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BS, Kent State University, 2003
MA, Binghamton University, 2009


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology
in the Graduate School of
Binghamton University
State University of New York

Copyright by David S Gerstle 2015

All Rights Reserved

Accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology
in the Graduate School of
Binghamton University
State University of New York

December 4, 2015

Dr. Douglas J Glick, Chair
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University

Dr. Thomas M Wilson, Member
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University

Dr. Deborah A Elliston, Reader, Member
Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University

Dr. Bat-Ami Bar On, Outside Reader
Department of Philosophy, Binghamton University




In challenging particular ideologies and institutions, social movements offer
more general examples of how people introduce and circulate new, often
controversial meanings. The Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Program at Binghamton
University challenges the structure and epistemic grounds of higher education,
arguing that evolutionary reasoning should become a foundational perspective for
the study of human experience. Doing so, the Humanities and Social Sciences would
be reoriented to seek the evolutionary origins and functions of (among other
subjects) religion, government, law, art, and literature. Yet, this ambitious challenge
must first and foremost be persuasively communicated to a variety of academic
audiences, and some will find it objectionable. My research shows that the EvoS
Program introduces and spreads its arguments by: reaffirming the movements
principles and goals as the messages across increasingly novel (sometimes hostile)
settings, establishing critical representations of critics, and socializing newcomers
to practice their own expressions of this message. The introduction and spread of
new meanings can thus be seen as a sociolinguistic process involving
contextualization across novel contexts, public confrontations between advocates
and critics, and socialization of the newly persuaded into agents of the meanings
spread and endurance.

To Sarah Seeley.
You own my life and my heart.

And to Lucy,
my kitty and my friend.
See you on the other side, fuzzy face.



My parents, Louise, Frank, and Polli, for their open minds, incredible brains, and
loving hearts.

My grandparents, who I think would be proud of me.

My dear friends Kelly Buman, Clara Marx, Diego Santos, Jim Devona, and Dene

My committee, Douglas Glick, Thomas Wilson, Deborah Elliston, and Bat-Ami Bar
On. I could not have hoped for better mentors and colleagues.

Heidi Kenyon, Robin Barron, Erin Stanley, Aneesa Thomas, and Laura Potter, for
their continuous kindness, knowledge, and commitment to my success.

Archana Mohan, Surey Gonzalez, Layoung Shin, Marina Weinberg, Darwin Tsen,
Charlie Wesley, Jarret and Shelie Rose, and Jason Allen, for making grad school a
mistake that I dont regret.

My friends and colleagues, Suronda Gonzalez, Kerry Cook Stamp, Natalia
Andrievskikh, Hwa Yeong Wang, Shannon Hilliker, Laura Kipfer, Mike Miller, and
Colleen Parks.

Michael Van Auken, a very smart man who talked with me about something like this,
a long time ago. That was the start.

William Russell, my counselor and friend. The results of our discussions are in every
page here. Thank you so much.

Taylor Sisson, John Ewing, Leah Gottlieb, Tracy Allison, Allie Hall, Geena Vabulus,
Renata Kuperman, , Alyssa Kassner, and Diddy Herskovics amazing students that I
am lucky to know.

Judy Koskovich, the best teacher I ever had.

Dr. Ann Stahl and Dr. Surinder Bhardwaj, two professors who were endlessly
patient and interested in my ideas.

Dr. Jonathan Marks, Dr. Martha McCaughey, and Emma Marris, who talked with me
about this research and read my early drafts.


Table of Contents

List of Tablesix
List of Figures...x

Chapter One: Relevant Fields, Terms, and Data Collection....11
1. Social Movement Theory.12
2. Indexicality and Ideology22
3. Foregrounding and Contextualization36
4. Language and Ideology in the Maintenance and Spread
of a Social Movement.48
5. Research Site and Data Collection.50
Chapter Two: The EvoS Programs Presupposed Ideologies, First Principle,
and Resources...53
1. Evolutionary Reasoning: Four Presupposed Ideologies on Human
Evolution and its Implications....53
2. The EvoS Programs First Principle.70
3. The EvoS Programs Resources: Incentives, Coursework, Membership,
Promotional Media, and Funding..73

Chapter Three: The EvoS Programs In-House Ideologies101

Chapter Four: Foregrounding and Contextualization
in the EvoS Seminar Series Lectures............137
1. Attacks on the Structure of Academics....142
2. Gratuitous Displays or Mentioning Taboo Subjects.152
3. Introducing Personal Testimonies.167
4. Marked Modes of Speaker Performance/Audience Participation..185

Chapter Five: Criticism and Modes of Defense
in the Seminar Series Question and Answer Sessions...207
1. Time Limits and Moderation.208
2. Critics in the EvoS Audience..210
3. Modes of Defense Against Audience Critiques...214
4. Critics of EvoS as Resources for the Movement.235
5. EvoS New Paltz and The Tiger Incident237


Chapter Six: Practice, Demonstration, and Criticism
in the EvoS Seminar Series Social Events..251
1. Encouraging (and Requiring) Student Engagement..............254
2. Student Practice and Lecturer Guidance....260
3. Further Lecturer Foregrounding-Contextualizations270
4. Criticisms and their Consequences in the Social Event.280
5. EvoS at the University of Lisbon and
The Inquisition against Evolution..288
6. EvoS Social Events and the Recruitment of New Participants..293

Chapter Seven: Contextualization, Socialization and the fate of EvoS.299
1. Abstraction...302
2. Analogical Extension..305
3. Reflexive Recursion.310
4. The Fate of the EvoS Program at Binghamton University...314
Works Cited..318


List of Tables

Data Summary 1. Attacks on Academic Structure
in EvoS Seminar Series Lectures 149

Data Summary 2. Gratuitous Displays/Mentioning Taboo Topics
in EvoS Seminar Series Lectures 163

Data Summary 3. Personal Testimonies Introduced
in EvoS Seminar Series Lectures 180

Data Summary 4. Marked Modes of Speaker Performance/Audience Participation
in EvoS Seminar Series Lectures.199

List of Figures

Figure 1. Detail from About EvoS informational flyer,
distributed at Binghamton University between 2012-2013 90

Figures 2 and 3. Promotional EvoS flyers from the 2013-14 school year.92


In my final days collecting data on Binghamton Universitys Evolutionary
Studies (EvoS) Program, I needed to access the programs website to double-check
the date of a publication. Along the right-hand side of the websites title page, as
always, were Twitter submissions by the programs participants. These tended to be
notes about upcoming events or Tweeters spreading happy news about an EvoS
members new publication, award, or employment. This day, however, the most
recent tweet was something more attention grabbing: Education anecdotes: Im
not saying youre related to monkeys; Im saying youre related to yeast.
No author for this anecdote was given. Was it quoting a professor speaking
to students, some retort heard during an in-class dispute, or perhaps invented solely
for this online posting? Regardless of the source, I recognized the comment as
similar to many others I encountered during my fieldwork on the EvoS Program. It
was an unabashedly sweeping, intentionally provocative, but somewhat clever bit of
evolutionary reasoning about social life and human existence. It was a bit of quirky
knowledge that taken seriously could be interpreted as a challenge to just about
any spiritual or philosophical argument about humanitys uniqueness in the living
In this research, I investigate the functions of language and ideology within
the EvoS Program, approaching it as a case study in endurance and spread of a

social movement. I am asking a simply phrased, but complexly answered question:
How do people introduce and spread new meanings to the activities and
relationships of others, particularly when such interpretations are either unknown
or unpopular? Anyone familiar with EvoS will attest that this program is an ideal
place to make this inquiry. It is initiative to transform U.S. higher education, arguing
that evolutionary reasoning (grounded in Darwinian theories of natural selection
and adaptation) should be embraced by every university discipline as a foundational
explanation for human behaviors. The program seeks a similar goal outside U.S.
universities, promoting evolutionary reasoning as the means reshape public policies
and even guide international regulation. EvoS poses a radical challenge to the ways
that social life is researched. It further seeks an existential and socio-political shift in
peoples understandings of themselves as the products of this species
evolutionary past and the potential shapers of future evolution. In this way,
participants in EvoS regularly ascribe new and contested meanings to social life,
work to spread these meanings to new participants and novel settings, and
ultimately hope that these meanings will result in far-reaching transformations. As
the programs founder proposes, when you take an evolutionary perspective, you
see things differently and a new common sense emerges (Marris 2010). My
investigation documents how such a transformative vision is created, spread,
embraced, and challenged through the interpersonal activities and relationships of
this movement.
I first learned of EvoS in 2005, when I came to Binghamton as a graduate
student in Anthropology. During my undergraduate years at Kent State University, I

majored in Biological Anthropology, studying human genetics, paleoanthropology,
human behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology. During that time, I became
persuaded that Darwinism had the potential to explain the most confounding areas
of life romance, crime, violence, insanity, and death. One of my undergraduate
textbooks framed my thinking quite accurately:
Is there a point to all this? Yes. There is a reason why dungflies
copulate for 35.5 minutes; why big male reef fish turn into females but
little male reef fish dont; why female swallows like males with
elongated tails; why more promiscuous primates have bigger testes.
The reason is simple. Dungflies, reef fish, swallows, and promiscuous
primates who do otherwise leave less DNA. The chemically encoded
messages copulate for just 28 minutes and if promiscuous, grow a
small scrotum all get passed on to fewer bodies, and so all tend to die
out. Messages, on the other hand, that make it easier for animals to
grow, mate, and this is the bottom line breed, all tend to spread.
The point of life is the proliferation of life. [Betzig 1997:1]

After going on to graduate school, it seemed fortuitous that this program at
Binghamton could satisfy my long fascination with evolutionary science. I looked
forward to meeting others who hoped that Darwinian theory could explain
troubling social questions, perhaps even show us how to rectify injustice and

EvoS was founded in 2002 by David Sloan Wilson, a long-standing fixture in

Binghamtons Biological Sciences. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Wilson became
widely known for applying evolutionary assessments to areas previously untouched
by Darwinian theory, particularly studies of religion and spirituality. Doing so, he
was expanding on positions established by writers such as Daniel Dennett and
Edward O. Wilson, who outlined evolutionary angles on morality, politics, and
philosophy. Yet, the EvoS founder differed from these theorists in an important way

he ardently believed that evolutionary science could make human existence more
egalitarian, just, and self-aware.
From my first experiences in EvoS, I saw that its organizers and students
(like the programs founder) wanted to explain even the most problematic issues of
human life through evolution. Visiting lecturers pursued arguments that I
previously thought only dim possibilities. They posed evolutionary hypotheses
about warfare, totalitarianism, creativity, and the nature of human consciousness.
The programs events were charged with enthusiasm, humor, and passion. In one
instance, a guest speaker argued that psychologists should treat attempted suicide
as an adaptation (individuals trying to alert others to threats to their long-term
survival). Several times, I heard students say that their troubles with friends,
siblings, parents, or romantic partners were more understandable when they
considered themselves (and others) to be social animals, competing for resources. A
growing community saw evolution in social and personal problems, and their
potential solutions. David Sloan Wilson nurtured these perspectives, and his
enthusiasm about evolutions new possibilities colored every EvoS event.
At the same time, these broad applications of evolutionary theory were
clearly not favored in other spheres of academic life. Many of my professors were
deeply skeptical toward Darwinian studies of language, politics, religion, and family.
Some of my fellow graduate students would debate with me when I started talking
evolution, in class or over drinks. I found books and essays echoing these doubts,
and I read extensively about the controversies over human evolution in higher
education. Darwinian perspectives on gender norms, social dominance, and violence

(among other subjects) were at odds with much of what I was learning in graduate
school. Indeed, it was hard not to agree that Darwinian theorists, when they looked
at social life, often glossed over some well-established knowledge of history, politics,
and language. Their reaction to these criticisms was often an indignant rebuttal that
the Social Sciences and Humanities were anti-science and anti-evolution. It was
fascinating and alarming to find that this was one of the most troublesome issues in
higher education.
These controversies helped to shape the EvoS Program and the arguments
that its participants made. Many of the EvoS organizers, speakers, and audience
enjoyed the controversy, being excitedly politically incorrect in their contributions,
and unabashedly talking about topics like menstruation, sexual violence, and
murder in evolutionary terms. Some participants described non-industrialized
societies as primitive or un-evolved. One student proposed that U.S. inner cities
operated by the laws of the jungle. Lecturers could be surprisingly honest, some
offering details about their failed marriages, sexual orientation, or traumas of their
childhood. EvoS lectures were more like staged performances, replete with ribald
jokes, graphic depictions of sex and violence, and extensive audience participation.
One lecture used call-and-response techniques, similar to a revivalist sermon.
Another speaker showed slides featuring wartime photos of mutilated bodies, thus
demonstrating his audiences own evolved disgust-response to bloodshed and
decay. The radical goals of the program seemed to inhabit the events themselves, as
if EvoS were actively courting the controversy surrounding evolution in higher

The programs unconventional perspectives inspired student participation I
had rarely witnessed, in either in undergraduate or graduate school. Some
organized research projects on previously unaddressed issues in evolutionary
studies, such as college dating, childhood bullying, and public education. They had
powerful, personal commitments to resolving these issues. Their strong convictions
also extended to the program itself, which they described as an intellectual
community unlike any other they had encountered in the university. The programs
lectures, discussions, lunches, and parties were marked by this sense of a
community. Organizers provided free pizza and beer to everyone attending, and
praised participants (particularly undergraduates) for participating. Students
helped to promote EvoS and its events across the campus. They even organized
outside discussion groups and clubs that focused on evolutionary themes in popular
films or addressing conflicts between religion and science. I saw that the spread of
this programs goals were due in part to the rewards, encouragement, and
inclusivity that it offered its members.
As I talked with more people, some told me that EvoS (in their opinion) over-
extended evolutionary science into untenable disciplines, such as Art History or
English. They commented that the program misunderstood both evolutionary
science and the disciplines that it wanted to transform. Some described EvoS as a
kind of religion or cult, its participants going to worship at the feet of Darwin. Yet,
these same people felt obliged to show their support for the program, despite their
misgivings about its arguments. They were intrigued (if sometimes frustrated) by its
ambitious claims. They worried that the program would disappear if they stopped

attending. Certainly, they were attracted by the offer of free pizza, beer, and
discussion. But they often left EvoS events complaining about a lack of scholarship
or meaningful criticism. They had been invited to give critical feedback, but that the
programs lecturers and organizers had dismissed it. It seemed that their presence
was important to EvoS, but its goals dictated the outcome of each event.

The program I encountered was obviously a unique and provocative

creature, but in other ways its events were no different from any other university
class or seminar. Students were obliged to sign attendance sheets. They wrote
response papers on articles by the visiting lecturers. They received weekly grades
for these responses, and earned a letter grade at the semesters end. Like other
university classes, graduate assistants performed the lions share of grading, event
preparation, and student consultations. The general decorum was also typical of any
college seminar: faculty members introduced visiting speakers, audiences
applauded and saved their questions for the lectures end, and discussants raised
their hands and waited to be acknowledged before speaking. Some students fell
asleep during lectures, talked among themselves, or texted beneath their desks.
Others left lectures early, hoarded pizza and beer during dinner, or conspired with
their friends to sign their names on attendance sheets while they skipped an event.
For a movement so intent on transforming higher education and courting
controversy, EvoS could resemble the mundane things happening everywhere else
on campus.
I chose to examine EvoS because I found its message provocative and its
activities unusual. This movement intrigues me in part because I am quite

conversant with the science underlying its arguments. But I am more interested in
the controversy how it is created, spread, utilized, and challenged. As I see it, the
study of controversy is important to socio-cultural research for two reasons: First,
in the face of ideas or practices that contradict their core values, people tend to start
saying what those values are (sometimes loudly). Unconventional or heretical ways
of thinking can unearth the more elusive norms of a community. Second,
controversies hint at the motion of a socio-cultural process, wherein these norms
are challenged, defended, reinforced, or changed. To this end, they mark dynamic
restructurings of the web of relationships, activities, values, and symbols
constituting what many would call culture.
Social movements such as EvoS offer useful answers to the central question
of this research. I approach this movement as a case study of a social movements
spread and endurance, showing more broadly how people introduce and circulate
controversial meanings. The EvoS Program suggests that this may take place by:
violating certain communicational norms, establishing critical representations of
opponents, reaffirming the movements principles and goals as the messages of all
activities, and socializing newcomers to practice their own expressions of this
I should note that EvoS grapples with one of the most contentious matters of
U.S. society. The dispute over evolution and religion in the U.S. is widely known. As
many popular science writers are quick to remind, this country is unique among
industrialized nations for its enduring argument over the factuality of evolutionary
science. Darwinism has additionally come under fire for its assumptions about

gender, race, reproduction, aggression, and inequality. Its theories were employed
as the scientific justification for a variety of inhumane practices and policies during
the 20th century. More broadly, evolution is at the center of one of the most long-
standing uncertainties in the Western world: How much of our social values can be
ascribed to (and possibly guided by) the natural order? No matter how
unconventional or unusual I found EvoS, I was consistently reminded that its
organizers and participants saw the stakes of their struggle as very high. This
struggle was ultimately over conflicting representations of human life and the
ultimate meanings underlying its existence.
Chapter One of this dissertation addresses my methods of analysis, which
draw primarily from research and critiques in Social Movement Theory, Linguistic
Anthropology, Sociolinguistics, and Discourse Analysis. This chapter will introduce
my readers to the terms and concepts I employ in this inquiry. Chapters Two and
Three familiarize my readers with the relevant ethnographic information to
understand the EvoS Program as a social movement, including its ideologies,
resources, and the movements overarching challenge to U.S. higher education.
Turning to my fieldwork, in Chapters Four, Five, and Six, I document how these
ideologies, resources, and challenges are deployed in a variety of institutional
settings. Lastly, I propose that the repeated invocation of new meanings across
settings and over time can be seen as a process of socialization. I argue that new
ways of interpreting social life must not only be thought, but thoroughly experienced
by growing groups of individuals as parts of their daily lives.


Note on the Presentation of Spoken Interactions

My research, like all sociolinguistic inquiries, includes hours and hours of

exhaustive (and exhausting) transcription. What our subjects say is the evidence we
use to answer our own questions about meaning and social organization. But how to
communicate such evidence to a broader readership is a challenge. Language is
fascinating, but people usually speak in bursts and breaks, including dozens of
utterances that are simply unconscious habits. To make my evidence as accessible
as possible, I use only two conventions when presenting spoken examples:

A hyphen ( ) denotes a speakers pause of one to three seconds.

An ellipsis ( ) denotes a speakers pause of three to ten seconds.

I include these markers mostly for the sake of accurate presentation, but also make
clear when such pauses indicate an unfolding, contextual pattern. Because my
analysis focuses on the sociolinguistic introduction and spread of meanings over a
variety of contexts, I forego the more nuanced conventions of linguistic


Chapter One: Relevant Fields, Terms, and Data Collection

This research deals with an important question for studies of the social

dimensions of language: How do people introduce and spread new meanings to the
activities and relationships of others, particularly when such interpretations are
likely to be disputed? While this question might (rightly) invoke images of the
shouting matches and political punditry, the pursuits of the people I document here
are not especially tumultuous. Their attempts at persuasion are often rather
mundane, though directed toward unlikely and even contentious goals. Certainly, in
EvoS, there are instances of shock, humor, criticism, and argument. But, these
moments are often strategically employed toward persuading others that the
groups new interpretations are the most reasonable and undeniable meanings of
human social life.

