When Individuals Do Not Stop at the Skin

Alan Barnard

in Social Brain, Distributed Mind

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780197264522
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734724 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

When Individuals Do Not Stop at the Skin

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This chapter examines contemporary hunter-gatherer societies in Africa and elsewhere in light of the social brain and the distributed mind hypotheses. One question asked is whether African hunter-gatherers offer the best model for societies at the dawn of symbolic culture, or whether societies elsewhere offer better models. The chapter argues for the former. Theoretical concepts touched on include sharing and exchange, universal kin classification, and the relation between group size and social networks. The chapter offers reinterpretations of classic anthropological notions such as Wissler's age-area hypothesis, Durkheim's collective consciousness and Lévi-Strauss's elementary structures of kinship. Finally, the chapter outlines a theory of the co-evolution of language and kinship through three phases (signifying, syntactic and symbolic) and the subsequent breakdown of the principles of the symbolic phase across much of the globe in Neolithic times.

Keywords: social brain hypothesis; Africa; distributed mind hypothesis; universal kin classification; collective consciousness; Neolithic era

Chapter.  7318 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychology

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