Culture and Epigenesis: A Waddingtonian View

Iddo Tavory, Eva Jablonka and Simona Ginsburg

in The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195396430
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Culture and Epigenesis: A Waddingtonian View


The relationship between biology and socio-cultural phenomena can be studied within either causal or metaphoric frameworks. Although causal analyses try to isolate biological factors and processes associated with cultural phenomena and work out how they bring them about, the metaphoric approach uses models and metaphors in one field to advance the other. This chapter outlines a metaphoric approach to studying socio-cultural phenomena that is based on the epigenetic landscape model developed by Waddington. The dynamic stability of socio-cultural phenomena is seen as a result of interrelated patterns of plasticity and canalization operating at different levels of organization and working through different mechanisms: social-structural, cultural, and biological. The chapter begins by distinguishing our view from other prevalent approaches, and then proceeds to explain Waddington's epigenetic approach and apply it to a well-researched sociological question—the reproduction of urban poverty.

Keywords: cultural evolution; epigenetic landscape; canalization; plasticity; waddington

Article.  10992 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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