This chapter addresses my methods of analysis, which draw primarily from

Social Movement Theory, Linguistic Anthropology, Sociolinguistics, and Discourse

Analysis. For practical purposes, I want to begin by introducing my readers to the
terms and concepts I employ throughout this inquiry. At the same time, I want to
narrow in on the object of this analysis, using these terms and a working conceptual
Groups such as the EvoS Program are social movements. As I detail below,
social movements are remarkable not simply for their capacity for collective unrest


and media spectacle. Rather, many of the participant activities and relationships
that comprise a social movement are not so dissimilar from other practices (for
example, attending church or having coffee with friends). But, some of these
otherwise mundane activities are charged with the movements interpretive force,
which is pointed to or indexed through these very same practices. In this way, the
movements shared representations of social reality its ideologies become sewn
into the threads of peoples daily lives.
While many of the goings-on of a social movement prove similar to the
mundane activities of its participants lives, certainly the maintenance and spread of
a movement are not unsubtle processes. Social movements strategically violate
some normative practices, creating foregroundings that highlight the significance of,
say, having coffee with friends to the overall goals of the movement. For
participants, such violations are grounded or contextualized by indexing the
ideologies of the movement. How such patterns develop and how they contribute to
the maintenance and spread of a social movement, are matters of the sociolinguistic
activities and relationships of its participants.

1. Social Movement Theory
Since the mid-1900s, the study of social movements has been largely the
domain of U.S. sociologists. More recently, however, research was taken up within
anthropology and area studies departments such as Latin American Studies, Pan-
African Studies, and queer theory. Recognizing this diversity of perspectives, one
may still point out three, more or less distinct schools of social movement research:


Resource Mobilization Theory, Frame Alignment Theory, and (the inventively
named) New Social Movement Theory. Here, I introduce these fields orientations,
discuss their shortcomings, and explain how I draw influence from both the theories
and critiques.
Resource Mobilization Theory. During the 1960s and 1970s, several U.S.
sociologists examined the interpersonal and economic assets underlying the
inceptions, spread, and (in some cases) collapses of social movements. Their
interests stemmed in part from the civil rights organizations of this era. However,
their approach also followed logically from sociologys ongoing investigations into
collective behavior and social conflict (Park 1967; Smelser 1962). They drew
especially from Mancur Olsons (1965) rational choice analyses of collective action.
Like much of the concurrent, game theory research in economics and political
science, Resource Mobilization confronted the problem of free-riders individuals
who attempt to benefit from collective action but do not contribute to the
community (Gamson 1975; McCarthy and Zald 1977; Zald and Ash 1966; Zald and
McCarthy 1975). Their focus fell on the costs and benefits of participation, how
movement organizers encourage participation and discourage free-riding, and how
funds and labor might be motivated or (to wit) mobilized toward collective action.
Its theorists underscored how movements are maintained and spread by
strategically engaging pre-existing sources of money, labor, and interpersonal
I want to examine this last point to review how Resource Mobilization
theories have been applied. In his analysis of the 1848 Sicilian Revolution, Charles


Tilly (1973) argues that this movements challenge to a regional social order was
simultaneously dependent upon that same orders dominant assumptions about
labor and capital. The movement tried to undermine the existing status quo, while
abiding by other norms for its political and legal legitimacy, procuring its funds, and
attracting new participants. Similarly, researchers of public protests (Gamson 1968,
1975; Turner 1969) conclude that collective dissent must abide by some pre-
existing norms so that its goals will be understandable and (perhaps) persuasive to
Some critics argue that Resource Mobilization privileges functionalist models
of societal norms over more complex considerations of motives and agency
(Benford 1997:418-419; Escobar and Alvarez 1992:5-6; Friedman and McAdam
2002:158). Others point out that Resource Mobilization favors a materialist
approach that scrutinizes money and labor over other sociolinguistic resources
(Cohen 1985; Snow and Oliver 1995:4-10). These criticisms are valid, but it could
also be argued that Resource Mobilization was never aimed at answering these
problems. Rather, in their own functionalist and materialist manners, these theories
to normalize the organizational life of movements, seeing it as an
extension of organizational structures and behavior found elsewhere
in modern societies []. Movements push some of the possibilities of
existing cultural forms in new directions, to be sure, but their cultural
life is not fundamentally different in source or mode of operation.
[Hart 1992:89]

As Hart suggests, a movements people, money, labor, or meeting spaces are often
reliant upon (if not appropriated from) some pre-existing cultural forms such as
governmental departments, public education, or religious establishments. Further,


participants motives for joining a movements activities may be (for them) a
reasonable extension of pre-existing professional, intellectual, or religious
obligations (Friedman and McAdam 2002:162-3). In this sense, social movements
often politicize the otherwise mundane elements of peoples lives for example, the
labors they perform, their affiliations with other causes, or how they spend their

Clearly, the models of Resource Mobilization are functionalist and

materialist, leaving much to be desired concerning the agency of actual participants.

Yet, this fields attempts to normalize the organizational life of movements offers
a few important lessons: First, however meaning is introduced and spread through a
social movements activities, it is likely to be underwritten by strategic engagements
with pre-existing sources of money, labor, space, and influence. Second, by
politicizing some sources of money and labor, social movements add participants
whose professional, intellectual, or religious obligations are tied to those sources.
Finally, these resources are not only the material realities of participants within a
social movement; they are also (as Hart suggests) the cultural forms that
constitute a movements reality to outsiders. To this end, the resources mobilized
may also be the language and communicative avenues employed by the movement
a matter to which I turn to now.
Frame Alignment Theory. Sociologys Frame Alignment developed partially
through the critical reactions to Resource Mobilization. Theorists drew their
primary influence from Erving Goffmans essays on frame analysis (1974, 1981), as
well as Stuart Halls (1982) politics of signification, addressing the socio-historical


productions of (and conflicts between) different representations of social life. For
Frame Alignment theorists,
social movements are not viewed merely as carriers of extant ideas
and meanings that grow automatically out of structural arrangements
[]. Rather, movement actors are viewed as signifying agents actively
engaged in the production and maintenance of meaning for
constituents, antagonists, and bystanders or observers. [Benford and
Snow 2000:613]

Frame Alignment theorists view social movements as recurring sets of interpretive
possibilities, which influence the probable types of meanings introduced within
participants interactions and relationships (see Fisher 1997; Johnson and Noakes
2005; Snow 2004; Snow and Benford 1992; Snow et al. 1986). The framing of an
event sets the basis for the kinds of comparisons that participants can make, and the
possibilities for their subsequent actions.

Applications of this approach demonstrate how movements engage popular

media to frame (or reframe) widely accepted public opinions as more problematic
issues. For example, investigating media accounts of US anti-nuclear power
movements of the 1970s and 1980s, Gamson and Modigliani (1989) argue that
activists succeeded in reframing progress in nuclear technology as runaway
progress (see also Gamson 1998). Activists can be seen as engaging a pre-existing
framing of this technology (as social and scientific advancement), in order to pose a
new interpretive possibility technological advancement run amok. Elsewhere,
reviewing U.S. womens suffrage movements at the turn of the 20th century, Hewitt
and McCammon (2005) suggest that activists employed multiple frames, some of
which emphasized gender stereotypes of the era. Activists framed womens civil
rights as (on one hand) a matter of political representation, while (on the other) a


more conservative argument that women should have a role in politics because
they knew how to care for people, including the poor, the troubled, and (especially)
children (Hewitt and McCammon 2005:35). Womens suffrage movements thus
balanced their challenge with outsider perceptions through the two, contradicting
frames one a call for radical reform, the other a reaffirmation of normative gender

Critics argue that Frame Alignment prioritizes the cataloguing of frames and

their variations, but ignores the persons and processes that actually produce them.
As one critic points out,
if framing is seen as a process of culture-making an active human
craft then the nature of the craft and the quality of the product
deserve explicit attention. How, beyond selecting for frame
characteristics that will be appealing to potential participants, do
frames get made? What impact do the craft products have, not just on
participants commitment to the movement, but more significantly on
their capacity to act effectively, the goals they seek, and how they
pursue them? [Hart 1992:89]

Frame Alignment theorists may leave unexamined how framing is done through
sociolinguistic interaction, as well as the power dynamics that might elicit particular
interpretations while others are constrained or dismissed (see Benford 1997:414-9;
Gamson 2004). Like their predecessors methodological dependence on rational
choice, critics argue, Frame Alignment theorists isolate (and functionalize) frames in
ways that detach them from their social and historical origins.
Yet, like Resource Mobilization, the contribution of Frame Alignment lies in
its extension of the formers concern with normalizing social movements. The pre-
existing resources (funds, labor, spaces, or influences) that movement participants
engage are likely also to include ways of delivering their challenge to strike a


responsive chord in that it rings true with existing cultural narrations (Snow and
Benford 1988:210). Social movements find balances between new and old
meanings, such that
the interpretive packages they put forward represent views that are
by definition against the grain, as they concern the cause of the
socially marginalized []. At the same time, these interpretive
packages have to sound natural and familiar to the people addressed.
[dAnjou and Van Male 1998:208]

To this end, no matter how incendiary its challenge, the representations employed
within a social movements activities will likely conform to some pre-existing
communicative and interpretive norms, while likely (and strategically) violating
others. This is an important contribution delivered by the Frame Alignment
theorists, even if their approach strayed from assessing the process as an active
human craft. The latter concern would be taken up by a diverse community of
researchers at the end of the 20th century.
New Social Movement Theory. As they proliferated through the late 1990s,
academic studies of new social movements branched into many fields, including
socio-cultural anthropology, Latin American studies, gender studies, pan-African
Studies, and queer theory. Much of the motivation for New Social Movement studies
can be traced to interest in Identity Politics and its theorists, such as Spivak (1988),
Vaid (1996), Schlesinger (1991), and Habermas (1990, 1996). Considering these
influences, this field also differed from earlier investigations in a fundamental way:
A conviction on the part of its theorists that late-20th century social movements
were defined not by their challenges to social orders, but rather the identities of
their participants (see Melucci 1988, 1989, 1994).


New Social Movement research attempted to document how collective action
arises from shared identities among (for example) LGBTQ activists, disability rights
movements, pacifists, and environmentalists (Boggs 1986:39-40; Kauffman 1990).
In his study of Dutch peace activism, Bert Klandermans (1994) discusses how
multiple socio-political identities within a single movement ultimately caused the
movements fission, breaking it into non-cooperating factions that respectively
identified as primarily gay, anarchist, or humanist. New Social Movement
perspectives also appear in ethnographies on liberation movements that
appropriated essentialized identities as their rallying point. For example, pre-
existing racial classifications (a common Blackness) proved a successful, unifying
focus for South African anti-Apartheid movements (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991,
1997), the Black Panthers (Robnett 2002), and Rastafari activists in Jamaica and
Britain (Smith 1994). People who feel themselves as marginalized by widely
accepted social categories may make use of these categories to strategically meet
their own ends. On this point, Judith Butler argues:
[C]onventional and exclusionary norms of universality can, through
perverse reiterations, produce unconventional formulations of
universality that expose the limited and exclusionary features of the
former one at the same time that they mobilize a new set of demands.
[Butler 2000:39-40]

New Social Movement researchers thus direct attention to the ways that peoples
pre-existing identities may be politicized through collective action. Movements
might strategically borrow (and transform) essentialized, socio-political categories
to express a unified identity.


Critics argue that the charged intellectual and political convictions of New
Social Movement theorists upset the neutrality of their research. For example,
theorists sometimes romanticized movements as resisting Westernization or neo-
liberal capitalism, ascribing anti-establishment or anti-materialist identities to the
subjects of their studies, whether or not such claims are ever made (Pichardo
1997:414-420; Plotke 1990). New Social Movement theorists could also downplay
the practical demands of social movement maintenance (such as funding and labor),
while simultaneously exaggerating the movements transcendence of these
materialist concerns (Alvarez and Escobar 1992; Alvarez et al. 1998; Earl 2004). An
unsurprising result has been a preponderance of work prioritizing Leftist social
movements, while more politically conservative resistance is either ignored or
disparaged (Buechler 1995:449-451; Pichardo 1997:426; Tarrow 1991). On these
matters, New Social Movement theorists, like their predecessors, tend to
decontextualize what they study from its social and historical circumstances.
Yet, I want to highlight how this field of social movement research builds
upon the lessons of Resource Mobilization and Frame Alignment Theory. To the
growing list of pre-existing forms (funds, labor, space, influence, meaning, and
language use) that a social movement might strategically engage, participants self-
identifications might also be borrowed in to a movements activities and
relationships. While participants identities cannot be assumed a priori, the ways
that they regularly identify (for example, their ethnic backgrounds, sexual
orientations, or professional obligations) may overlap with a movements goals.
Present and future participants might see their engagement as a logical or necessary


extension of their identities or how others tend to categorize them. In this sense, by
appropriating pre-existing social categories and self-identifications, a social
movement might increase its coherence to broader audiences.

Concluding my discussion on social movements, I return to a few key points

that will shape my analysis: First, while critics are correct that participant motives
are often dismissed in past research, any inquiry into social movements must attend
to their material necessities. Movements require funding, places to meet, public
attention, and avenues of political and legal influence all elements that will
influence the groups activities and its participants relationships. Second, as Frame
Alignment theorists demonstrate, the language and media utilized by a movement
should be included among these resources. Insofar as the goals of a movement will
often be intangible changes of public opinion, the messages that it projects (both
inward and outward) is central to their maintenance and spread. Third, following
New Social Movement theorists, the identities and social classifications of
movement participants are not only essential considerations in assessing their
motivations, but should be considered as further resources that movements harness
to meet their aims.
Finally, and most important, social movements balance pre-existing
resources (funds, language, identities, and so on) with views that are by definition
against the grain (dAnjou and Van Male 1998:208). The activities and relationships
of social movements are often mundane, but mundane in a quite strategic way: On
one hand, social movements must engage established norms in order to exist
(procuring funds, setting schedules, attracting participants, etc.) On the other, they


are actively politicizing the mundane in ways that charge participants daily
activities and relationships with representations of social reality that diverge from
accepted interpretations. To this end, any investigation of social movements is also
an inquiry into ideology and how it is indexed in sociolinguistic practice, to which I
turn next.

2. Indexicality and Ideology

Indexicality and ideology are two concepts key to this research. Both are

complex, and as I have found through numerous trials, neither can be written about
without the other surfacing, in one way or another. Discussions of topics cannot be
readily broken up by historical schools of thought or academic disciplines. This said,
I begin here with a discussion of the scholarship on indexicality, as it offers useful
tools to introduce theories of ideology that prioritize language use and social life. I
conclude the parts of this discussion by returning to consider the importance of
indexicality and ideology (respectively) to inquiries into social movements. To offer
definitions of both, my discussion of these two terms will necessarily be more
integrative and concept-driven than my outline of social movement theories.

Indexicality. It is unfortunate that much popular (and some academic)

understandings think of language as much more than a code or naming-system for

pre-existing things in the world (people, actions, thoughts, events, and so on). This
is unfortunate because the view sidesteps the more interesting questions (key to all
investigations of linguistic anthropology) of how people draw one anothers
attentions to these things in the world, making some state of affairs real for one
another, and the ways that such realities are shared or contested (Duranti 2003;


Sapir 1985 [1929], 1985 [1933]; Silverstein 1979; Whorf 1940, 1956[1939]).
Further, to dismiss language as a naming system makes an unexamined mystery of
the creative potential of language to transform situations from one caliber of
reality to another (Austin 1962, 1971; Searle 1976). Such transformations take
place in countless examples through the official or sacred utterances of legal trials,
political inaugurations, police arrests, marriage ceremonies, or baptisms. Finally, in
prioritizing the referential function of language (its encoding of a reality), this
popular viewpoint sidesteps discourse the histories, proprieties, inequalities, and
other, often-unstated elements of social life that make interpersonal interactions
into meaningful events (Duranti 2006; Sherzer 1987; Urban 1991).
Looking at such active functions of language - its creative, transformative,
and discursive potential compels a researcher to examine its relation to social life,
and thus consider how language signals or indexes sociocultural information at the
level of particular communicative events (Ochs 1990:292, original emphasis). In its
most easily grasped formation, indexicality refers to the function of language
through which people signal sociocultural information about the interaction-at-
hand. Insofar as any act of representation involves a context-bound social actor who
does the signaling, that signifying act additionally points back to that actor, the
listeners, and the interactional circumstances. Indexical signs point to meanings of
the act, itself (Mertz 2007; Nunberg 1993; Parmentier 1985; Silverstein 1976, 1998,
2003). Indexicals are thus fluidly shifting from interaction to interaction:
[w]hen you use the word I it designates you; when I use the same
word, it designates me. If you use you talking to me, it designates me
[]. Different utterances of the same indexical designate different
things, because what is designated depends not only on the meaning


associated with the expression, but also on facts about the utterance.
An utterance of I designates the person who utters it; an utterance of
you designates the person to whom it is addressed, an utterance of
here designates the place at which the utterance is made, and so
forth. [Perry 1997:586]

So, indexicals perform the deceptively simple task of pointing to an interactions
participants, places, times, and other information that orients these references as
particular phenomena in social reality (Lyons 1972: 75-80; Mukarovsky 1977
[1940]: 81-97; Silverstein 1979). Insofar as such phenomena are indexed in relation
to other persons, times, places (and so on), a network of social realities is
simultaneously engaged and juxtaposed to the situation-at-hand.
What is indexed during any interaction will (obviously) be unique to the
circumstances. A list of such elements could potentially be infinite, shaped by the
participants and their roles, their interpersonal histories, institutional expectations,
the time of day, the participants health and emotional states, and so on. As Michael
Silverstein comments, once we recognize that the realities of meaningful social
practices emerge from the experience of indexical semiotic processes, we should
resign ourselves to enjoying the fact that it's indexicality all the way down
(1992:314). Given this infinity of possible indexes, very many of them will be deeply
presupposed within (and previous to) any interaction. That is, most potential indices
will remain unexamined and un-commented-upon by participants. The
presuppositions shared within (for example) conversations between parents and
their adult children are so well understood by all parties that attending to, or
vocalizing them would be absurd. As Silverstein further suggests:
Such defaults give parties an idea of determinate contextualization for
indexicals in the particular phase of interaction at issue. Participants


can presuppose that they share a contextualizing interpretation
according to interested positions or perspectives that follow on some
social fact such as group membership, condition in society, or
achieved commonalty of interests. [Silverstein 1998:1280]

An astounding amount of detail in every social interactions is deeply presupposed
by participants, and further that it is necessary that people do not critically reflect
upon such defaults, because doing so would make social interactions and
relationships incredibly difficult, if not impossible (Hawkes 1977: 44-59; Shen 2006;
Shklovsky 1965 [1917]; Short 1973; van Peer 1986).
Considering the vast amount of information that could conceivably be
(intentionally or unintentionally) invoked within an interaction, this linguistic
function could include indices of far more complex natures. Certain presuppositions
play a more or less essential role in an interaction, and would be more or less likely
to structure it. A parents conversation with his or her adult child would likely be
roundly influenced by the formers assumed responsibility to correct the childs
behavior (despite the childs protest Mom! Im an adult now!). Considering more
news-worthy issues, the ways in which persons engage in sociolinguistic activity
could index (real or affected) socio-political identities such as race and ethnicity
(Buckholtz 2001; Labov 1972; Urciuoli 1996; Wilson 2002), gender (Cameron 1988;
Silverstein 1985), socioeconomic class (Agha 2003, 2005; Mertz 1985); or
nationality (Gal 1991; Silverstein 2000; Woolard 2004). Linguistic anthropology and
sociolinguistics dealsextensively with the semiotic processes through which
indexicals point to various interpersonal categories, particularly the work of Judith
Irvine and Susan Gal (Gal 1998, 2005; Gal and Irvine 1995; Irvine 1996, 1998, 2004,
2005; Irvine and Gal 2000). Further, researchers examine how indices marking the


belonging (or otherness) of language users in sociopolitical categories can
motivate persons toward individual or collective action, for example, within US
English Only movements (Silverstein 1996; Woolard and Schieffelin 1994). Such
social categorizations are often the fuel for heated controversy, but many of the
indices that point to them will be (more or less) presupposed by the persons doing
the interpreting.
Languages indexical function is clearly important to understand how people
experience the infinite possible presuppositions of their social activities and
relationships. Yet, just as clearly, people use their activities and relationships to
introduce new, unlikely, or surprising information (for example, Mom! Im an adult
now!). In this sense, the unfolding of indexicals may also thrust lesser-presupposed
(or creative) elements into interactions (Haviland 2005; Irvine 1996; Lee 1997:41-
65; Mertz 2007; Mertz and Wessbourd 1985). As Silverstein (1976: 18-20,
1979:212-217) explains, prime examples of creative indexicals appear with
performatives, originally described by J.L. Austin as what we bring about or
achieve by saying something (1962:108), such as I promise that or I give you
my word that. These performative utterances creatively index new information
into an interaction by simultaneously saying and doing what is being said
(promising or swearing), and thus introduce a new network of conventions and
relationships into the interaction. To this end, creative indexes can be said not so
much to change the context, as to make explicit and overt the parameters of
structure of the ongoing events (Silverstein 1976:34).


