Multilevel processes and cultural adaptation: Examples from past and present small-scale societies

Victoria Reyes-García, Andrea L. Balbo, Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Maximilien Gueze, Alex Mesoudi, Peter J. Richerson, Xavier Rubio-Campillo, Isabel Ruiz-Mallén, Stephen Shennan

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13 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 by the author(s). The last two decades have seen a proliferation of research frameworks that emphasise the importance of understanding adaptive processes that happen at different levels. We contribute to this growing body of literature by exploring how cultural (mal) adaptive dynamics relate to multilevel social-ecological processes occurring at different scales, where the lower levels combine into new units with new organizations, functions, and emergent properties or collective behaviors. After a brief review of the concept of “cultural adaptation” from the perspective of cultural evolutionary theory, the core of the paper is constructed around the exploration of multilevel processes occurring at the temporal, spatial, social, and political scales. We do so by using insights from cultural evolutionary theory and by examining small-scale societies as case studies. In each section, we discuss the importance of the selected scale for understanding cultural adaptation and then present an example that illustrates how multilevel processes in the selected scale help explain observed patterns in the cultural adaptive process. The last section of the paper discusses the potential of modeling and computer simulation for studying multilevel processes in cultural adaptation. We conclude by highlighting how elements from cultural evolutionary theory might enrich the multilevel process discussion in resilience theory.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalEcology and Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Cultural adaptation
  • Cultural evolution
  • Multilevel selection
  • Resilience


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