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Overview
Affiliations
AffiliationTelephone
Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology+44 (0) 191 33 41630
DRMC Co-Director (Research & Professional Development) in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health 
Co-Director (Research & Professional Development) in the Durham Research Methods Centre
Fellow of the Institute for Medical Humanities
Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study

Biography

After obtaining BSc (Hons) in Biology, University of Nottingham and then MSc in Biological Computation, University of York, I completed a PhD at the sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, supervised by Kevin Lala (1999-2003). This work focused on the adaptive value of social learning, including experiments of guppy fish behavour and mathematical modelling circumstances under which the capacity for social learning might evolve. I then worked as a post-doc with Marc Feldman at Stanford University, developing mathematical models of cultural evolution in humans, in particular exploring fertility transition patterns within and across populations and a separate project modelling the evolution of costly normative practices. This was followed by a post-doc position with Kevin Lala in St. Andrews running experiments to examine social learning in stickleback fish and modelling the evolution of social learning. In 2007, I moved to Durham to take up an RCUK Research Fellowship in the Department of Anthropology which transitioned to a lectureship. And Durham's such a lovely place I've been here ever since!

Research Interests

I'm interested in how properties of human learning and human-environment interactions shape patterns of cultural variation. I use a wide variety of approaches from mathematical modelling to experiments to interviews and focus groups.

Here are some recent and current collaborative projects:

  • adaptive properties of social learning
  • coevolution of AI and human behaviour - implications for human knowledge and inequality
  • conformist biased transmission dynamics
  • cultural practices affecting disease emergence
  • cultural evolution of knots - focusing on copying errors and the topology of knot space
  • evolution of folktales and folkmusic
  • evolution of graphical representations
  • evolutionary properties of digital technologies
  • how the media and design features of material culture affect their evolvability - case study examining knots
  • prestige effects on patterns of social transmission in hierarchical institutions
  • social influences on cooperative behaviour
  • tacit knowledge in academia
  • wayfinding and navigating space - cultural constructs and properties of distributed knowledge

I'd love to run a PhD project on the cultural evolution of climbing grade systems, so please get in touch if this interests you!

Teaching

I teach undergraduate modules concerning: evolutionary approaches to the study of human behaviour; the history of evolutionary anthropology; and scientific methods. 

I'm very excited to be delivering a new third-year module in 2024-25 called Evolving Knowledge Systems. This will take in a range of perspectives from indigenous knowledge to distributed cognition to AI algorithms. 

At Masters level, I run a practical module on running simulations in R that can be incorporated into empirical research projects.

Research interests

  • Social transmission and population dynamics

Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Manual

Working Paper

Supervision students