Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History and Sociology of Science

First Advisor

Etienne Benson


Since the mid-twentieth century, an array of life, mind, and behavioral scientists have centered the concept of culture in novel research programs, attempting to investigate the old epistemic object with new scientific techniques. This dissertation asks how culture—long renowned for its imponderability and as something that one could only hope to understand or interpret through sustained periods of embodied immersion “in the field”—has in recent decades been transformed into an object for experimental knowledge production in mind and life science labs. Culturing Evolution traces the late twentieth century history of a new field of research called “Cultural Evolution,” which emerged and took shape at the interface of population genetics and cognitive science in the 1970s and 1980s. Based on fourteen months of fieldwork that I conducted in the Department of Cognitive Science at the Central European University in Budapest between 2019-2020, where one of the most prominent European research groups in the field of Cultural Evolution is based, I supplement this historical account of postwar life and mind sciences with ethnographic descriptions of the human practices, material sites, and technical instruments through which contemporary mind and life scientists conceptualize and materialize culture in terms of evolutionary and cognitive mechanisms. Finally, this study of new sciences of culture in twenty-first century Europe is also a study of an emerging politics of culture that is avowedly opposed to the liberal universalism of evolutionary and cognitive sciences. Weaving historical and anthropological forms of analysis, Culturing Evolution studies the simultaneous and conflicting efforts of liberal laboratory scientists and illiberal political actors to define culture and organize polities. By examining this linked set of sciences and politics of culture in Central Europe, this dissertation also illuminates certain contemporary relations between culture, science, liberalism, and the state.


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