As is likely already apparent, the interplay between presupposed and
creative indexicals will be useful to consider in examining the introduction,
maintenance, and spread of meanings by social movements. I argue above that
social movements adhere to or abide by some established norms, while
strategically diverging from others by introducing unconventional views and/or
challenging some existing state of affairs. The many of the interpersonal activities
and relationships of social movements (like social life at large) will consist of
presupposed indexicals, that look and sound like those of the surrounding
sociolinguistic contexts. That is, much of the time, participants will adhere to many
interactional conventions (respect for authority, politeness, taking turnings
speaking, etc.) and rely on many presupposed facts about their relationships and
obligations. They do so because these are the ways that people interact whether
or not these actions explicitly benefit the movement. On the other hand, social
movement participants will be much invested in creatively indexing new (and
typically controversial) information into an increasing number (and increasing
diversity) of interactions, thus maintaining and spreading the movements views.
Broadly, I am proposing that the language (and other signifying practices) of
social movements can be examined with the concepts that linguists use to study
social life in general. Participants activities and relationships will be composed of
an interplay between presupposed and creative indexicals, relying on some
widespread understandings of social life, while expressly contesting others. Such a
prediction, however, begs the question: What is the nature of the information that
is being indexed? I turn to this question below.


Ideology. The term ideology is legendarily troublesome in social scientific

inquiries, and treatises on what exactly ideology might mean are probably
outnumbered by those detailing the failure to come to any operational definition at
all (for example, see Adorno 1972; Eagleton 1991; Geuss 1984; Kennedy 1979;
Thompson 1990). I do not intend to add to the latter here, except to say that the
capriciousness of the term is largely due to (on one hand) its capacity to potentially
subsume every facet of human activity as an example of ideological behavior, and
(on the other) its seemingly unavoidable nature as a non-neutral concept. I hope to
show here that both these qualities, however problematic, are quite useful that the
utility of the term lies in its capacity to discriminate between those power struggles
which are somehow central to a whole form of social life, and those which are not
(Eagleton 1991:8). There are many possible dangers of wielding such a conceptual
tool (but then any craftsperson would tell us that good tools are also dangerous
ones). Here, I detail the more productive assessments of ideologys social functions
and manifestations, before returning to discuss how this concept relates both
indexicality and social movements.
Socio-cultural anthropologists, discourse analysts, and linguists tend to
approach ideologies as shared representations of social reality. They are shared
insofar as they are regularly indexed as the presuppositions of peoples
interpersonal activities and relationships (Abu-Lughod and Lutz 1990; Lutz
1988:53-80; Moore 2007:23-42; Sahlins 1976:126-165; Van Dijk 2006). The
researchers task, as Clifford Geertz argues, lies in searching out and analyzing the
symbolic forms words, images, institutions, behaviors in terms of which, in each


place, people actually represent themselves to themselves and to one another
(1974:30). For example, in his analysis of Tallensi kinship systems, Meyer Fortes
writes the ideology of kinship is so dominant in Tale society, and the web of
genealogical connexions [sic] so extensive, that no social relationships or events fall
completely outside the orbit of kinship (1949:338-340). Similarly, Edmund Leach
(1954:213-254) explains that individuals who emerge as chiefs among the
traditionally non-hierarchical Kachin (of then Northeastern Burma) adopt the
mannerisms and rituals of the Buddhist princes of the adjacent Shan monarchies. As
Leach contends, the Kachin chiefs are not only adopting a set of behaviors, but
shifting from one ideology to another from the Kachins egalitarian gumlao to the
stratified, hierarchical gumsa of the Shan (Leach 1954:197-212). For Fortes and
Leach, as well as many other social scientists, the ideologies that explain and
facilitate social relationships are encoded representations of external reality, though
only partially visible to the people studied.
However, some critics see this stance on ideology as an exaggeration of the
researchers role in decoding the totality of peoples social lives. As Talal Asad
the anthropologists text claims for itself the ability to represent that
external reality directly, or to reproduce that inner experience
through very different symbols which are nevertheless assumed to be
appropriate abilities which the exotic peoples studied necessarily
lack. [1979:621]

The analysis of ideology cannot (or just should not) ignore the active role that
people take in representing their social realities through their signifying practices.


In this sense, ideology is an emergent element within the indexical functions of
language (Cameron 2006; Silverstein 1979). As V.N. Voloinov argues
the ideological, as such, cannot possibly be explained in terms of
either [] superhuman or subhuman, animalian, roots. Its real place
in existence is in the special, social material of signs created by man.
Its specificity consists precisely in its being located between
organized individuals, in its being the medium of their
communication. [Voloinov 1986[1929]:12]

To this end, an ideologys mediating influence is to make a meaning stick
(Thompson 1984:132, original emphasis). Ideology in this sense can be thought of
as semiotic closure finalizing presuppositions, discourage criticism, and
encouraging a sense of certainty about the meanings of peoples experiences and
actions (Eagleton 1991:193-220; Hall 1982; Pcheux 1975). As Rosalind Coward
and John Ellis suggest, ideology is an articulation of the fixed relations of
representation to a specific organization of reality, relations which establish the
positions that it is possible for the individual to inhabit within the social totality
(1977:78). The effect of ideology in interpersonal interactions is thus between
indexed presuppositions of social reality and how people experience their activities
and relationships.
The semiotic closure effected by ideology introduces this concepts
relationship with power. As is now nearly commonplace to observe in the social
sciences: to assert the meaning of some experience (its truth, falsity, profanity,
heresy, logic, constitutionality, etc.) is to exercise power (Dreyfuss and Rabinow
1982:184-204). As Eric Wolf proposes,
[p]ower is implicated in meaning through its role in upholding one
version of significance as true, fruitful, or beautiful, against other
possibilities that may threaten truth, fruitfulness, or beauty. All


cultures, however conceived, carve out significance and try to
stabilize it against possible alternatives. In human affairs, things might
be different and often are []. Hence, symbolic work is never done,
achieves no final solution. The cultural assertion that the world is
shaped in this way and not in some other has to be repeated and
enacted, lest it be questioned and denied. [1990:593]

Interpersonal productions of meaning thus rely on ideologies to solidify (on one
hand) interpretations of social life and (on the other) the legitimacy of these
interpretations as authoritative, truthful, sage-like, etc.
Ideologies may perform a related function, stabilizing the meanings of people
as well as their actions and relationships. Through the ideologies of (for example)
citizenship or law, people come to understand themselves and one another as
subjects within a representation of social life, identifying them as particular kinds
of people. This perspective on ideology was the focus for several late 20th century
political philosophers, particularly Louis Althusser (2008 [1971]) and Ernesto
Laclau (1979, 1997). In his essay Ideology and the State Apparatus, Althusser
argues that the central function of political, religious, and educational ideologies is
to motivate people to consider themselves as beings whose personhood is more-or-
less realized within these institutions. The important function of ideology is not its
capacity to represent a totality of social life, but to ground persons consciousness
within these representations, in a sense ideologizing identity and everyday
Yet, critics challenge the overreliance on such a perspective as dismissing the
possibility and the reality of social change (Abercrombie and Turner 1978;
Abercrombie et al. 1984; Parsons 1967[1959]). For example, Stuart Hall comments
that the theory of ideology offered by Althusser and others


tended to present the process as too uni-accentual, too functionally
adapted to the reproduction of the dominant ideology []. Indeed, it
was difficult, from the base-line of this theory, to discern how
anything but the 'dominant ideology' could ever be reproduced in
discourse. [Hall 1982:78]

Ascribing such a uni-accentual quality to ideology sidesteps the fact that ideologies
and social organizations can and do change (for better or worse), typically through
challenges to the logic of some dominant ideology. This observation is much in
keeping with Pierre Bourdieus (1977:159-197) explication of doxa, heterodoxy, and
orthodoxy here summarized by Eagleton:

[D]oxa belongs to the kind of stable, tradition-bound social order in

which power is fully naturalized and unquestionable, so that no social
arrangement different from the present could even be imagined [].
Any challenge to such doxa is then heterodoxy, against which the given
order must assert its claims in a new orthodoxy. Such orthodoxy
differs from doxa in that the guardians of tradition, of what goes
without saying, are now compelled to speak in their own defense, and
thus implicitly to present themselves as simply one possible position,
among others. [1991:157]

Much in keeping with Bourdieus argument (but shedding its loaded terms), I wish
here to introduce the concepts of ideological scope and strength (Giddens 1984:5-
24; Glick 2009:7-9; Kroskrity 1998, 2000). In the former (greater scope), an
ideology is widely presupposed across a diverse number of interactional contexts. In
the latter (greater strength), it is relatively limited to a specific group or target
population and could be creatively indexed in tense, antagonistic contrast to
ideologies with greater indexical scope.
The instances in which ideologies of particular significance are explicitly
indexed are those in which one representation of social reality is challenged by
others, leading to confusion and controversy. On this, Clifford Geertz notes:


It is a loss of orientation that most directly gives rise to ideological
activity, an inability, for lack of usable models, to comprehend the
universe of civic rights and responsibilities in which one finds oneself
located []. Whatever else ideologies may be projections of
unacknowledged fears, disguises for ulterior motives, phatic
expressions of group solidarity they are, most distinctively, maps of
problematic social reality and matrices for the creation of collective
conscience. [1973:219-220]

The usefulness of this observation lies in its predictive value, allowing us to seek out
such losses of orientation in various interactional controversies (for example, not
coincidentally, in the activities of social movements). There, ideologies of differing
scope and strength conflict with one another. Such phenomena seem likely to
include creatively and perhaps loudly indexed ideologies dealing with, as
Eagleton says, power struggles which are somehow central to a whole form of
social life (1991:12).

Considering the indexical interplay of ideological conflict, how might one

categorize the ideologies commonly indexed by groups of regularly interacting

people (such as a social movement)? While others approaches are possible, I
suggest that a particularly lucid one is found in Bernard Sussers (1988, 1996)
discussions of ideological domains, which he divides into first principles,
operational codes (or in-house ideologies), and social forces (socialization,
mobilization, and legitimization). While Susser qualifies that there is significant
overlap between these categories,
the levels and types of ideological expression are not random, that
they form a law-governed system marked by regularity and structure.
These domains are constitutive of ideology as a discursive genre; they
recur whenever political ideas seek to fashion a political reality in
their image. [1996:168]

As Susser explains, in the domain of first principles, a group indexes its vision of


human nature, its perspective on human history, its conception of justice, its view of
optimal human relations, its principled view of property, power, privilege and
punishment, and its vision of the human future (1996:168). Such ideologies are
paralleled by a concurrent domain of in-house ideologies (1996:169, my emphasis),
wherein the first principle is operationalized, and individuals already familiar with
the groups first principle index their representations of the groups immediate
convictions, goals, and challenges.
Sussers most relevant contribution to social movement research is a trio of
enterprises that are more action-oriented or social forces: First, as a socializing
force, ideology functions to initiate new-comers into the group, educating them on
the obligations of participating, the decorum of interaction, and (of course) the in-
house ideologies and first principles of the group. Second, ideology as a mobilizing
force is focused on the loyalty and commitment of the groups participants,
representing to them a social reality that inspires individuals toward collective
engagement. Such an ideological domain will play a marked role in social
movement activities and relationships. Finally, as a legitimizing force, ideology
imparts coherence and ritual to a groups long-standing participants. On the matter
of legitimacy, Susser cautions:
This is not to say that ideology in its legitimizing role operates only in
well-established polities. A radical ideology whose purpose it is to
delegitimize a political system must simultaneously legitimize itself in
the eyes of its own stalwarts. It too must sustain commitment, induce
compliance, and foster organizational stability. Indeed, despite their
revolutionary rhetoric, radical ideologies must also seek legitimation
among their own faithful. In this they are often as conformity seeking
and orthodoxy-bound as centrist/ conservative creeds. [1996:171]

The authors comment here dovetails greatly with many details I have already given


about social movements. Along with distinctions of ideologies relative scope and
strength, Sussers domains will prove useful in my analysis of the language and
ideologies of movement participants.
Concluding this discussion of indexicality and ideology, I will here offer a
working definition of ideology that focuses on the indexical functions of language
and synthesizes the most useful of the theories of ideology I examine above. First, let
me reiterate that ideologies are shared representations of social reality,
presupposed or creatively indexed by people in sociolinguistic interaction to
stabilize, solidify, or otherwise semiotically close the meanings they ascribe to their
experiences. Second, ideologies may be said to show relatively greater scope (if they
are indexed widely across a wide population or diverse number of groups) or
greater strength (if they are indexed more narrowly by a socio-politically distinct
group). The interplay of such categories of ideologies will likely be a defining factor
within the language and ideologies of social movements. Third, along with
distinguishing ideologies of relatively greater strength or scope, they may further be
examined as discursive domains of group activities and relationships. These
ideological domains are first principles, in-house ideologies, and social forces
(socialization, mobilization, and legitimization). Finally, the instances of creatively
indexed ideologies will be especially high when controversial social behaviors come
to the forefront of public consciousness. Social movements seem a worthwhile
object for just this kind of investigation. As I have reiterated throughout this
chapter, the sociolinguistic lives of social movements will also likely follow similar
patterns as those in any other arena of their participants lives. This said, as I


examine in the final section of this chapter, social movements would also seek to
creatively index their own ideologies against those of the institutions that they
challenge. I turn now to ask just how such creative indices can be analyzed.

3. Sociolinguistic Foregroundings and Contextualizations
I am now narrowing in on the specific objects of study that will inform this
research. These are the sociolinguistic patterns that regularly index social
movement ideologies into novel settings, or patterns of foregrounding and
contextualization. Below, I address these two concepts, taking care to understand
their strengths and the critical perspectives on their shortcomings. I conclude by
integrating them into my overall discussion of ideology, indexicality, and social
Foregrounding. Foregroundings are uses of language or gesture that deviate
from or violate some setting-specific presupposition of communication. They
typically do this by distorting or omitting some presupposed element or including
some relatively unforeseen action. For example, linguistic foregroundings might
include purposefully ungrammatical phrases, affected accents, shouting, obscenities,
or pointed silences all are, of course, relative to their context-specific uses and
The origin of foregrounding theory is traced to Russian Formalists argument
that the social function of art is ostranenie to make strange the presupposed
ideologies and overly-familiar aspects of daily life (Shklovsky 1965[1925]). The
Formalist argument was later (perhaps independently) developed by German
playwright Bertolt Brecht as the alienation effect (verfremdung) of revolutionary


theatre, which would challenge the ideologies of bourgeois Europeans by alienating
the familiar (Brecht 1964b:192). Put to this use, art reveals itself as a
representation for example, as Brecht suggests, when actors break the fourth wall
to directly speak to an audience. Art is thus purported to alienate (and
subsequently liberate) its audience from the ideologies that benefit the ruling class
(Hawkes 1977:63; Jameson 1972:58).
Taking up the methodology, but not the politics of Russian Formalism,
Structuralists in the Prague Linguistic Circle thought of foregrounding as a
purposeful violation of familiar or automatized means of communicating, such as
introducing rhyming patterns or alliteration within the text of a newspaper article
(Havranek 1964; Mukaovsk 1964). Some uses of language, poetic language in
particular, are thus aimed at deepening the aesthetic experience of a reader or
listener, as most famously argued by Roman Jackobson (1960, 1966). As a result of
violations of presupposed communicative norms, listeners and readers are forced
to come to grips with the world of the text in a more strenuous and supposedly
more rewarding fashion (Van Peer 1986:2). More recently, Geoffrey Leech offers a
more phenomenological definition: Foreground suggests the figure/ground
opposition of gestalt psychology: the patterns of normal language are relevant to
literary art only in providing a background for the structured deployment of
deviations from the norm (2008:18). Many language theorists similarly argue that a
foregrounded linguistic form or act is, in M.A.K. Hallidays straightforward words,
prominence that is motivated (1971:339).


As is apparent in Formalism and Structuralism, there persists within theories
of foregrounding a dialectical distinction between ordinary and deviant uses of
language. The former is (more or less) assumed as the socio-cultural preconditions
for successful communication, while the latter violations of communicative norms
are elevated to, as Ren Wellek critiques, a kind of counter-grammar, a science of
discards (1960:417). That is, the catalogue of violations might be compelling, but
its assumptions about normal speech leave that particular phenomenon
unexamined, thus presuming that much of sociolinguistic activity is uninteresting
and dedicated to the bare reporting of thought. Attempting to resolve this criticism,
Stanley Fish argues that
there is no such thing as ordinary language, at least in the nave
sense often intended by that term: an abstract formal system,
which [] is only used incidentally for purposes of human
communication (1973:49).

