Fiona Jordan -
Humans are weird and wonderful, but our behaviour isn't intractable to science. Evolutionary theory provides a productive framework within which to think about how our species makes a living. Individual decision-making, culturally-specific traditions, and broad-scale patterns of behaviour can all be illuminated by an evolutionary perspective, using concepts such as parental investment, sexual selection, cultural transmission, and adaptation.
Much of my work uses the methodological toolkit of phylogenetic comparative methods. These methods allow us to study evolutionary processes in related populations while accounting for the fact those populations have some degree of shared history (known as Galton's Problem).
In my research I combine behavioural ecology and cultural evolution approaches to investigate cultural diversity. The most obvious nexus for these two approaches is in the study of kinship patterns and processes, and this is my primary research programme.
I'm a Staff Scientist in the Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture group. Within the group I have current collaborative projects on:
- Sex-specific dispersal and the impact of postmarital residence on Pacific genetic diversity (with Vishnupriya Kolipakam).
- The coevolution of numeral classifiers / specialised counting systems with aspects of sociopolitical structure in Austronesian societies (with Michael Dunn, and Andrea Bender and Sieghard Beller from Freiburg).
- Quantifying the relative stability of different classes (e.g. subsistence, political, kinship traits) of cultural features in different language families (with Dan Dediu).
I'm a Principal Investor in the Evolution of Semantic Systems project, a primary data elicitation project involving collaborators across 50 Indo-European languages. We aim to investigate how meanings in different cognitive domains (e.g. colour, body parts, spatial relations) vary over space and change over time.
I also have a number of ongoing collaborative investigations into how demographic variables (e.g. population size, sex-ratio, migration) affect and evolve through time with various features of culture and language. Other current projects include:
- Population size and lexical change (with Tom Currie, UCL)
- Socioecological factors that have shaped land tenure (with Geoff Kushnick, Washington, and Russell Gray, Auckland)
- The value of evolutionary theory to cross-cultural research and vice versa (separately with Simon Greenhill, Auckland, and Brad Huber, Charleston)
More about my ongoing research projects and interests can be found on my academic blog 'Culture Evolves!'