Professor Fiona Jordan
BA(Auck.), BSc Hons (Auck.), PhD(Lond.)
- evolutionary anthropology
- linguistic anthropology
- cultural evolution
- cultural transmission
- cross-cultural studies
Professor of AnthropologyDepartment of Anthropology and Archaeology
I am an evolutionary and linguistic anthropologist and have been on the faculty of the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology since 2012. Prior to that I worked at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, and at the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London. I am also Secretary of the Cultural Evolution Society.
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. I have a background, either through formal training or long-term collaborative practice, in all these fields. 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.
My current projects focus on:
* The cultural evolution of kinship diversity, from child acquisition to social norms
* The roles of social learning biases in the transmission of narratives
* Natural resource use, particularly the cultural uses of plants in the Viking and Pacific worlds
* Enabling cultural macroevolution through databases (KinBank, D-PLACE, Numeralbank)
Interdisciplinarity is critical to understanding human cultural diversity, and so I like to use my ability to translate between fields to bring people and ideas together. Researchers and students in my group involve phylogenetic modelling, fieldwork and participant observation, elicitation experiments, transmission chains, interviews, corpus linguistics, and more.
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.
01/09/2021 to 31/08/2025
01/09/2021 to 31/08/2027
DescriptionThis project examines the prevalence of male and female characters in primary school books.
Managing organisational unitSchool of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
01/02/2021 to 31/05/2022
DescriptionThis project is about the experience of humans interacting with new technology. More particularly, it investigates the experience of complex, real-time, intellectually and emotionally demanding interactions, where the technology seems…
Managing organisational unitDepartment of Music
11/03/2019 to 31/07/2021
DescriptionThis project investigates how children from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds develop concepts of family and relatedness. The project has two main aims: to design and produce a children's picture…
11/02/2019 to 31/07/2019
First-hand experience: a methodology for exploring bone architecture adaptation and biomechanics in human hands and zebrafish models
Historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence test the phylogenetic inference of Viking-Age plant use
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Journal of Pragmatics
Journal of Language Evolution
I have taught across the four fields of anthropology and have previous experience teaching in psychology. At Bristol I specialise in linguistic and evolutionary anthropology and offer units and lectures which take a multidisciplinary, mixed-method approach. I frequently deliver summer schools and short courses on my specialty research methods in cultural phylogenetics.
In the last three years I have taught:
Evolution & Human Behaviour, a 2nd year unit introducing students to the study of human behaviour and culture through an evolutionary lens. I explore culture in non-human animals, the ways in which social learning and cultural transmission add a new dimension to human evolution, and how we can use phylogenies to trace human cultural ancestry. This unit is co-taught with Prof Mhairi Gibson.
Culture & Mind, a 3rd year unit exploring how culture shapes thoughts, feelings, perceptions and beliefs. We examine whether human cognitive abilities are different in kind to other species, or shared by other animals, how our enculturated minds have evolved, and how cognition might be variable across human communities.
Sociolinguistic Anthropology: Language, Culture & Society. In this 3rd-year cross-School unit, co-taught with Dr James Hawkey & Dr Damien Mooney from Modern Languages, our students explore the social meanings of language variation. We consider how language norms are constructed with respect to gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity, and how language ideologies are about speakers, not language. We also examine language diversity and endangerment, and students conduct a empirical project examining their own conversations.