Dispensing with the notion of ordinary language, investigations must turn to the
presuppositions that people actually index in their interactions a matter of
research, not theory. On one hand, foregroundings simultaneously index a
background of orthodox or traditional forms of communicating. On the other, they
function as deviations from (or agitations directed toward) this normative
background. Research into violations of communicational norms is simultaneously
tasked with detailing the normative presuppositions of communication as they are
indexed through foregrounded language use. In this sense, deviation from a norm
appears as both a novel departure from and also an appeal to the norms from which
it departs (Jameson 1972:90-93). Foregrounding events compel us to consider the


interplay between the presupposed and creative indexicals which structure (and
restructure) sociolinguistic interaction.
Foregroundings as creative indexicals. Foregroundings can be studied as
setting-specific productions of the dialectic between normative and deviant
language. They are not complete departures from these norms, but rather rest upon
a set of presupposed ideologies, which contribute to their coherence (as violations
of normative practices). Research on foregroundings must attend not only to the
presupposed ideologies that are violated, but also to those that allow a violation to
be constructed and recognized as a violation (Bakhtin 1986:94; Glick 2007; Levin
1963:285; Shen 2007:179-180; Short 1973). In this way, as Ivan Fnagy comments,
the quality of being different is also governed by rules (1972:288). These
presuppositions are necessary for a foregrounding to be recognizable for instance,
when one uses slang or profanity in an academic lecture and coherent, relative to a
background that does not typically include these styles of communication. Just as
sociolinguistic interactions can be understood as generally the interplay between
presupposed and creative indexicals, foregroundings are bound up with the larger
act of social signaling, recognizable as a deviation or violation only relative to the
many actions that are not. Considering this dialectic, I propose here to use the term
foregrounding to indicate a verbal or non-verbal action that violates, mocks, or omits
some setting-specific presupposition of communication, creatively indexing ideologies
that might explain and/or resolve its appearance.
Considering the criticisms of foregrounding theory, I also acknowledge that
this definition includes three problematic assumptions: First, I imply that deviations


are (more or less) intentional and self-conscious acts. This problem of intentionality
is additionally applicable to a hearer, who is assumed to share the communicative
norms that a speaker violates, thus experiencing its effects (Widdowson 1973:296-
299). Such a concern becomes especially troublesome in ethnographic analyses, in
which researchers might infer the effect of (what appears to them) strange
language to be the subjective experience of all. Second, but related, my definition
does not (as yet) account for how deviant uses of language, repeatedly
encountered, could become mundane, or even tiresome, once an audience became
conscious of their function (Jameson 1972:50-53). Third, my definition of
foregrounding must also account for the scale of social life within which
foregroundings may appear and be felt. This matter has received much attention
from critics, who point out that the relational quality of a foreground/background
might apply at the levels of grammar, syntax, semantics, or even entire genres of
literary, dramatic, or face-to-face social interactions (Glick 2007; Levin 1963:277-
280; Van Peer 1986:7-10).
The intentionality, strangeness (or familiarity), and scales of foregroundings
will only become apparent through rigorous sociolinguistic research into their
regularized appearance in real interactions. As Silverstein astutely comments:
We are faced first-off with indexical facts, facts of observed/
experienced social practices, the systematicity of which is our central
problem: are they systematic? If so, how? with respect to which
institutional forms? (re)aligning whose values []? [1992:322]

To increase the predictive value of this conceptual tool, I want to turn now to the
ways that foregroundings might be grounded through contextualization, thus
solidifying their function as creative indices of new ideologies.


Contextualization. Much of the scholarship on contextualization has the
rather unfortunate quality of obscuring the topic by oversimplifying its relationship
to indexicality and ideology. Frequently, researchers treat the process of
contextualization as a kind of reverse engineering project, in which one or more
decisive, interpersonal actions are tracked down as the likely sources of an overall
meaning of an interaction. Certainly, as I examine below, there is much to draw from
such sociolinguistic detective work. However, by interweaving a perspective on
contextualization with my discussions on foregrounding, indexicality, and ideology, I
wish to examine a broader question of the representation and reshaping of social life
through language. In this section, I begin my discussion with approaches to (and
critiques of) research on contextualization cues, with the goal of reaching this
broader target by introducing a more nuanced perspective on language, ideology,
and (finally) social movements.
Contextualization cues. In one sense, contextualizations may be argued to
be the relevant resolutions (or groundings) for the kinds of sociolinguistic
violations and deviations that I describe above. Foregroundings may thus be seen as
a kind of contextualization cue, the theories of which have been led by John
Gumperz (1977, 1982, 1992; Gumperz and Cook-Gumperz 1982), and figured
heavily in much research in sociolinguistics and discourse analysis (Auer 1992,
1996; Fairclough 1992, 1995; Thompson 1984, 1990). Such cues, Gumperz argues,
are the means by which speakers signal and listeners interpret what the activity is,
how semantic content is to be understood and how each sentence relates to what
precedes or follows (1982:131). The focus of much of Gumperzs extensive


research has been to evaluate how different interpretations may arise from single
actions, such as his well-known investigations into service encounter complaints
between British and Indian airport workers (Gumperz 1977, 1978). Here, he found
that Indian cafeteria workers tendency to ask questions in English with falling
intonations was interpreted by native English speakers as both inappropriate and
extremely rude (Maltz and Borker 1982:201). In the sense, their accented English
(likely unintentionally) foregrounded ideologies of social politeness and respect
embedded in this workplace, thus serving as a cue toward the resolution of such
inappropriate language use. Such an approach is characteristic of Gumperzs
research, which Maltz and Borker praise for not assuming that problems are the
result of bad faith, but rather sees them as the result of individuals wrongly
interpreting cues according to their own rules (1982:201).
Counter to this praise, some critics suggest that it is just this quality of
research on contextualization cues that marks it as rather nave. For example, Teun
Van Dijk argues:
If a recipient, based on previous experiences, defines a speaker as a
male chauvinist, then much of what he says will be heard as an
expression of male chauvinism whether or not there are
contextualization cues that warrant such an interpretation []. That
is, the mental models recipients build when interpreting discourse
may also be construed on the basis of inferences about ideological
intentions of speakers as inferred from previous experiences, hearsay
or other reliable information about a speaker. [Van Dijk 2006:130]

As the presupposed ideologies of any interaction are not going to be shared by all
participants, some sociolinguistic actions may create foregroundings for some
participants and not others. As argued in other criticisms (Auer 1992; Silverstein
1992), contextualization cues fall short of a thoroughgoing examination by


assuming such complexities to be (more or less) mysteries to be solved by picking
up the likely markers of presuppositions and tracing them back from their
interpretive endpoints, to figure out where things went awry. Assessments of
contextualization cues effectively sidestep the multi-participant nature of
contextualization as the 'aboutness', as it were, of discursive interaction, the sense
that discursive interaction makes or achieves a playing out of certain cultural values
through specific symbolisms (Silverstein 1992:70). To this end, when Gumperz
concluded accented English in service encounters led to individuals wrongly
interpreting cues, his analysis can be seen as notably one-sided. These encounters
may have foregrounded ideologies of politeness and respect (for native English
speakers), but they resulted in contextualizations that were about the tensions and
unequal power dynamics of a multi-ethnic workplace.
Contextualization as discursively achieved, semiotic closure. To broaden
this investigation of contextualization, what is needed is to return to the terms
(figuratively and literally) of my discussion so far. Interactions are processes of
context-making, in which persons employ presupposed and creative indexicals (in
dialectical relationships to one another) to point to ideologies, which are then
contextualized as the overarching meaning as Silverstein remarks, the aboutness
of the interaction (see also Agha 2007:37-48; Mertz 1998:450-453; Parmentier
1994:125). The strength of this approach is nicely described by Peter Auer, who
context is not given as such, but is regarded as the outcome of
participants' joint efforts. It is not a collection of material or social
facts (such as the interaction taking place in such-and-such locale,
with such- and-such social roles), but a cognitive scheme (or model)


about what is relevant for the interaction at any given point in time.
This scheme may exclude or include certain facts of the material and
social surroundings of the interaction as they might be stated by an
objective on-looker who tries to describe context without looking at
what takes place in it, but it may also include information not statable
before the interaction begins, or independently of it. [Auer 1996:20]

Contextualization is processual and interpersonal that is, it is discursive. Research
into a broader concept of contextualization requires attention to the regular,
dialectical interplay of presupposed and creative indexicals, the ideologies to which
they direct participants attentions, and the structuring (and restructuring) of
interactions that come about as a result. Such research is necessarily, as Silverstein
(1992:70) proposes, an ideological perspective on discursive interaction that, in
the instance, amounts to a tropological connoisseurship of the regular patterns of
indices, ideologies, and their discursive impacts on social life.
If contextualization is inherently a matter of the discursively-indexed
ideologies within peoples activities and relationships, there is also something more
definitive about contextualizations, as well the solidification or stabilization of
what the interaction means, a matter which V.N. Volosinov (1973, 1986) argued
quite furiously. As Stuart Hall explains (worth quoting here at length), the effect of
sociolinguistic contextualization is to produce
a practice of closure: the establishment of an achieved system of
equivalence between language and reality, which the effective mastery
of the struggle over meaning produced as its most pertinent effect.
These equivalences, however, were not given in reality []. Meanings
which had been effectively coupled could also be un-coupled. The
struggle in discourse therefore consisted precisely of this process of
discursive articulation and disarticulation. Its outcomes, in the final
result, could only depend on the relative strength of the forces of
struggle, the balance between them at any strategic moment, and the
effective conduct of the politics of signification. We can think of many
pertinent historical examples where the conduct of a social struggle


depended, at a particular moment, precisely on the effective dis-
articulation of certain key terms, e.g. 'democracy', the 'rule of law', 'civil
rights', 'the nation', 'the people', 'Mankind', from their previous
couplings, and their extrapolation to new meanings, representing the
emergence of new political subjects. [Hall 1982:78]

Here I return to (and expand upon) a conceptualization of ideology, indexed and
contextualized to stabilize, solidify, or otherwise semiotically close the meanings
that people assign to their activities, identities, and relationships.
In such a discursive process, foregroundings, with their deviations and
violations of presupposed conversational norms, are likely to point the direction
toward such novel contextualizations. Considering the centrality of foregrounding
events in creatively indexing the ideologies social movements into novel
interactions, I suggest that the tropology which a social movement researcher must
become a connoisseur are regularized patterns of foregroundings and
contextualizations. In this sense, returning again to Silverstein, ideologies become
parts of
institutionalized interaction patterns and interests with which they
dialectically interact, while being constantly resubstantiated in various
kinds of ritualized - if not actual ritual - interactional patterns that
have a normative claim to being prototypes of event-genres in the
interactional order. Ritually, or ritualizably, grounded interactional
order has a kind of relatively absolute character (intentionally to use
an oxymoronic figure) in its effects on those who acquiesce in its
claim to inform their ideological perspectives. [Silverstein 1992:71,
original emphasis]

In one sense, this research into foregrounding and contextualization patterns in
social movements is thus an inquiry into not just how ideologies discursively
produce semiotic closure in the sociolinguistic lives of participants. But it is also
addressing how they reappear, again and again, and are thus constantly being


resubstantiated through ritualized language that participants bring to their
activities and relationships. Regularized foregrounding-contextualization patterns
fit both these descriptions.
Three types of social movement contextualization. Having delineated the
shapes of what I am looking for in this discussion of sociolinguistic
contextualization, I want now to offer three categories of contextualization that
seem likely to be found in social movement interactions. These, I suggest, are the
probable social actions that contextualizations perform for the maintenance and
spread of a social movement, thus providing the grounds in which a movements
ideologies become what most or all of its activities are about. I discuss these
categories in terms of Sussers ideological domains of social action (mobilization,
legitimatization, and socialization), as well as the conclusions I have drawn from the
three fields of social movement theory.
Considering the very directed activities of social movements, their most
prominent social action will likely be mobilization. To this end, many
contextualizations of a social movement will strategically juxtapose the pre-existing,
largely presupposed activities, ideologies, and identities as belonging to the
movement or, conversely, to the institution that it challenges. I will add here that
these ideologies will exclude or include certain facts of the material and social
surroundings (Auer 1996:20) as they are contextualized in participant interactions,
such that the represented activities, ideologies, and identities are represented as
more or less unified, homogeneous socio-cultural forms. For the purposes of this
research, I am going to label abstraction the type of contextualization that


strategically grounds these representations of a movement and its targeted
institution as homogeneous, oppositional realities.
A second category of contextualization likely to appear in social movement
research provides legitimization for current participants in ways that cohere with
previous expectations and other highly valued ideologies of the group. I draw the
conclusion (from Frame Alignment Theory) that a social movements maintenance
and spread largely depend on posing their challenge to an institution in (more or
less) normative fashions. As a consequence, the interplay of presupposed and
creative indexicals in social movement activities will point to other ideologies,
pertaining to (for example) individual expression, democracy, equality, and so on.
The contextualizations of these ideologies can in this way be expected to also
include information not statable before the interaction begins, or independently of
it (Auer 1996:20). I will label these kinds of contextualizations analogical
extensions, insofar as they incorporate external and less-presupposed ideologies
as the shared meanings of participant interactions.
A third type of contextualization, I suggest, might inspire its participants
toward a transformed self-identification and perhaps reevaluation of their
subjective experiences as personal evidence of the movements goals a process of
socialization into the group for new members (that is likely shared with long-term
participants as well). New Social Movement research demonstrates how the diverse
identities among individuals can be politicized toward collective identification and
activism. To this end, the ultimate function of ideology is the establishment of an
achieved system of equivalence between language and reality (Hall 1982:78).


Contextualizations may inspire among participants this kind of collective-
identification or self-realization through the ideological lens of the movement
itself. This form of contextualization I will label reflexive recursion.

4. Language and Ideology in the Maintenance and Spread of a Social Movement

Concluding this discussion of relevant fields and terms, I want to return to

the basic question I am asking of social movements (and the EvoS Program in
particular) that began this inquiry: How do people introduce and disseminate new
meanings to the activities and relationships of others, particularly when such
interpretations are either unknown or unpopular? Of course, the research I present
in this dissertation is an attempt at a comprehensive answer to this question. But
anticipating it, I want here to synthesize my terms into a framework for analyzing
language and ideology in social movements.

Social movements are relatively cohesive collectives of persons, activities,

relationships, and media that organize around a challenge to some standing

institution or social order. They do this by creatively indexing their own ideologies
into new and ever-wider institutional settings, creating foregroundings that deviate
from or violate communicative norms, and then contextualize the movements
ideologies as the relevant meanings of every interaction.
Movement ideologies will necessarily display lesser scope than those of the
institutions that are challenged, but greater relative strength, due to their specificity
within the challenging group. Further, a movements first principles will (in one way
or another) embody this challenge, while its in-house ideologies operationalize this


challenge by representing the groups dissatisfaction, difference, and cohesion to
existing members, new recruits, and outsiders. Social action ideologies will work
to: (1) mobilize existing persons (and other resources) toward movement goals, (2)
legitimate the movement to participants and outsiders, and (3) socialize new
members to understand the groups first principles and in-house ideologies.
While their primary motive is to challenge and change institutional
ideologies and practices, much of what goes on in social movements will likely
resemble sociolinguistic practices in the surrounding context. In this way, the
interplay of presupposed and creative indexicals that make up sociolinguistic life in
general is enacted within social movements as a balance between pre-existing
material or ideological resources and those strategically introduced by the
movements participants to achieve their goals. Research into the ways that
movements strike this balance will demonstrate both the contextual, sociolinguistic
norms and the ways that social movements violate these norms while attempting to
communicate a challenge that is both coherent and forceful.

More broadly, social movements are invested in the introduction,

maintenance, and spread of new meanings because their understandings of social

organization differs (sometimes greatly) from that of the institutions they challenge.
That is, the meanings of social reality that are privileged by social movements differ
from those they consider to be an unfair and untenable status quo. The maintenance
and spread of a social movement is intimately tied to the dissemination and
reproduction of these meanings. In the case of the EvoS Program, I will show this
social movement is invested in a quite radical restructuring of U.S. higher education,


and that this goal is tied to a broader reconceptualization of human existence.

5. Research Site and Data Collection
My experiences with the EvoS program stretch years before and after the
data set I analyze in this dissertation. The programs self-promotion was seemingly
everywhere in the buildings housing the Biological Sciences, Social Sciences, and
Humanities. News about EvoS personalities and events pepper the physical and
electronic landscape of Binghamton. I chose to limit my fieldwork (recorded events,
interviews, program promotions) to two years because dozens of times a day I
encountered people, activities, and texts that could be useful in my research.
Participants in the program were my professors, classmates, and among the
students in the courses I eventually taught. Due to the controversial nature of EvoS, I
was sometimes asked to weigh in on its goals and scientific legitimacy, as well as
my opinions about its organizers, lectures, and (especially) David Sloan Wilson.
I am thus acutely aware of the interpersonal tensions inspired by conducting
anthropological research on my home turf. It is a situation in which, as Rayna Rapp
comments, the outer reaches of the sample bleed into daily routine (1999:16). I
cannot hope to lessen any these challenges in any way, other that through rigorous
attention to my evidence. Here I explain how that was collected:
Audio recordings. My data collection is the result of two years of participant
observation within EvoS events at Binghamton University. The bulk of my analysis
will focus on field recordings made during these years of data collection. These
audio recordings include 20 lectures, 15 question and answer sessions, 20 post-


lecture discussions, as well as five extracurricular social events. In addition to these
field recordings, I have collected and transcribed many interviews, promotions,
panel discussions, and other activities sponsored by the EvoS Program at
Binghamton and also its fellow programs at other universities.
Textual evidence. During these two years, I also accumulated a wealth of
textual information on the program. These data include the programs promotions,
mass emails to participants, surveys conducted by organizers to assess academic
attitudes toward evolutionary theories, publications by organizers and their
colleagues documenting the pedagogical successes of EvoS, grant proposals to
expand the program, and news reports about the program by both student and
professional journalists. I collected much information from the EvoS website,
including the organizers goals, ways to participate, tutorials, fund-raising, and
further promotions delivered via the programs Facebook page, Twitter account,
and online blogs authored by faculty and student participants. To say the very least,
I am well versed in the academic and general audience publications authored or
edited by EvoS Program organizers and visiting lecturers.
Participant interviews. To assess participant opinions of the program, I
conducted two dozen individual or small group interviews. Most of my discussants
in these interviews were undergraduate or graduate students with at least a
semesters experience with the program, typically as audience members in the
Seminar Series. However, due to the open-door nature of EvoS events, some of my
informants were not regular participants, particularly those with misgivings toward
the EvoS Program. Further, many of my interviewees possessed knowledge and


shaped their opinions about the program from interactions with colleagues in their
own departments. While less direct experience can make for worrisome evidence,
these peoples impressions are crucial for assessing the ways that outsiders
understand the program, its goals, and its academic legitimacy. As a final caveat, I
should make clear that, wherever possible, I made audio recordings of these
interviews, but some were more or less spontaneous discussions with individuals
whose immediate opinions (for example, about a single lecturer) were necessary to
document, but could not sit for a formal interview.
Wherever possible, I have tried to quote my informants directly, but other
participant impressions I have gleaned from opinions expressed by a majority
(which I will point out in the course of my analysis). For all my discussants, I made
clear the purpose of my research, the importance of their opinions within it, and
their anonymity in responding. These research and analysis methods were reviewed
and approved by Binghamton Universitys Human Subjects Review Committee.


Chapter Two: The EvoS Programs Presupposed Ideologies, First Principle, and
Movement Resources

In this chapter, I examine elements of the EvoS Program that will be
necessary to understand it as a social movement. In my first section, I discuss the
programs evolutionary reasoning, by which I mean the four presupposed
ideologies that are most frequently used by EvoS participants to explain human
evolution and its implications. Second, I examine the programs first principle, which
I suggest is a challenge to US higher education to embrace this evolutionary
reasoning as the foundational explanation of social life. Third, I discuss the
programs resources (incentives to participate, courses, membership, promotional
media, and funding), demonstrating how they tend to affirm the programs first
principle, as well as adhere to more institutional (that is, academic) requirements.

