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Demography and the Cultural Evolution of Pictorial Styles

GRANITO, CARMEN (2020) Demography and the Cultural Evolution of Pictorial Styles. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Image-making is a nearly-universal human behaviour. Cultures around the world have made images to convey information about living kinds, objects and ideas for at least 75,000 years. However, from a stylistic point of view, the visual strategies and conventions to represent things in pictures can vary greatly over time and space; in particular, pictorial styles can differ in figurativeness, varying from inter-subjectively recognisable representations of things to stylised and abstract forms. Are there any patterns to this variability, and what might its ecological causes be?
In recent Cultural Evolution research, factors such as demography and the structure of interaction between groups of individuals have been shown to affect the evolution of languages and technology. Capitalising on these studies, I investigate the style evolution in relation with the socio-demographic variable of population contact, and in particular the influence of inter-group contact on the figurativeness of pictorial representations. For this purpose, I firstly conducted an experimental study, simulating isolated and contact social groups with laboratory micro-societies performing a drawing task; secondly, I quantitatively analysed a real-world dataset of Aboriginal Australian rock art from contact and isolated communities; then I qualitatively explored the evolution of a contemporary pictorial communication item: emoji.
Results show that pictorial representations from isolated groups tend to become abstract and opaque to outsiders, whereas in contact groups they retain figurativeness and external understandability. This supports the idea that intergroup contact is an important factor in the cultural evolution of pictorial styles, because the need to communicate with outsiders and be accessible to the widest possible audience encourages figurativeness. I discuss the implications of these findings for the archaeology and anthropology of art, and the parallels with language evolution.
Finally, addressing the need for research outreach in Cultural Evolution, I designed the blueprint of an exhibition aimed at disseminating my research findings while offering lay audiences an engaging and transformative experience.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:cultural evolution; graphical communication; art; rick art; art style; language evolution; exhibition; emoji; Australian
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Aug 2020 09:31

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