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Many North American anthropologists remain deeply suspicious of attempts to theorize the evolution of culture, given the legacy in our discipline of nineteenth-century stagist theories of cultural evolution that were shaped by scientific racism. In the late twentieth-century, some theorists tried to escape this legacy by using formal models drawn from neo-Darwinian population biology to reconceptualize cultural evolutionary processes, but these more recent approaches have been found unsatisfactory for reasons of their own. For example, gene-culture coevolution and dual inheritance theory have limited appeal to many contemporary cultural anthropologists because these theories rely on definitions of culture, and assumptions about human individuals and social groups, that many cultural anthropologists no longer find persuasive. Niche construction, by contrast, appears more promising as a framework for connecting cultural change with biological and ecological change. Nevertheless, the innovative features of niche construction coexist uneasily alongside the same problematic features that limit the usefulness of gene-culture coevolution and dual inheritance theory in cultural anthropology. This article discusses anthropological concerns about niche construction theory, but also suggests ways in which some of them might be reduced if niche construction theory were to incorporate insights from developmental systems theory and actor network theory.


This is the English version of an article that originally was published in Spanish:

Schultz. Emily A. 2015. “La construcción de nichos y el estudio de los cambios de cultura en antropología: desafíos y perspectives.” In Interdisciplina 3(5):131-159. The Spanish original is available online at

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