1. Evolutionary Reasoning: Four Presupposed Ideologies on Human Evolution
and its Implications

Throughout my discussions of the EvoS Program, I use the term evolutionary
reasoning to describe the ideologies on human evolution most frequently
presupposed by its participants as scientific explanations for social behaviors. My
readers are likely familiar with some evolutionary theories about human affairs, and
perhaps also that the evolutionary science community is greatly divided on the
relevance of these theories (see Levine 2006; Segerstrle 2000). I want to be clear
what I mean by this programs evolutionary reasoning


This is not a simple matter, for at least three reasons: First, these ideologies
describe human social behavior in reference to non-human behaviors. There is
nothing new or unique about such slippage between the perpetual culturalization
of nature and the naturalization of culture (Sahlins 1976:105). However, I have
learned that fellow researchers in linguistics, anthropology, and elsewhere find this
almost fatally problematic in ways that (I stress) participants in EvoS typically do
not. Second, detailing the EvoS Programs views on evolution is complicated by its
participants tendency to draw from multiple, sometimes-contradictory positions in
the last 150 years of U.S. and European science. For instance, in some cases, the
evolutionary theories that EvoS participants (explicitly or implicitly) take up
positions previously forwarded by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Herbert Spencer, Pierre
Teilhard de Chardin, and other unlikely sources, some of which have been widely
discarded by professional evolutionary scientists. Third, I have found the most
common tension created by the EvoS Program lies in readers and listeners
reactions to the ambitious, socio-political pronouncements of its promoters. For
example, the programs founder explains that students and professional academics
are surprised
that evolutionary theory can potentially explain the evolution of
behaviors associated with morality and immorality. This is vastly
different than the usual portrayal of evolution as a theory that
explains immorality but leaves morality unaccounted for []. When
evolutionary theory is presented as a framework for understanding
these patterns in all their complexity, including the good, the bad, the
beautiful, and the ugly, it is perceived as a tool for understanding that
can be used for positive ends. [D.S. Wilson 2005a:1005]1


Two of the central players of my discussion share the same last name (David Sloan Wilson and Edward
O. Wilson). For in-text citations, I add the authors first initials. These sources can be found in Works Cited
under each authors full name.


Bold arguments such as this are common in the EvoS Program. I have learned that
they can evoke incredulity at the ambition and broad brush strokes of EvoS
promotions, and have been in some cases are criticized as extremist, unrealistic, or
even delusional (for example, see Coyne 2011, 2012; Dawkins 2011; Marris 2010,
2011; Webb 2007; Winegar 2011). In all, the EvoS Programs particular take on
evolutionary science can be challenging. This said, to understand the activities and
relationships of its participants, I must discuss how they think and talk about
This section will present a clear picture of what constitutes evolutionary
reasoning within the EvoS Program, with the caveat that aspects of these four
ideologies may strike some readers as anthropomorphic, scientifically
unsupportable, cavalier, or (sometimes) all three. My goal is to show that these
ideologies are the presupposed, component parts of the first principle of a social
movement. These ideologies mark EvoS as distinct from the mainstream of U.S. and
European evolutionary science, in that their narrow scope (in relation to
professional evolutionary science), but great strength (within the EvoS Program
itself) are qualities that define a social movements challenge to a standing
1a. Contemporary human behaviors are adaptations to past and present
selection pressures. Most popular understandings of evolutionary science focus on
the common ancestry of all organisms (for example, humans and chimpanzees).
However, adaptationist branches of evolutionary science argue the importance of
selection in explaining organisms anatomies and behaviors. This perspective can be


summarized as follows: As a result of environmental pressures and genetic
variation, organisms of the same species will differ in their survival (avoiding injury
and death due to starvation, disease, predators, and so on) and reproduction
(mating and rearing offspring). If they are heritable, the anatomical or behavioral
variations that contribute to an organisms survival or reproduction this is,
adaptations will be passed on to a larger number of successive offspring than
others in the same population. Assuming the environmental pressures remain
constant over many generations, organisms with these qualities will eventually
outnumber other, less adaptive ones. Subsequently, extreme specializations can be
observed in (among many possible examples) the camouflage, defense mechanisms,
nest building, or migratory behaviors of different animals. These qualities have been
selected for (and thus persist and spread) while others have been selected against
(minimized or disappearing altogether). Seminal papers in the adaptationist
perspective include Levins (1966), Maynard-Smith (1978), Parker and Maynard-
Smith (1990), and Sober (1987).
Like some (though certainly not all) evolutionary scientists, participants in
the EvoS Program similarly assess human behaviors as the products of past
selection pressures, and thus consider contemporary human behaviors for their
significance as adaptations. Conversely, modern behaviors that seem problematic to
individuals survival and reproduction may have been adaptive in past
environments that no longer exist. The behavior was once adaptive, but is now
maladaptive (Barkow 2006; Cosmides and Tooby 1992; Richardson and Boyd
2005:148-190). Various researchers participating in the EvoS Program argue that


behaviors such as marital infidelity (Buss and Shackelford 1997; Shackelford and
Weekes-Shackelford 2004), rape and sexual coercion (Gallup et al. 2011; Gottschall
and Gottschall 2003), gang violence (Daly and Wilson 1988), teenage pregnancy
(Ellis et al 2011), or sexual promiscuity (Reiber and Garcia 2010) may have
benefited the survival and reproduction of modern humans Stone Age ancestors or
other non-human species in Homo sapiens evolutionary past. In spite of their
problematic, socio-political nature, these behaviors endure in the present as
artifacts of past adaptations.
The EvoS Programs founder is the primary influence in this concentration on
contemporary human behaviors. In his doctoral research and professional
publications during the 1970s and 1980s, David Sloan Wilson tended to investigate
non-human species, such as ant lions and dung beetles (see D.S. Wilson 2007a,
2011b). But in the 1990s and 2000s, Wilson began joint projects with graduate
students and faculty outside the Biological Sciences, publishing solo and co-
authored papers on topics such as nepotism (D.S. Wilson and Dugatkin 1991),
gossip (Kniffin and D.S. Wilson 2005, 2010; D.S. Wilson et al 2000), social
constructivism (D.S. Wilson 2005b), language use and semantics (D.S. Wilson 1990,
1995), hunting and food-sharing (D.S. Wilson 1998), and religion (D.S. Wilson
2002a, 2002b, 2005c; Storm and D.S. Wilson 2009). Throughout, he maintains that
contemporary human behaviors are best assessed as adaptations (or
maladaptations). For example, arguing that other academics have too long, unjustly
perceived religious beliefs as irrational, Wilson poses:
Rationality is not the gold standard against which all other forms of
thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard against


which rationality must be judged, along with all other forms of thought.
Evolutionary biologists should be especially quick to grasp this point
since because they appreciate that the well-adapted mind is ultimately
an organ of survival and reproduction. [D.S. Wilson 2002a:228]

Certainly this is one of the more ringing endorsements for adaptationism that one
could find in the literature of evolutionary science. Though Wilson is known for such
strong pronouncements, as I suggest above, participants in the EvoS Program tend
to agree with this imperative to consider all human behaviors to be products of
natural selection.
This presupposed ideology is a core component of the EvoS Programs
evolutionary reasoning. However, it simultaneously shows limited scope across the
evolutionary science community. Critics argue that adaptationist explanations lack
empirical support from paleontology, primatology, or archaeology. Adaptationists
rely instead on Just-So Stories persuasive narratives for the origins of an
adaptation with little evidence that such circumstances ever existed (Gottlieb 2012;
Gould 1991, 1994; Gould and Lewontin 1979; Ingold 2000; Latour and Strum 1986).
Other critics argue that adaptationists overestimate the influence of inheritance,
positing that many human behaviors are better explained as learned behaviors, as
opposed to inherited dispositions (Bargatzky 1984; Buller 2005; Caplan 1981/82;
Marks 1995; 2002, Sahlins 1976). Despite these debates, the EvoS Programs
evolutionary reasoning should be understood as quite firmly adaptationist, and
further that this quality distinguishes the program and its participants from many
other spheres of the evolutionary science community.
1b. Socio-cultural change is an evolutionary process. The popularity of EvoS at
Binghamton University during the 2000s led many participants to increasingly (and


explicitly) turn toward topics that are rarely addressed in evolutionary science, such
as religion, language, visual art, and literature. These projects tended to presuppose
that socio-cultural change is, itself, a process of variation, selection, inheritance, and
adaptation an evolutionary process. Cultural evolutionary theories tend to blur the
distinctions between the biological qualities of human life (such as genes,
hormones, parasites, or viruses) and those dealing with socio-political phenomena
(such as government, laws, mental health, or gender). They often propose that
traditions and values may reproduce, mutate, adapt, and struggle to survive in
ways that are analogous to biological evolution. For example, the EvoS founder and
a collaborator write:
Any process that causes the most successful strategies to increase in
frequency counts as an inheritance mechanism, including learning and
imitation in addition to genetic inheritance. Nongenetic inheritance
mechanisms enable humans to adapt rapidly to their environments,
vastly accelerating the pace of evolution []. These unique human
attributes are better explained in terms of evolutionary theory than as
a mysterious exception to the theory. Human uniqueness cannot be
used to argue against the relevance of the evolutionary perspective.
[D.S. Wilson and Csikszentmihalyi 2007:330]

Other participants similarly argue that social and psychological phenomena can be
considered processes of variation and selection. Research projects developing
around this proposition include: adaptation of at-risk youth to an alternative high
school (D.S. Wilson, Kauffmann, and Purdy 2011), adaptive responses to crime and
neighborhood safety (OBrien 2009, 2010; OBrien and D.S. Wilson 2010; OBrien et
al. 2012), physical fitness programs using Stone Age diet and exercise (Platek et al.
2011), and the heritability and adaptive significance of literary narratives and story-
telling (Gottschall and D.S. Wilson 2005; Heywood et al 2009).


There is nothing new in extending evolutionary analogies into explanations
of socio-cultural change. For nearly two centuries, theorists have used evolutionary
concepts to describe nation building, conquest, warfare, free-market capitalism (see
Crook 1984; Davies 2009; Lessl 2012; Young 1985a, 1985b). More recently, the
term meme coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 became a wildly popular term
in electronic social media (Aunger 2006; Haig 2006)2. For participants in the EvoS
Program, cultural evolution further extends selection, inheritance, and adaptation
into a discussion of consciousness, morality, and diversity. As David Sloan Wilson
argues, humans are unique among other animals,
but that does not place us outside the orbit of evolution. Human
diversity is like biological diversity, because both are the outcomes of
evolutionary processes. We are the product of evolution at a variety of
timescales. First, there is the timescale of genetic evolution, which is
usually regarded as slow but at times can be quite fast. Then there is
the timescale of cultural evolution, which is usually regarded as fast
but at times can be quite slow. Finally, there is the timescale of
psychological processes, which operate over the course of a human
lifetime or even within a fraction of a second. When you make a
decision, for example, it is often the result of neuronal processes that
count as Darwinian, of which you are totally unaware. [D.S. Wilson
2011b:6, original emphasis]

This very holistic understanding of evolution requires analogical extensions that
challenge other scientists more conservative theories. For example, ecologist Jerry
Coyne criticizes Wilson for
repeatedly counting as evolutionary any human activity involving
variation and selection, including committees that have to decide


In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins argues just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping
from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from
brain to brain ...[m]emes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.
When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the
meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell


between alternative plans and children who learn to discard those
behaviors that don't bring them rewards, But these issues [] are
superficial and meaningless parallels with natural selection's
winnowing of genetic variation. [2011:24].

Along with other critics (see Marris 2010, 2011; Webb 2007; Winegar 2011), Coyne
argues that addressing socio-cultural change in Wilsons way deviates from the
standing consensus of the scientific community. This said, such marginality suggests
that the EvoS Programs evolutionary reasoning can be distinguished by this
ideologys great strength (within the movement) and narrow scope (within
evolutionary science at-large). To see how the movements evolutionary reasoning
is further distinguished in this same way, I turn next to a more controversial
1c. Group selection has shaped human social life to be superorganic. In the
evolutionary science community, David Sloan Wilson is best known as a champion
of Group Selection Theory a perspective that was popular in the early 20th
century, but then underwent thorough criticism (Simpson 1941; Williams 1966)
and was generally dismissed as a result. Briefly, Group Selection theorists argue that
individual organisms that live in groups (such as colonies, hives, or herds) possess
behavioral adaptations (selfless or altruistic tendencies) causing them to sacrifice
their own survival and reproduction to ensure the perpetuation of the group. This
position is counter to Individual Selection, in which selfish organisms out-survive
and out-reproduce those who sacrifice for the benefit of their group. Groups of such
individuals would out-compete and out-reproduce more selfish organisms. (see
Borrello 2010; Harman 2010).


Many of the EvoS Programs participants argue that human evolution has
been driven by inter-group competition collectives whose members act selflessly
toward one another and aggressively toward other groups. This proposition has
come to define much of Wilsons career, but it also holds personal significance for
him as a scientific justification for benevolence and self-sacrifice. He has said in a
webcast interview that he would like to be remembered for reviving group
selection, which
explains basically how niceness evolves how goodness and niceness
in all of their forms how those traits can win the Darwinian contest
and that applies to all creatures great and small

Critics charge that Wilson and other group selectionists are confusing their
progressive humanism with scientific facts (Dawkins 2011; Marris 2011; Shavit
2004; Webb 2007), to the extent that Richard Dawkins has accused Wilson of
zealotry (Segerstrle 2000:383).
Even in his earliest research, David Sloan Wilsons goals were unpopular
with other scientists, such as biologist Robert Trivers, who recalls Wilson as a
young post-doc full of enthusiasm, when he came into Trivers Harvard office in
1975 to propose a renewed defense of Group Selection. On this, Trivers writes:
I begged him not to do so. There were so many fascinating and
important problems remaining to be solved using good old individual
selection reasoning, while group selection by necessity had to be
found in nature but would be limited, so I told him, to very special
circumstances, very special life cycles, unusual constraints on
migration, and so on. I even tried to blow a little smoke up his ass, so
to speak, and told him it was obvious that he was bright and that with
his theoretical talents he might make major contributions to biology
while a life spent on group selection would inevitably come up short.
[] He obviously followed not a word of my advice. [Trivers 1998:83]


Despite these criticisms, Wilson maintains that the theory will eventually be
accepted as the driving force of human evolution. The EvoS Program (and its
founder) in this way departs from majority opinions within evolutionary science,
although the last two decades have seen growing number of cultural evolutionary
theories based on Group Selection, largely due to Wilsons continuous advocacy (for
example, see Berreby 2005; Boyd and Richerson 2005; Vermeij 2010; or E.O. Wilson
In the EvoS Program, Group Selection presents a picture of human social life
that is superorganic that is, that the group selection in human evolution resulted
in social collectives thinking and acting as one mind. As Wilson and a collaborator
We now know that evolution takes place not only by small mutational
change individuals from individuals but by groups becoming so
well integrated that they become higher-level organisms in their own
right individuals created from groups. Our ancestors became the
primate equivalent of bodies and beehives []. Our capacity for
cooperation within groups enabled us to become ecologically
dominant, occupying the entire planet and displacing many other
species along the way [D.S. Wilson and OBrien 2009:155-156]

Superorganic metaphors between humans and beehives and ant colonies
have been central to Group Selection Theory for over a century (see Borrello
2010:24-39; Mitchell 1995; Mitman 1992; Shavit 2004), and have a similarly
long and contentious history in anthropology and sociology.3

3 Superorganic theories are nearly synonymous with the nineteenth century theorist Herbert

Spencer. In evolutionary biology, the superorganism has held similar attraction for much of the early
twentieth century, beginning with William M. Wheelers The Ant-Colony as an Organism (1911).
Later, arguments of a human superorganism appeared most notably in Alfred L. Kroebers (1917)
essay, The Super-Organic (see Haraway 1991:43-68; Ingold 1986:7-10; Stocking 1982:65-68, 263-


However, David Sloan Wilson and his colleagues are adamant that they are
not speaking metaphorically, but rather describing a condition of socio-historical
reality in which political and religious collectives operate as group minds (D.S.
Wilson 1997a, 1997b; D.S. Wilson and Sober 1989; D.S. Wilson and E.O. Wilson
2007a, 2007b; D.S. Wilson et al 2004). Politicians, philosophers, and spiritual
leaders (they argue) have compared their communities to insect colonies or single
organisms in their essays and sacred texts, but these figurative comparisons are
actually evidence of evolved dispositions.4 For example, discussing an Anabaptist
text that inspired him to examine religions as superorganisms , Wilson comments,
the writer of this passage knew nothing about evolution or science, but
his comparison of bodies, beehives, and his own religious group struck
me as much more than a poetic metaphor. If I really wanted to study
human groups as comparable to bodies and beehives, shouldn't I be
studying religious groups? After all, that is how at least some religious
believers describe themselves! [2007a:235]

Elsewhere, Wilson and philosopher Elliot Sober criticize what they perceive as one-
sidedness among geneticists in their use of metaphors:
Genes that profit at the expense of other genes within the same
individual are metaphorically referred to as "outlaws" [] and the
regulatory machinery that evolves to suppress them is referred to as a
"parliament" of genes []. Ironically, most of the authors who use
these metaphors are reluctant to think of real parliaments as
regulatory machines that reduce fitness differences within groups,
thereby concentrating adaptation at the group level. [D.S. Wilson and
Sober 1994:592]

Not surprisingly, this view is uncommon in the evolutionary science community,
and many critics object simultaneously to group selection theorizing and its


Further examples of Wilson and other EvoS participants posing this argument e.g. religious or political
rhetoric of (for example) the body politic as coextensive with the findings of evolutionary science can
be found in Meyer 2008; Sleater 2010; Sober and D.S. Wilson 1998:132-158; D.S. Wilson 1997c, 2004;
D.S. Wilson and Sober 1994; D.S. Wilson and Swenson 2003; D.S. Wilson and E.O. Wilson 2007b.


associated superorganic metaphors. For example, zoologist Michael Ghiselin
agitatedly writes that superorganisms may exist, but that this
does not imply the existence of anything that even remotely resembles
a mind, with foresight, intentions, and intended consequences. To be
consistent, we would be driven to attribute minds to single cells, and
even to molecules. We might just as well revive such occult
metaphysical doctrines as hylozoism and pansychism. [2011:164]

Just as unsurprising, David Sloan Wilson is undeterred by such criticisms. Rather, he
and his collaborators find evidence from religious and political texts that
demonstrates the actual experience of what critics like Ghiselin dismiss as a
convenient metaphor. On this, Wilson straightforwardly declares
super-organisms aren't a metaphor. They are a fact. They're really out
there [], produced by the laws acting around us. They are also an
essential part of the human evolutionary story. If we choose to deny
their existence when we select metaphors to live by, we are denying
reality. [D.S. Wilson 2011b:70]

Like the EvoS contention that socio-cultural change is an evolutionary process, the
scope of this third ideology is narrow within the scientific community. However, it is
also a definitive part of this programs evolutionary reasoning, strongly identified
with its leader, his colleagues, students, and their research. Moving to the fourth and
final component part of the EvoS Programs evolutionary reasoning, I will examine
the implications of envisioning contemporary social life in this way.
1d. Humans continue to evolve and must learn to guide future evolution. Of the
many divided opinions within evolutionary science, the question of whether or not
humans continue to evolve is perhaps the most unsettled of arguments.5 EvoS

5 Modern humans could be understood as having transcended many selection pressures that cause
significant differences in the survival and reproduction of other animals. The species has migrated
across the entire planet, resulting in populations that are quite similar genetically. In this sense,


participants tend to understand the behaviors of contemporary Homo sapiens as
adaptations that oblige people to think and act as a superorganic group. Participants
thus represent socio-cultural change (both historically and at present) as an on-
going evolutionary process. As I suggest before, the EvoS Programs evolutionary
reasoning allows for a vast number of human and non-human phenomena to count
as selection, adaptation, and inheritance. To this end, living persons and their social
behaviors are of interest to EvoS, not only because they are products of past
selection pressures, but equally because these same persons and behaviors are
evidence of evolution in action in the present.6
On this matter, the intellectual predecessors of the programs evolutionary
reasoning are several mid-20th century scientists who argue that conscious
steering of human evolution will be both possible and necessary in the future, in
order to avoid extinction. For example, in his introduction to the 1963 general
audience publication Man and His Future, biologist Julian Huxley states:
the new and central factor in the present situation is that the
evolutionary process, in the person of mankind, has for the first time
become conscious of itself. We are realizing that we need a global
evolutionary policy, to which we shall have to adjust our economic and
social and national policies. [1963:20]

A similar example can be found in Edward O. Wilsons On Human Nature, where the

Homo sapiens do not exhibit the genetic variation or susceptibility to selection pressures that could
result in further evolutionary change. On the other hand, some theorists cite historical evidence that
some communities show specific, physiological resistances to disease, altitude, and low-level toxins
in available foods (for example, see Berreby 2005; Diamond 1997; Mindell 2006) However, these
arguments are in contrast to a wider opinion that recorded history does not offer enough time to
demonstrate that natural selection has taken place.

