precisely defined.
Disreputation. Social process whereby an individual or group is branded as deviant and unworthy.
Psychological defense mechanism whereby the aim of a suppressed or repressed instinct is redirected into a more acceptable outlet.
Symbolic-moral universe
A worldview or way of thinking which integrates symbols, meanings, values, motives, and reasons into a coherent system which legitimizes a moral order (Ben Yehuda 1990). This concept is analogous to 'paradigm', with the difference that 'paradigm' is used mainly about scientific discourses, whereas 'symbolic-moral universe' is used about everyday moral and political discourses.
A prohibition which is given a sacred reason.
A statement which is true by virtue of its logical form. Circular argument.
Sacred or supernatural. Existing apart from the material universe.
1. A state of diversity in a population.
2. Fluctuations of a phenomenon through time.
3. The word is sometimes used as a synonym for innovation or mutation.
Vicarious selection
A new selection mechanism partially replacing an older, slower or less effective selection mechanism. The vicarious mechanism has been created by the older mechanism and is leading in approximately the same direction as the old one. See chapt. 3.8.
See moral panic.