Style, Function, and Cultural Evolutionary Processes

  • Robert L. Bettinger
  • Robert Boyd
  • Peter J. Richerson
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


When explaining human behavior, anthropologists frequently distinguish the things that people do of their own free will from the things they do because they have to. In much of anthropology, and most American archaeology, this is the difference between style and function. Functional behaviors are the things people are constrained to do; stylistic behaviors are the things people do when unconstrained. Where necessity stops and free choice begins is, of course, a classic problem of social science theory, but wherever the boundary is placed, it is generally implied that the domains thus divided are not of equal importance (Bettinger 1991:49–50). Few straddle this fence: Materialists emphasize function and downplay style; structuralists and postmodernists do the opposite. Recent attempts to apply neo-Darwinian concepts to the archaeological record predictably side with the materialist tradition, repeating the premise that it is most important to explain functional behavior; stylistic behavior is interesting only for localizing social units in time and space.


Natural Selection Sexual Selection Archaeological Record Cultural Transmission Innovation Rate 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert L. Bettinger
    • 1
  • Robert Boyd
    • 2
  • Peter J. Richerson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Division of Environmental StudiesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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