Among other sources, examples of this argument appear in: Gray 2007, 2011; Kniffin and D.S.
Wilson 2005; OBrien and D.S. Wilson 2011; OGorman et al. 2005; Storm and D.S. Wilson 2009; D.S.
Wilson, Kauffman, and Purdy 2011; D.S. Wilson, Marshall, and Iserhott 2011; D.S. Wilson and OBrien
2009; D.S. Wilson and E.O. Wilson 2007a, 2007b; D.S. Wilson, OBrien, and Sesma. 2009.


author proposes:
At some time in the future we will have to decide how human we wish
to remain in this ultimate, biological sense because we must choose
among the alternate emotional guides we have inherited. To chart our
destiny means that we must shift from automatic control based on our
biological properties to precise steering based on biological
knowledge. [1978:6]

Both of these authors argue that the continuing evolution of the human species,
through the present and into the future, prophesizing an impending need for action
to guide the species, informed by scientific knowledge specifically evolutionary
theory applied to social policies.7
For David Sloan Wilson and the EvoS Program, knowledge of human
evolution should inform a science of intentional change (D.S. Wilson 2012:149) for
decision makers in economics, law, and education. Publications and promotions in
this component of EvoS theorizing are ambitious, including: Evolving the Future:
Toward a Science of Intentional Change (D.S. Wilson et al. 2013), Darwins
Invisible Hand: Market Competition, Evolution, and the Firm (Johnson et al. 2013)
and Policymaking the Darwinist Way (D.S. Wilson 2009b). In this last publication,
Wilson argues that politicians and their expert advisers need evolutionary theory
for the best of reasons: it provides new tools for making humane decisions on
everyones behalf (2009b:22). Unlike earlier proclamations by Julian Huxley and

7 For both, this imperative is ultimately a recommendation for eugenics policy. Considering the

timeframe, Huxley is explicit on this matter: Our present civilization is becoming dysgenic. To
reverse this grave trend, we must use our genetical [sic] knowledge to the full, and develop new
techniques of human reproduction, such as oral contraception and multiple insemination by deep-
frozen sperm from desired donors. Eventually, the prospect of radical eugenic improvement could
become one of the mainsprings of man's evolutionary advance (1963:21) Edward Wilson offers a
more cautious opinion that we are justified in considering the preservation of the entire gene pool
as a contingent primary value until such time as the almost unimaginably greater knowledge of
human heredity provides us with the option of a democratically contrived eugenics (1978: 198).


others, the EvoS Programs arguments are explicitly not in favor of eugenics,
population control, laissez-faire economic markets, or limiting social welfare.
Instead, Wilson posits:
The new version of Social Darwinism is very different. It provides a
powerful, evolutionary justification for social equality and a
sophisticated theory for how to achieve it []. Even when evolution
has made things that are hard to change, we need to know about the
more enduring aspects of human nature so that we can design our
current environments accordingly. We design zoos so that wild
animals will feel at home so why not our own environments? [D.S.
Wilson 2010:15]

The EvoS Program shares with earlier (and some contemporary) evolutionary
scientists the conviction that human evolution has not ceased. The species continues
to demonstrate its adaptations (and maladapations) in the present, and will need
knowledge of these matters to make social policy decisions to survive future
selection pressures.8 As Wilson suggests above, the key to survival (and the central
difference between EvoS and earlier evolutionary science) is an evolutionary
justification for social equality, informing social policies that oblige persons to treat
one another as part of the same superorganic group.

It is this final point that encapsulates all components of the programs

evolutionary reasoning in a call to restructure contemporary social structures.

People need to recognize that the most significant adaptations in human evolution


It bears noting that proponents of Evolutionary Psychology similarly propose that policy changes
(for example, in law enforcement, mental health, labor regulation, and public education) should be
informed by evolutionary science. Recent examples include publications such as Darwinism Applied:
Evolutionary Paths to Social Goals (Beckstrom 1993), Evolutionary Psychology and Violence: A Primer
for Policymakers and Public Policy Advocates (Bloom and Dess 2003), Evolutionary Psychology, Public
Policy and Personal Decisions (Crawford and Salmon 2004). However, these authors either do not
address or sometimes explicitly reject the possibility Homo sapiens continued evolution. Rather, like
the founding theorists of Evolutionary Psychology (Cosmides and Tooby 1992), they tend to argue
that humans are psychologically adapted to Stone Age selection pressures, not those of industrialized


have been the socio-historic (i.e. cultural evolutionary) processes, resulting in
previously disparate persons acting as single, superorganic entities seen in
neighborhood activism (Henrich and Henrich 2007; OBrien 2009, 2010; D.S. Wilson
2011), alternative education and play groups (Gray 2007; D.S. Wilson, Marshall, and
Iserhott 2011) organized religion (Storm and D.S. Wilson 2009; D.S. Wilson 2002a;
2005c), and nation states (Turchin 2003; 2006; D.S. Wilson et al. 2013). David Sloan
Wilson expresses the urgency for such consensus to happen on a global scale:
[O]ur future is bleak if we don't turn our groups into organisms [].
When groups aren't organisms, life becomes nasty, brutish, and short
for their members. If conflict doesn't get them, then neglect and decay
will. When groups do become organisms, life becomes good for their
members, but the problems of conflict, neglect, and decay reappear at a
higher scale. The only way to solve this problem is by building up the
scale of cooperation until the entire planet is a single cooperative
group. Otherwise, we will suffer from conflict, neglect, and decay at a
massive scale. [2011b:365]

Wilsons proposal here is, obviously, quite ambitious. But, more importantly, this
ideology draws the EvoS Programs evolutionary reasoning into a total explanation
of lived social reality as it exists, and moreover as it should be made in the future.
The superorganism is the ideal form of organization, realized in some facets of
human life, but eluding others because of policy-makers uncooperative neglect of
evolutionary knowledge.

At the outset of this discussion of the EvoS Programs evolutionary

reasoning, I had two goals in mind: First, I wanted to make clear precisely what I
mean by that term. I introduced what I have observed to be four, component parts
to the programs evolutionary reasoning the presupposed ideologies shared
within this group regarding human evolution and its socio-political significance.


Like a social movement, these ideologies display great strength within the EvoS
Program, but relatively narrow scope within a broader institution (U.S. and
European evolutionary science). Second, I sought to establish for my readers a
representative picture of the programs take on evolution, because this knowledge
will be necessary for a basic understanding for this movements first principle a
subject to which I turn below.

2. The EvoS Programs First Principle
As I will show extensively in coming chapters, the EvoS Programs challenge
to U.S. higher education lies in regularly contextualizing each of the movements
activities as an affirmation of the same message. Though of course every instance is
unique to its setting, topics, and participants, this message is largely consistent: All
disciplines of higher education should embrace evolutionary reasoning as the
foundation to all explanations of social life. To this end, participants affirm the EvoS
Programs evolutionary reasoning as a single method of rethinking the primary
meanings of human experiences. Though program participants direct this challenge
toward a number of institutional targets, it is most recognizably an ultimatum
delivered to students and professionals in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The EvoS Programs challenge to higher education is thus foundational a

radical reinterpretation of the epistemic grounds upon which the curricula and
research of higher education should rest. For several decades, professionals in many
of these same disciplines have themselves challenged the very possibility that such a
foundation is possible or desirable (Moran 2002; Readings 1996; Searle 1995;


Wiarda 2010). Despite the narrow scope of the programs evolutionary reasoning
within the broader scientific community, David Sloan Wilson and other participants
argue that the EvoS Programs evolutionary reasoning provides an authoritative,
unifying framework for explaining human behaviors of all kinds. Evolutionary
reasoning is posed as a unifying paradigm, counter to institutional disciplinary
divisions. For example, on the programs website (EvoS Start Your Own), Wilson
argues that EvoS aims to resolve a general problem in higher education the
fragmentation of knowledge. He elaborates:
The Ivory Tower would be more aptly named the Ivory Archipelago. It
consists of hundreds of isolated subjects, each divided into smaller
subjects in an almost infinite progression. People are examined less
with a microscope than with a kaleidoscope psychology,
anthropology, economics, political science, sociology, history, art,
literature, philosophy, gender studies, ethnic studies. Each perspective
has its own history and special assumptions. One persons heresy as
anothers commonplace. Unity of knowledge has always been the ideal
of a liberal arts education and almost everyone in higher education
agrees about the importance of integrating across disciplines.
Unfortunately, these commonly held goals cannot be realized in the
absence of a common language that can be spoken across disciplines.
Evolutionary theory provides a common language a single
explanatory framework that can be used to organize knowledge across
a diversity of subject areas []. In short, we aim to turn the Ivory
Archipelago into the United Ivory Archipelago!9

Numerous scholars previously argued that evolutionary science provides
knowledge that transcends differences in theory and method between academic
disciplines (for example Huxley 1963; Lorenz 1966; E.O. Wilson 1975, 1998a,
1998b). Like the EvoS Program, these scholars propose that once this this goal is
met in higher education, disciplines that have traditionally been unconcerned with


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/about/start-your-own/ (Accessed July 11, 2011). See also D.S.

Wilson 2005a, 2007a, 2011.


evolution would be unified with the Biological Sciences through their shared
attention to evolutionary reasoning.
Propositions of this sort stir controversy within the contemporary Social
Sciences and Humanities, where critiques of foundationalism typically concern how
such grand or final explanations tend to favor the privileges and influence enjoyed
by those who produce them. Focusing on this issue in evolutionary science, Martha
McCaughey argues:
Foundationalism assumes the need for, and existence of, one
authoritative framework for distinguishing the right from the wrong,
the real from the unreal, and the healthy from the sick []. It is not that
evolution provides a bad foundation, but that foundationalism itself is
troubling. It sets up a way to make politics invisible in the knowledge
production process. Invoking God's will, or nature's, hides the political
context in which such a will was revealed or discovered, the interests
of those who deem it important, and the dissent of those who are
unwillingly held accountable to it. [2008:59]

As the previous passage from the EvoS website explicitly demonstrates, the
challenge that the program makes to U.S. higher education concerns promoting and
implementing precisely such a singular authoritative framework. The programs
founder and participants are by no means unaware of the controversial nature of
their goals, although their general understanding of criticisms such as McCaugheys
is often lacking. For example, Wilson and a colleague attempt to sympathize:
Mistrust of grand theorizing is understandable, because a succession of
grand theories of history, religion, and culture have come and gone.
Nevertheless, the fact that evolution is an authentic grand theory for the
rest of life on earth suggests that it might also succeed with respect to
our own species, even if previous grand theories failed. [D.S. Wilson and
Green 2011:227]

Taking McCaugheys explanation above as more-or-less representative of the
broader, academic criticism of foundationalism, it is clear that Wilson and Green do


not completely grasp the resistance to authoritative frameworks, evolutionary or
otherwise. Yet, the EvoS Program is aimed at convincing these critics otherwise.

3. The EvoS Programs Resources: Incentives, Coursework, Membership,
Promotional Media, and Funding

I have so far focused on (what I am calling) the EvoS Programs evolutionary
reasoning, those presupposed ideologies about human evolution that comprise it,
and its central role in this programs first principle a challenge to higher education
to accept evolutionary reasoning as the foundation for all explanations of social life.
To more fully document the EvoS Programs activities and relationships, it is
necessary now to consider this movements resources the materials, practices, and
interpersonal obligations that participants harness to advocate the programs first
principle at Binghamton University. Much of the evidence that I describe here may
strike the reader as unremarkable, resembling the usual goings-on of any
university department, office, or club. This to be expected, since social movements
push some of the possibilities of existing cultural forms in new directions, to be
sure, but their cultural life is not fundamentally different in source or mode of
operation (Hart 1992:89). Many of the EvoS Programs resources its incentives
for participating, coursework, membership, and funding sources are tied to higher
education, in one way or another. However, the program also finds novel ways of
harnessing these resources, in order to advocate a foundation of evolutionary

At this juncture, I need to qualify that the roles played by movement leaders

can pose special problems for discussions of social movements. Certainly, one


cannot ignore the influence of leaders such as David Sloan Wilson in guiding
collective action, procuring resources, inspiring participation, and attracting new
participants. Leaders offer the movements history, identity, and goals, often in
frank, readily quotable sound bites. However, such fortuitous pronouncements
come at a cost to ethnography. A researcher risks ignoring the agency of other
participants for a top-down analysis of the movement, as conceptualized through
the words of its elites. Less-vocal participants begin to appear as an anonymous
crowd of supporters, reifying the leaders perspective as though participant
mobilization were simply a matter of movement activists pushing the appropriate
rhetorical button (Benford 1997:421). Neither should an ethnographic assessment
of leadership roles become a kind of psychoanalysis of individuals that sidesteps
their positions as historically and social-situated actors (Goodwin et al 2004:418-
419). No less than other participants, leaders have complex motivations for their
participation in the movement.
All told, discussions of movement leaders are crucial to the ethnographic
process, but their influence should be situated through an equally necessary
discussion of the interpersonal dynamics of the movement and its contexts. David
Sloan Wilsons great influence upon the EvoS Program will be evidence throughout
this discussion, but I also demonstrate that the kinds of advocacy found in this social
movement are discursively produced through numerous participants and resources.
My two goals in this section are: First, to detail the most relevant EvoS
resources as I have observed from my fieldwork its participation incentives,
required and elective coursework, membership, promotional media, and funding


and (doing so) further document the material and interpersonal realities of the EvoS
Program as a social movement. Second, I wish to analyze how these resources
adhere to (and sometimes deviate from) institutional norms in higher education, a
kind of balancing act performed continuously by social movements. Through this
evidence-based analysis, I seek to ground my subsequent discussion of my fieldwork
as a participant-observer in the EvoS Program.
3a. Incentives to Participate in the EvoS Program
The EvoS Program has gone to great lengths to encourage and reward the
participation of professional scholars, university students, and distance learners. As
its website argues, participation in EvoS is easy, offering dozens of avenues to
engage in the program. The program is thus advertised as an emerging movement of
both persons and ideas, one that professional (and aspiring professional) academics
will regret not joining. As the programs founder asserts:
Evolutionary theory has arrived as an important theoretical
framework guiding research in the human behavioral sciences. Any
college or university that fails to teach evolution in relation to human
affairs is out of touch with current scientific research. [D.S. Wilson

Participation in EvoS is presented as both academically rewarding and essential to
the relevance of U.S. higher education. Below, I detail several of these incentives, as
they have been advertised by the program and observed through my own research.
The Evolutionary Studies Certificate. To date, the EvoS Program offers no
undergraduate or graduate major. Rather, undergraduates may work towards a


certificate in Evolutionary Studies.10 To earn the EvoS certificate, students take
twenty credits of eligible courses, an extensive catalog of classes taught by EvoS
faculty participants.11 Undergraduates must also complete the introductory
Evolution for Everyone course and two semesters of the programs Seminar Series.
Graduate students may also enroll in the EvoS Program and work towards a
graduate certificate in Evolutionary Studies (in this case, mediated through
Binghamton Universitys Graduate School). Like undergraduates, graduate students
wanting to earn an EvoS Certificate must complete two semesters of the programs
Seminar Series.
Career Building and Networking. Because EvoS relies upon pre-existing
resources to maintain and spread, it must face (like other social movements) the
fact that participation also demands its participants time and labor. The programs
organizers that EvoS provides academic and intellectual benefits contributing to a
participants career goals. For example, the programs website explains that the
certificate is only one of many ways that graduate student participants can benefit:
EvoS is intended to enable graduate students from all academic units
to adopt an evolutionary perspective without adding an undue burden
to their existing requirements. Graduate students are a critical
component of the program, not only as students but also as teachers
and colleagues, and are therefore encouraged to contribute ideas to
the design and operation of the program.12


The Certificate in Evolutionary Studies is similar to other certificate programs in (for example) teaching
or English as a Second Language. Students receive this certificate at graduation, in addition to their

http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/students/undergraduate/courses/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)

12 http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/students/graduate/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


Similarly, for Binghamton professors, the EvoS Programs website presents several
incentives to enroll as participants. The programs founder explains that EvoS is
intended to train faculty as well as students:
Fortunately, it is possible to do this without imposing an unacceptable
additional workload on the faculty []. EvoS has already stimulated
teaching and research activities in new subject areas, involving faculty
members who were not part of the initial core. When the evolutionary
perspective proves its worth to a faculty member, achieving a
professional level of competency becomes a priority that contributes
to rather than detracting from their career goals. [D.S. Wilson

Becoming a faculty participant in the EvoS Program, Wilson proposes, professors
may increase the scope of their knowledge and expertise, without compromising
their duties in other disciplines or their own career development. The program
presents numerous incentives for professional scholars to participate, including:
networking opportunities, grants, mentoring positions, and interdisciplinary
collaborations. Additionally, participating professors courses will be advertised on
the EvoS website, which undergraduate students may complete as part of their
requirements for the Evolutionary Studies Certificate.13

The EvoS Program also offers opportunities for participation to non-

matriculated students, including a distance learning program. There, they may

participate in online discussions, read tutorials, enroll in introductory, online
courses in evolutionary science and (like Binghamton University students) work
toward the Certificate in Evolutionary Studies.14

13 http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/faculty/becoming-involved/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/students/others/from-a-distance/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


In addition to the professional and educational incentives, the programs
organizers also look to attract faculty, graduates, and undergraduate participation in
research programs. The EvoS Program webpage offers an online registration page
for undergraduate research opportunities, and undergraduates may participate for
academic credit, which additionally will count toward their requirements for the
EvoS Certificate. Research that includes evolutionary theories is eligible for small,
yearly grants of up to $1000 from the Institute for Evolutionary Studies an
organization overseen by the EvoS founder and a group of participating faculty. Past
and ongoing research projects funded by the program include investigations of child
bullying, college student sexual promiscuity, models for educational reform, and
community outreach projects in the City of Binghamton.15

These incentives are unsurprising for any contemporary academic program.

