Annual public lecture: Primate cultures and the evolution of 'we-ness' - Professor Volker Sommer


27 May 2020, 6.00 PM - 27 May 2020, 7.30 PM

Professor Volker Sommer, University College London

Peel Lecture Theatre, Geographical Sciences

We tend to distinguish "animals" from "people" - the former controlled by rigid instincts and the latter gifted with agency and therefore capable of being "cultured". Indeed, people adhere to regionally differentiated lifestyles in terms of technology, manners and values.

However, similar group-typical variation exists in non-human animals, too. Chimpanzee populations in particular differ in diet and tool use, but also in terms of what is socially acceptable. These dynamics seem to create a quasi-religious internal morality and group identity.

Culture therefore conveys belonging (entitativity) and exclusion (alterity). In chimpanzees, such constructions of "we" versus "others" stir up lethal intergroup violence. Conflicts between groups of people might likewise be better understood from such perspectives – including the opportunities and challenges of multiculturalism.

Volker Sommer is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London. He conducts long-term studies on monkeys and apes in India, Thailand and Nigeria, exploring the evolutionary roots of social and sexual behaviours. Professor Sommer belongs to the Ape Specialist Groups of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and is on the scientific board of the "Giordano-Bruno-Foundation" – a German-based think-tank dedicated to the promotion of secularism and evolutionary humanism.

Contact information

Attendance is free, but you must register via Eventbrite.

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