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


Cultural adaptation has become central in the context of accelerated global change with authors increasingly acknowledging the importance of understanding multilevel processes that operate as adaptation takes place. We explore the importance of multilevel processes in explaining cultural adaptation by describing how processes leading to cultural (mis)adaptation are linked through a complex nested hierarchy, where the lower levels combine into new units with new organizations, functions, and emergent properties or collective behaviours. After a brief review of the concept of ``cultural adaptation’’ from the perspective of cultural evolutionary theory and resilience 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 examining small-scale societies’ 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. We end the paper discussing the potential of modelling and computer simulation for studying multilevel processes in cultural adaptation.

Ecology and society : a journal of integrative science for resilience and sustainability 21, 2.