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Professor Fiona Jordan

Cultural Phylogenetics

I am an evolutionary and linguistic anthropologist who studies cultural evolution. Like most anthropologists, I want to understand cultural diversity. There are two parts to that inquiry: Why do humans–a single species–have so much variation in behaviour and culture? But: Why don’t human societies vary more? My work seeks to do cross-cultural research in new and innovative ways by combining methods, data, and theory from biology, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics. My core subfield is cultural phylogenetics: understanding cultural diversity using the same statistical tools that biologists use to investigate evolutionary and diversity processes in other species. I am particularly interested in kinship and language, and my primary region of interest is the Austronesian-speaking world. My published work has ranged widely: demonstrating the use of phylogenetic techniques to study Pacific prehistory and language dispersal; biocultural adaptation in the human sex ratio; cultural transmission of craft techniques; inferring past aspects of kinship and family structures; the evolution of semantic systems conceptualising colours and body parts; and modelling land tenure evolution. I also have broad interests in a number of evolutionary approaches to human behaviour, as well as the intersections of language, culture, and society.

Research keywords

  • cultural phylogenetics
  • evolutionary anthropology
  • kinship
  • cross-cultural analysis
  • Austronesian languages
  • linguistic anthropology