EvoS organizers advertise their programs vibrancy and cutting-edge approaches to

academic research. Recognizing that participation in EvoS is taken on in addition to
other academic responsibilities, they stress that ones participation would
complement and even add to the intellectual, professional, and financial rewards of
these other duties. These incentives for participation thus demonstrate a notable
deference to the responsibilities and desires of university faculty and students,
which organizers often argue are the shared concerns of the program.
It may seem odd that a group would show such deference to the concerns of
higher education while simultaneously arguing, as its leader does, that any college
or university that fails to teach evolution in relation to human affairs is out of touch


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/faculty/institute-for-advanced-studies/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


with current scientific research (2007a:3-4). If the outlook for evolutionary
reasoning in higher education is so grim, why promote its benefits so fervently and
reward its participants so generously? As I argue previously, this paradox is better
understood as a kind of balancing act, undertaken by a social movement that is
attempting to transform the very institution that houses it. In my further
discussion of the programs resources, this will become abundantly clear.
3b. Students Coursework in the EvoS Program

If EvoS resembles an academic department in any way, it is certainly in their

required and elective coursework. These classes are typically offered through the
universitys Biology and Anthropology Departments, but (as I discuss below) some
will occasionally appear in the catalogues of some unlikely disciplines.
Evolution for Everyone. Binghamton undergraduate students who become
familiar with the EvoS Program typically receive this introduction through the
freshman-level course Evolution for Everyone, taught each Fall semester, with 150
to 170 students enrolling each session. The course was initially taught by David
Sloan Wilson, until 2009, when his graduate students assumed the majority of
courses responsibilities, teaching the course either alone or in pairs. Occasionally,
Wilson will give guest lectures, and his popular science book Evolution for Everyone:
How Darwins Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (2007a)
remains the courses required textbook (OBrien and D.S. Wilson 2010; OBrien et al.


This course is notable for its special efforts to relate evolutionary theories to

socio-political issues. Writing on the courses objectives, its teachers suggest that
general instruction on evolution is not enough to hold student interest. Rather,
the framing of the material must itself be intriguing []. We
emphasize the generality of evolutionary theory by illustrating each
major principle with parallel examples from both biological and
human-related literatures. We find this mixing particularly effective.
For instance, the quetzals tail is a classic example of sexual selection
illustrating the handicap principle in a nonhuman species, which can
be compared with the use of humor and creativity by human males
during courtship or the role of costly signaling in religious ritual. In
this fashion, students learn about evolution as a theory that goes
beyond the biological sciences from the very beginning. [OBrien and
D.S. Wilson 2010:3]

As this description suggests, by drawing parallels from evolutionary research on
non-human species with that on humans, instructors attempt to engage students
who might otherwise lose interest (especially in a course requiring no
prerequisites). Arguably, the course must address topics such as humor and
creativity by human males during courtship or the role of costly signaling in
religious ritual because it also fulfills an undergraduate, general education credit
for Social Science. However, the course is geared toward teaching evolution as a
theory that goes beyond the biological sciences, and thus very much dovetails with
the first principle of the EvoS Program.
Instructors for Evolution for Everyone pursue a rather highly-regarded
initiative in higher education, toward student-centered learning. Like many
professional academics, their class topics are directed toward likely student
interests, and the students choose their topics for class research projects


themselves. As a graduate student instructor for the course explains (in a university
video promotion for the course and the EvoS program):
Students seem to really enjoy the course they really enjoy the
exploratory nature of it the final project is a poster project that
they choose a topic early in the semester and it can range from -
theres definitely every year a poster jealousy and dating though
theres also other interesting ones ranging from trying to understand
baseball or how people behave in role player games World of
Warcraft from an evolutionary perspective people trying to
understand dance trying to understand laughter all of these things
and they spend a lot of the semester a lot of their assignments are
very free form assignments that say go develop hypotheses from an
evolutionary perspective on this topic - and what you think the
relevance of laughter or dance is and by the end of the semester they
present a poster where they propose novel research about the topic
research thats never been done before

As this speaker comments, the flexibility of this course encourages students to
examine the evolutionary concepts they have encountered in the course with a
subject of their own (OBrien and D.S. Wilson 2010:8). This is, as I suggest above,
much in keeping with institutional initiatives in higher education to engage students
by making classes about them (as opposed to lecture-based, teacher-centered
Yet, clearly the speakers description of these students projects also echoes
much of the EvoS Programs evolutionary reasoning. As I have also observed in the
Evolution for Everyone poster session, these projects employ cultural
evolutionary theories to explain activities and relationships that are (in one way or
another) important to these students lives. Further, these projects almost inevitably
presuppose that the human species is continuing to evolve, as demonstrated by
these students own observations of social life. To this end, the objective of the


course parallels the mission statement in the EvoS Programs promotional
[E]volutionary theory will probably never be generally accepted no
matter how well supported by facts unless it consequences for
human affairs are fully addressed. Once evolution is seen as
unthreatening, explanatory, and useful for solving lifes problems,
then it becomes not just acceptable but irresistible to the average

The student-centered learning employed in Evolution for Everyone can thus been
seen as encouraging widespread acceptance of cultural evolutionary theories and
the continuing evolution of Homo sapiens presupposed ideologies within the
evolutionary reasoning of the EvoS Program.
EvoS organizers similarly argue that Evolution for Everyone is a way to
rectify the widespread doubts about evolutions validity in the United States. The
organizers particularly fault relegation of evolutionary science to biological (i.e.
non-human) science education as a primary cause for its unpopularity. In a 2009
article, they explain,
While this ideological conflict about human origins is ongoing in
society as a whole, there is also a divide within academia as to the
theorys applicability to human research. Some take the stance that
evolutionary theory should inform all behavioral studies, be the focus
on individuals or societal institutions []. Nevertheless, evolution is
still taught primarily as a subject in the biological sciences, rather
than a theory that can help to unify the human-related disciplines.
[OBrien et al. 2009:445]

In such arguments, the EvoS Programs first principle a challenge to U.S. higher
education should embrace evolutionary reasoning as the foundation of all
explanations of social life also appears as the resolution for a much broader


Quoted from About EvoS, a promotional flyer distributed throughout Binghamton University during
the 2012-2013 school year.


dispute between scientists and creationists in this country (see also D.S. Wilson
2005a, 2007a; Garcia et al. 2011; Geher and Gambacorta 2010). The Evolution for
Everyone course can thus be understood as (on one hand) an initiative to resolve
the divide between religious and scientific institutions in the U.S., while (on the
other) an introduction for incoming, university freshman to the EvoS Programs
challenge to higher education. As one course instructor explains in a promotional
the main goal of the course is to take the theory of evolution which is
often treated as a biological theory - and expanding it to all the other
disciplines that deal with living things which specifically are human
oriented and I introduce them to EvoS Evolution for Everyone is the
opening course to getting an EvoS certificate a certificate in
Evolutionary Studies which is a program in the school which
includes many courses that are evolution oriented from different
human related disciplines ranging from psychology to anthropology
to even the school of management and human development and so
we have all these - we have all these courses and students can take
these courses and earn an EvoS degree or EvoS certificate
alongside their standard major

EvoS organizers are not shy about using and advertising this course as their main
recruiting vehicle. The student projects poster session at the courses end similarly
serves this function, as it is advertised across campus, especially to EvoS students
and faculty as a way of welcoming a new cohort into the multi-course program
(OBrien and D.S. Wilson 2010:8).

The EvoS Program thus incorporates numerous institutional resources into

its activities and relationships a freshman-level course offering a general

education requirement, methods for student-centered learning, initiatives for
undergraduate research, and (most broadly) the historical and contemporary
controversy over evolution versus creationism in the U.S. In one sense, most of these


resources are necessary and understandable inclusions for nearly any academic
program. However, the program deviates from the presuppositions of higher
education by introducing its own ideologies and first principle to incoming students,
who are seen by program organizers as potential recruits. As these students join,
they will encounter other EvoS Program courses, which I turn to next.
Other Courses Used for Evolutionary Studies Certificate Credits. Around
80 courses offered at Binghamton University have been approved by their
instructors and EvoS organizers as coursework credits toward the Evolutionary
Studies Certificate. These courses are primarily offered by the Biology or
Anthropology departments, but others are occasionally scheduled in Psychology,
Philosophy, Bioengineering, Economics, English, and Environmental Studies. They
are often taught by faculty members in the EvoS Program (whom I discuss below).
As David Sloan Wilson explains in one of the programs tutorial documents, the most
basic component in building an EvoS Program is
a group of faculty across a variety of departments who are already
teaching and/or conducting research from an evolutionary
perspective. A very modest investment on the part of the
Administration can be sufficient to create a program that facilitates
their interactions and makes their courses available to students from
other departments. Most administrators already value integration and
are eager to reward this kind of initiative. Students who have been
turned on to evolution by a single course or their own reading are
eager to join a multi-course program.17

Along with the introductory Evolution for Everyone course, the EvoS Program
argues that these courses demonstrate the institutional successes of the EvoS
Program (and evolutionary reasoning in general), as demonstrated by the academic


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/about/start-your-own/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


benefits it provides for students. This argument appears in the EvoS Consortium
organizers 2008 NSF proposal:
It is common for EvoS students to report to us that their general
academic performance improved after learning about evolution
because they made connections that they were not making before.
Some even report their frustration that these connections are not
being made by their instructors in non-EvoS courses! [D.S. Wilson et
al. 2008:14]

Courses linked to the EvoS Program are (these authors posit) inspiring students
toward improved educational engagement, which the students themselves report.
Like Evolution for Everyone, other EvoS-related courses are engaged by this
program as a source for new participants, who are turned on to evolution by such
courses and apparently go on to voice their disappointments that other university
programs do not offer a similar experience.
This resource is not only a pool of potential members, but also a source of
evaluative data that might further demonstrate EvoS as achieving (and exceeding)
institutional goals. As its university presence grew between 2008 and 2011, EvoS
Program organizers conducted surveys further testing the hypothesis that
evolutionary training increases general critical thinking skills, academic
performance, and career attainment post-graduation (D.S. Wilson et al. 2008:14).
The first of these tests matched a sample of EvoS and non-EvoS students by gender,
major, college year, and incoming SAT scores. All students were then asked to
complete a number of cognitive reasoning tasks and short answer questions on
both biological and human-related subjects. In this surveys results:
EvoS students spontaneously employed evolutionary reasoning more
than non-EvoS students for both biological and human-related
questions, demonstrating the transfer of reasoning skills outside the


classroom []. In other words, teaching the specific content of
evolutionary science achieves a general goal of undergraduate
education. [D.S. Wilson et al. 2011:7]

In a second experiment, the final grades earned by 163 EvoS students were
compared to those of 163 non-EvoS students across several courses, additionally
comparing the students by their academic majors. In this second survey:
Biology majors enrolled in the EvoS program did not earn higher
grades than their non-EvoS counterparts, but EvoS students majoring
in psychology, the social sciences, and the health sciences did
outperform their non-EvoS counterparts. The most reasonable
explanation for these results is that biology majors learn about
evolution even when they dont participate in EvoS. Students from
other majors typically dont receive evolutionary training, but when
they do through EvoS it increases their academic performance. Once
again, teaching the specific content of evolutionary science achieves a
general goal of undergraduate education. [D.S. Wilson et al. 2011:7]

Using the same sample set, the researchers conducted a third analysis, comparing
the final grades of EvoS vs. non-EvoS students in courses that counted toward the
EvoS Certificate vs. those that did not. Assessing the results, the researchers are
taken aback:
Remarkably, EvoS students do not outperform their non-EvoS
counterparts for courses that earn EvoS credits, but they do
outperform their non-EvoS counterparts for courses in the social
sciences and humanities that do not earn EvoS credits. The most
reasonable interpretation of this result is the same as for the
comparison of majors. When a course is explicitly taught from an
evolutionary perspective, EvoS and non-EvoS students benefit alike.
For courses that are not taught from an evolutionary perspective,
EvoS students perform better because only they have received the
benefits of evolutionary training. [D.S. Wilson et al. 2011:7]

As the authors explain, previous tests simply demonstrate that education in
evolutionary reasoning inspires students toward the general goal of undergraduate
education earning higher grades and employing knowledge across diverse tasks.


In this final case, however, the authors argue that this kind of education might
(potentially) satisfy the democratic ideals of liberal education:
If evolutionary training increases academic performance, then the
performance differential of EvoS vs. non-EvoS students should be
erased when evolutionary training is provided to everyone. [D.S.
Wilson et al. 2011:8].

Were evolutionary reasoning embraced as the foundation of all university courses
if the EvoS Programs first principle were realized an academic inequality would
be dissolved. Here, I suggest, program organizers use a pool of research subjects to
argue the legitimacy of their movements first principle in a quite complicated way:
By extending evolutionary reasoning as a foundation to a wide spectrum of courses
(they argue), the academic performance of both participants and non-participants
was improved. By maximally expanding these kinds of courses (such that all courses
become EvoS courses), the university could ensure that all students democratically
experience these same positive results.

As I have shown here, courses linked to the EvoS Program provide not just a

resource for the programs need to recruit new members, but also a fruitful pool of
research subjects that might empirically support the programs successful
implementation of the commonly-argued goals of higher education. These
organizers are obviously employing their extensive training in surveying and
analyzing sample sets, in order to meet administrative expectations for academic
programs self-evaluation and accountability a common enough practice in
contemporary U.S. higher education (Readings 1996). More astounding is the
researchers conclusion that these courses succeed in ways that demonstrate the
need for evolutionary reasoning to be extended to all courses, and thus realizing this


social movements first principle. In this way, there is another balancing act being
performed by this movement: Attention to student performance, empirical
evaluation, academic accountability, and equality in higher education has been
pressed toward a challenge to higher education, itself. Until such a time as
evolutionary training is provided to everyone, its benefits will only be experienced
by the EvoS Programs members.
3c. Membership in the EvoS Program
Establishing an accurate head count of participants in a social movement is
a complex matter. While the EvoS Programs website lists faculty and graduate
participants (numbering around 70), the programs electronic listserv likely
includes hundreds of recipients, reaching both former and present participants. To
complicate matters further, EvoS membership must be quite broadly defined here,
insofar as some of these individuals no longer attend Binghamton University or live
in the area, although organizers still count them as the members of the program.
Further, undergraduates and graduates who enroll in the programs classes are
encouraged (or in some cases required) to simultaneously enroll as EvoS Program
The EvoS website lists approximately 50 participating faculty members,
situated in various departments at Binghamton University. Many teach in biology,
anthropology, psychology, systems science, bio-engineering, and economics. Other
participating members are professors come from Philosophy, English, and History.
As the website explains:
EvoS began with a core of approximately 15 faculty who were already
employing the evolutionary perspective in their teaching and


research. Within a few years it grew to over 50 faculty, representing
virtually every department on campus. The new faculty participants
were curious and open-minded about evolution but had not received
evolutionary training during their own graduate and post-graduate

Again, the participation of these faculty is unclear, as some have agreed to
represent their departments (in EvoS promotions, praising their curiosity and
open-mindedness about evolution) but rarely participate in any EvoS activities. As I
have found in my fieldwork, the majority of active participants (those helping to
organize regularly attending EvoS activities) are undergraduate and, to a lesser
extent, graduate students. Students enrolled in EvoS-related courses typically
number between 80-120, per semester, although often many of these are the same
students, from one semester to the next.
The diverse backgrounds of these participants are impressive and
continuously promoted. The programs founder observes that EvoS activities
are attended, understood, and enjoyed by a single audience of
undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty representing
all departments on campus. The only thing that makes this possible is
theoretical integration. The speakers and audience alike share a
common conceptual framework that enables them to transcend
disciplinary boundaries. [D.S. Wilson 2005:1007]

An additional complexity in accounting for EvoS membership thus lies in the groups
ardent promotion of itself as a vibrant entity. Such information often glosses the
distinction between passive and active group members. For the promoters of EvoS,
the very act of participating (in these cases, answering an email or attending a class)
qualifies one as a member of the program.


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/faculty/becoming-involved/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


As I mention, the diversity of its

participants is of great importance to the EvoS

Program, a concern that is observable in many
university departments, offices, and clubs,
reflecting the high value placed upon
multiculturalism and interdisciplinarity in
contemporary higher education (Moran 2002;
Readings 1996; Urciuoli 2003, 2005). For

Figure 1: Detail from About EvoS

informational flyer, distributed at
Binghamton University between 2012-2013.

example, a recent EvoS flyer includes a picture of David Sloan Wilson standing with
students of different genders and ethnic backgrounds, even though the adjoining
text lists the names of the programs organizers and steering committee positions
belonging to no one pictured, save for Wilson (see figure 1). Like many other sectors
of higher education, the EvoS Program is committed to promoting its
interdisciplinarity and multiculturalism and the diversity of its participants. Yet, for
EvoS, the spectrum of its membership does not only adhere to institutional
concerns, but additionally (and more importantly) demonstrates the relevance of its
own first principle. On this, Wilson describes the results of the programs course,
Evolution for Everyone:
The majority of students, not just a select few, learned to think about
evolution as a powerful way to understand the world in general and
especially their own interests and concerns [] A background in
science or prior knowledge of evolution was not required. Freshman
English majors got the message just as strongly as senior biology
majors []. The course succeeded across the entire range of political
and religious beliefs, from feminists to young Republicans and from
atheists to believers. [D.S. Wilson 2007a:8-9]


EvoS membership, as argued by David Sloan Wilson and other program promoters,
exemplifies the inherently interdisciplinary and multicultural appeal of evolutionary
Clearly, this program exhibits a broader way of seeing its membership than
collecting rosters or counting participants at this-or-that activity. EvoS participants
surely number into hundreds of individuals current students and faculty,
administrative staff, alumni, emeritus professors, and non-academics in private and
public professions. But, a notable difference in this membership lies in how these
members are accounted for, relative to most other academic departments, offices,
or clubs. Other university organizations tend to include discussions of members in
promotional literature (numbers, biographies, testimonies, etc.) But the EvoS
Program made concerted efforts to highlight its members acceptance and advocacy
of the movements first principle. For example, David Sloan Wilson argues that
many EvoS students regard EvoS as their academic home rather than
their particular department. As one student put it, EvoS provides a
stimulating atmosphere with which biologists, psychologists,
anthropologists, philosophers, social scientists, and even those in the
arts can transcend traditional academic boundaries and collaborate in
addressing mutually interesting questions. It creates a think-tank
atmosphere of sorts, and its a beautiful thing! [D.S. Wilson

In one sense, such commentary might be seen as a hand-picked evaluation of a
particularly delighted individual, although program organizers fully document and
advertise its participants overwhelmingly positive feedback on EvoS courses and
research projects (see Carmen et al. 2013; Corrigan and Crooker 2009; OBrien and
D.S. Wilson 2010; D.S. Wilson 2005a, 2007a, 2011b). For students taking EvoS
courses, the program founder explains,


learning about evolution is like walking through a door and not
wanting to return. Using it to think about their interests and concerns
becomes second nature, like riding a bicycle. They are eager to
develop their expertise in subsequent courses and disappointed by
professors who do not share their newfound perspective. [D.S. Wilson

Taking Wilsons argument seriously (and leaving aside his mixed metaphors), EvoS
membership may not be so much a matter of the numbers of individuals that the
movement can count among its ranks, as the ideological strength of its
presuppositions. That is, membership implies the tendency for its participants to
index EvoS ideologies in their activities and relationships, particularly as they
engage with the programs aims as a social movement. Institutional presuppositions
are co-opted into this enterprise, at once legitimating the
movement but also strategically directed toward (as is
the case for EvoS) a radical revision of other institutional
ideologies. Movement membership represents the
vibrancy of the groups first principle a fact that is
continuously advertised in the movements promotional
media. I turn to this issue next.

3d. The EvoS Programs Promotional Media
Promotions of the kind that EvoS distributes are,
of course, unlikely to depict the program in anything but
the most positive light. They are resources primarily
directed toward recruitment and advertisement of

Figures 2 and 3: Promotional

EvoS flyers from the 2013-14
school year


program activities to members. Other EvoS Program resources are typically
harnessed for its promotion, as many of the examples I offer above (cited from
videos, tutorials, flyers, web pages, and both popular and professional publications)
more than amply demonstrate. The programs media are indeed widely
disseminated and demonstrate the program as roundly present at Binghamton
University. During Fall and Spring Semesters, one would be hard pressed to find an
announcement board on campus without an EvoS flyer or a hallway anywhere
without at least one office door sporting a promotional poster (for example, see
figures 2 and 3).
The EvoS Program Website. The EvoS website plays a key role in promoting
and recruiting with the program 19. This site offers tutorials in evolutionary theory,
news about upcoming EvoS events, archives of visual and audio recordings from
past activities, and links to related blogs by the founder and his colleagues. Visually
prioritized on the website are links for the Evos Events Calendar, David Sloan
Wilsons webpage, and The EvoS Fund, where visitors can contribute financially to
the program. The website explains:
90% of your donation will be entered into the EvoS account a very
low overhead compared to other tax-exempt organizations. You will
be supporting what is arguably the boldest experiment in
evolutionary training in higher education.20

Recently, organizers added links to the EvoS Facebook page and the programs
Twitter feed. Obviously, the programs embrace of electronic media (Facebook,
Twitter, web tutorials, and distance learning) is part of a broader incentive across


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)

http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/about/evos-fund/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


many US universities to keep up with the times by employing social media popular
with young consumers to advertise their institution and expand academic practices
(teaching, discussions, certificate programs, etc) to a greater number of potential
students. This said, the number and ways for people to participate in EvoS are
unusually high for an academic webpage, as is apparent from its tutorials for non-
academic participants, intricate information on how to Start Your Own EvoS
Program, and the EvoS Fund.
The website additionally includes a great deal of information about (and
contributions from) undergraduate, graduate, and faculty EvoS participants, in
various ways linking their professional and personal interests to the programs
evolutionary reasoning.21 Further, the website advertises ongoing research projects
and clubs being organized by EvoS students and faculty. For example, the website
promotes the EvoS Lifestyle Project, a combination of Paleolithic diet regimes and
social organization intervention based on group selection. The projects organizers
explain the project is based on a principle that
human metabolism, physiology and behavior has not fully
acclimatized and adapted to the dietary and lifestyle changes that
have occurred since the advent of agriculture and especially more
recently since the industrial revolution

and, further (in the spirit of group selection theory),
individuals find it easier to adhere to a diet as groups as compared to
when alone []. One of the design principles is forming strong group
identity: identifying a unified group goal to attain healthy lifestyle
could provide such an identity.22


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/people/ (Accessed July 11, 2012)


http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/projects/evos-lifestyle-project/ (Accessed January 13, 2014)


Interestingly, the EvoS website thus functions not just as a resource for program
recruitment and funding. Rather, like EvoS-related courses, the webpage builds
pools of research subjects that might generate empirical evidence on the positive
benefits of employing evolutionary reasoning in daily life.
Emails. EvoS participants often receive two or three emails regarding
program activities a week, either directly from EvoS organizers or (sometimes)
forwarded across departmental listservs. Past and present participants receive
news about: upcoming lectures, EvoS events outside the university, student
research, grant applications, and calls for faculty and student members to promote
the program via surveys and written testimonies. These surveys and testimonials
often appear in the EvoS Programs grant applications to the National Science
Foundation and other financial supporters. To this end, like the EvoS webpage and
its courses, such emails tap participants as resources that might speak on the
programs institutional successes and their support of its first principle.
The EvoS Illuminate. One notable, promotional resource that organizers use
to highlight EvoS membership is the programs newsletter, the Illuminate. The bulk
of each edition of the Illuminate is dedicated to interviews with students and faculty
EvoS participants. Unsurprisingly, these interviews are fairly uncritical of the EvoS
Program. Yet, the Illuminates Spotlights section on EvoS students and faculty
further prompts these individuals to voice their convictions (about EvoS and
evolutionary reasoning) in more striking ways. For example, when asked how
evolutionary theory changed how you think about the world, one student replies:
Evolutionary theory has provided me with an ordered, logical lens
with which to view the world. Where once I searched through the


seeming chaos in vain for the explanations of behavior, now I merely
ask a single, simple question: How might this behavior be
evolutionarily adaptive? The answers are sometimes chilling,
sometimes comforting, but they are always interesting, rational, and,
in my opinion, the best explanations we have for human behavior.
[Finn et al. 2010:8]

Other students responses to this same question are less melodramatic, but similarly
endorse the transforming experiences of evolutionary reasoning without
reservation. Another student explains:
It has changed how I think about the world in every way. It gives me a
persistently inquisitive mind in all aspects of my life. [] I personally
think evolutionary theory is one of the most important things a
person can learn it can truly change your life. [Chang 2009:3]

While they tend to offer more polemical responses, some professors interviewed in
the Illuminate are no less explicit or colorful than their students when they
comment on evolutionary reasonings potential for enlightenment and personal
transformation. For example, asked the same question, a faculty participant states:
Having a sophisticated understanding [of] evolutionary theory and
evolutionary principles is like having a flashlight in the dark. Scratch
that. Its like having a spotlight in the dark. Being exposed to the
explanatory power of evolution by natural selection allows students to
make sense of, and make predictions about, the world around them. Ive
noticed that students with a deep understanding of evolution are much
more critical when they hear claims about human psychology and
behavior. They recognize that a claim about universal human behavior,
for example, must jibe with evolutionary theory. [Chang 2010:3]

As expected, this informal newsletter offers some rather ringing endorsements of
the EvoS Program. But what further appear (in abundance) are reiterations of the
programs first principle, affirming the foundational status of evolutionary
reasoning in explanations of social life.


3e. Funding
In August 2008, the National Science Foundation awarded the EvoS
Consortium a Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI), Phase II (or
Full Implementation) grant to fund its Collaborative Proposal: Expanding
Evolutionary Studies in American Higher Education. The total sum of this grant
($500,000) was split approximately 60/40 between the EvoS Programs at
Binghamton and SUNY New Paltz.23 With funds from the NSF grant, the EvoS
Consortium underwrote the SUNY New Paltz program, distributed startup
packages of up to $2,500 to other universities (see D.S. Wilson et al. 2008 and D.S.
Wilson et al. 2011).24
For the past 10 years, David Sloan Wilson and the EvoS Program have also
been well funded by the John Templeton Foundation and its Institute for Research
on Unlimited Love.25 The Templeton Foundation is a patron of interdisciplinary
research, founded in 1987 by the multi-millionaire venture capitalist, John
Templeton. The research that this institution funds often deals with scientific
inquiries into quite challenging topics, such as: religious faith, community solidarity,
freedom, and forgiveness. The foundations website explains it as


Details and abstracts for these grants are available from the NSF website: Award Abstract #0817276
(http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0817276) and #0817337
(http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0817337), covering the Binghamton and
SUNY New Paltz EvoS Programs, respectively (both addresses accessed Dec. 29, 2011).
24 In January 2011, EvoS Consortium organizers submitted a proposal to the NSF for a multi-million

dollar Phase III grant, EvoS: A Worldwide Evolutionary Studies Consortium (D.S. Wilson et al.
2011), which did not receive NSF approval.

For references to EvoS-related projects receiving Templeton Foundation funding, see: Kniffin et al.
2003; Post et al. 2002; Schneider 2010; D.S.Wilson 2002:260, 2005b; 2007a: 11, 2011:102-125 and 312317; D.S. Wilson and Kniffin 2003


a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of
human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects
ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity,
forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue
among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such
experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity
and new insights.26

The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love previously granted $100,000, to a
2003-2007 project headed by Wilson, titled Altruistic Love, Evolution, and
Individual Experience, $13,500 for his Annotated Bibliography and Critical Review
of Altruism from an Evolutionary Perspective, and an unknown amount for a co-
piloted, 2004-2006 project called Health and the Ecology of Altruism.27 The John
Templeton Foundation itself awarded $200,000 to Wilsons 1998-2000 research
titled Forgiveness from a Cross-Cultural and Evolutionary Perspective and another
$100,000 for Religious Conceptions of the Afterlife from a Cultural Evolutionary
Perspective and a General Field of Evolutionary Religious Studies.28 In 2011, the
foundation awarded Wilson $200,000 for The Role of Religion in Managing the
Commons.29 Unlike the NSF grant, these awards are not directly demarcated for the
EvoS Program, but are nevertheless employing EvoS Program participants as
researchers and lecturers. Further, funds from the Templeton Foundation have been
significantly more fluid than that of the NSF, as the former does not require the
same kind of rigid budgeting and bookkeeping.


http://www.templeton.org/who-we-are/about-the-foundation/mission (Accessed March 23, 2014)


http://www.unlimitedloveinstitute.org/grant/index.html (Accessed July 11, 2012)


See Post et al. 2002 and D.S. Wilson 2007a:11, 2011:102-125 and 312-317


http://www.dartmouth.edu/~envs/docs/coxcv.pdf (Accessed March 23, 2014)


It a bears noting that John Templeton was a evangelical Christian (like his
son, the foundations current director) and the foundation also awards millions of
dollars to Intelligent Design theorists, the American Bible Society, evangelists such
as Billy Graham, and Mel Gibson for directing The Passion of the Christ (Horgan
2006; Schneider 2010). David Sloan Wilson and the EvoS Program have
unsurprisingly received some criticism from others in the scientific community for
engaging the Templeton Foundation as a funding resource. For example, following a
largely negative review of Wilson in a New York Times book review (Coyne 2011),
ecologist Jerry Coyne explains on his blog:
Wilsons efforts, of course, are heavily funded by the Templeton
Foundation, where hes on the Board of Advisors. It is, of course,
typical of the Templeton Foundation that their advisors have received
some form of Templeton funding; its the way they herd scientists into
their posh stable. In fact, I recognize several scientists on the advisory
board, and all of them that I know have received either a Templeton
Prize or Templeton funding for their work. [Coyne 2012]

Coyne and others argue that research performed by Wilson (and his several
colleagues, also affiliated with Templeton) has suffered by association with the
foundation, while others simply criticize him for lending his reputation to an entity
that supports individuals and anti-evolution agendas (Bains 2011; Plotz 1997).
Besides its rather lavish funding of EvoS and David Sloan Wilsons other
projects, it is clear that the Templeton Foundation offers a wide number of venues
for Wilson and his colleagues to advocate their challenge to higher education and
promote the programs first principle. Wilson regularly speaks at the Templeton
Foundations conferences, serves on its board of advisors (as Coyne notes), and
contributes to the Templeton Foundations Big Questions Online. Interestingly, on


at least one occasion, Wilson used the Big Questions venue as a platform for fund-
raising from another source a grant from the Pepsi Refresh Challenge, a
competitive, philanthropic project (underwritten by the soft drink company) that
was yearly awarding several million dollars to ideas that will refresh the world in
education, health, and community renewal.30 Amazingly, Wilson writes:
Youve heard of the Pepsi Challenge. I now invite people who ask this
question to take the Evolution Challenge. In one cup, place any given
body of knowledge that has developed about our species without
reference to evolution. In a second cup, place the same body of
knowledge viewed from an evolutionary perspective. Take a sip of
both. If they taste exactly the same, then the evolutionary perspective
merely rediscovers what is already known. If they taste different, then
the evolutionary perspective has added something new perhaps a
reorganization of existing knowledge, a new set of questions, the
identification of false claims, or the integration of knowledge across
disciplines for a more cosmopolitan flavor. 31

As demonstrated by these examples of the Templeton Foundation and the Pepsi
Refresher Challenge (which the EvoS Program did not win), the funding resources
of social movements are combinations of more and less institutionally presupposed
financiers. By virtue of their challenge to higher education, movements such as EvoS
are less bound to the monies that might be found there. While garnering funding
from outside sources has drawn criticism from the scientific community, David
Sloan Wilson has continued to find new patrons, recruit participants, and fund
projects that (in his words) wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell of being
funded by an agency such as the National Science Foundation (D.S. Wilson 2011b:


http://www.refresheverything.com/ (Accessed August 10, 2010)

http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/columns/david-sloan-wilson/take-the-evolution-challenge (Accessed
August 10, 2010)


Chapter Three: The EvoS Programs In-House Ideologies

In my previous chapter, I propose that the first principle of the EvoS Program
is a challenge, posed to U.S. higher education, to accept evolutionary reasoning as
the foundation for all explanations of social life. Certainly, this is an ambitious goal.
But the first principles of social movements are idealistic not pragmatic, and the
methods by which aparticipant might pursue a radical change in higher education
are more complex than repeatedly saying (or writing) the first principle. As
Bertrand Susser explains:
In and of themselves, first principles adumbrate only the broadest
objectives and the most basic preferences. To be put into practice,
philosophical ideology must be operationalized, it must become
an'operational code'. It needs to be fleshed out in the push and pull of
real political life []. To operationalize these first principles, political
actors need to incorporate pragmatic and functional elements that are
not (protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) intrinsic to the
ideology's first principles. In other words, knowledge of an ideology's
first principles provides' only limited ability to anticipate the specific
programmes its executors will actually adopt. [Susser 1996:168]

In order to legitimize the movement, mobilize its members, and socialize new
recruits, a social movement must (in one way or another) make its first
principle into something real and pressing for those both inside and outside
the movement. To borrow again from Susser, these are the in-house
ideologies of a social movement, which are understood and circulated among
its members, used to orient successes of (and challenges to) the movement,


and function to introduce new participants to the movements concerns.
While an in-house ideology is related to a movements first principle,
it does not need to deal with objections at the level of principle. It
tends to be power-centered and prudential rather than theoretical and
systematic; it is more concerned with cost and benefit than with belief;
it attempts to orient more than it endeavors to explain; it is involved
with the relatively limited context and short-term rather than with
grand strategic goals. [Susser 1996:169]

Given the confrontational nature of their first principles, the in-house ideologies of
social movements are likely going to pragmatically (if controversially) address
various roadblocks to seeing the first principle realized.
The in-house ideologies of EvoS do just that they orient participant
knowledge toward the various entities that seem to resist, reject, or ignore
evolutionary reasoning in higher education. EvoS participants are not the first
academics to promote this kind of cross-disciplinary extension of evolutionary
science, nor are they ignorant of the controversies that such arguments have stirred.
For participants, the perceived rejection or resistance to evolutionary reasoning
in higher education is, in many ways, more troubling than challenges to it in the
general U.S. public. After all, evolutionary science has continuously been seen as
contrary to religious teachings on human origins and spiritual intervention. But why
would professional academics (who are not, by-and-large, creationists) find fault
with evolutionary reasoning?
The in-house ideologies of the EvoS Program pose four answers to this
question: First, rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education is due to
fears about its political and moral consequences. Second, rejection is due to the
dominance of postmodernism in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Third, this


rejection can be attributed to it critics perception of evolutionary reasoning as
politically incorrect. Fourth, EvoS participants understand this rejection in higher
education is due to its critics Ivory Tower elitism and specialization. These
ideologies might strike the reader (rightly) as professional dissatisfaction with the
values and structure of U.S. universities and colleges. However, the history of
evolutionary science in higher education shows that such dissatisfaction has been
shared by many researchers, theorists, and popularizers of science, and moreover
that the EvoS Program at Binghamton University is one more entry in a quite long
and contentious struggle.
The in-house ideologies of the EvoS Program have significantly greater scope
than those of its evolutionary reasoning, many of which (as I explained in my
previous chapter) are hotly contested in the evolutionary science community. While
it is in many ways internal to the program (relative to Binghamton Universitys
other academic disciplines), this realm of ideological discourse can be encountered
in a wide number of evolutionary scientists writings and lectures in the past five
decades. The in-house ideologies of EvoS might thus be understood as a purposeful
reframing of this movement as continuous with the past and present
dissatisfactions voiced by evolutionary scientists in general.
Below, I examine these in-house ideologies in greater detail, focusing on their
historical roots in U.S. higher education and offer examples of their appearance in
the EvoS Program. In subsequent chapters, I demonstrate that these ideologies are
creatively indexed with great regularity in the EvoS Programs Seminar Series, and


are furthermore central to the first principles contextualization as the relevant
meaning of EvoS activities.

Rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education is due to fears
about its political and moral consequences. Confronted with the unpopularity of
their goals in U.S. higher education, EvoS program participants tend to offer the
following explanation: Academic critics of evolutionary reasoning fear and
disapprove of it because of its historical and political associations with Social
Darwinism, eugenics policies, and the Third Reich.
The historical roots of this ideology can be most directly traced to the
controversies stirred by sociobiology in several U.S. universities during the1970s
and 1980s. As proposed by its founders, sociobiology embarked on two,
interdependent projects: On one hand, it was to be a broad research framework,
using Darwinian theory as its underlying logic; on the other, sociobiology was an
impetus to restructure the Western university and the goals of academic inquiries.
In the former case, sociobiology was the systematic study of the biological basis of
all social behavior (E.O. Wilson 1975a:4). Proponents hoped to introduce the
human and non-human sciences to the conclusions of The Modern Synthesis, a
mid-20th century effort by geneticists, botanists, ecologists, and paleontologists to
outline a Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. In the second goal, sociobiologists
intended to bring the Modern Synthesis to bear on all research, and thus unify the
Biological and Social Sciences through shared acceptance of a theory of evolution by


natural selection. As I explain, this second aim would largely go unnoticed in the
controversy generated by the first.
Many professors in the 1960s and 1970s were actively publishing
sociobiological arguments, but Edward Wilsons Sociobiology: The Modern Synthesis
(1975a) and On Human Nature (1978) became the most widely promoted, read and
discussed, inside and outside academia. The encyclopedic 1975 volume was
vigorously advertised by Harvard University Press, including a widespread public
relations campaign and book tour, a front-page article in The New York Times, a
twelve-page essay by Wilson in the Times Sunday Magazine, and full-page ads in the
Times Book Review (Albury 1980:522-523). As a result, Edward Wilson quickly
became the public face of sociobiology, and also the primary target for a growing
group of critics.
In the heated socio-political climate on many U.S. campuses of this time,
Sociobiology: The Modern Synthesis became controversial as a political assertion on
the biological and social inevitability of warfare, inequality, and oppression. Critics
saw Wilsons argument as an attempt to lend scientific legitimacy to genocide,
eugenics, and sterilization (Kirby 2005; Laland and Brown 2009:95-97). In a
November letter to The New York Review of Books, sixteen authors (including such
notables as Richard Lewontin, Ruth Hubbard, and Stephen Jay Gould) charged that
sociobiology promoted biological determinism and Social Darwinism. They cited the
historical roles of biological determinism in laissez-faire capitalism, eugenics
programs, sterilization laws, and the Nazi mass-murders. With the publication of
Sociobiology, the authors argue, Wilson joins the long parade of biological


determinists whose work has served to buttress the institutions of their society by
exonerating them from responsibility for social problems (Allen et al. 1975:42).
Shortly after, Edward Wilson rebutted to this openly partisan attack on what
the signers mistakenly conclude to be a political message in the book. Every
principle assertion made in the letter is either a false statement or a distortion (E.O.
Wilson 1975b:60). Over the next several years, The New York Review of Books
became a forum for the Sociobiology Wars. Month after month, critics laid down
accusations that sociobiology was deterministic, unscientific, and politically
dangerous. In return, Edward Wilson and his defenders charged that these
accusations were misinformed, politically biased, and a threat to free intellectual
inquiry (Segerstrle 2000).
Tensions over sociobiology were not limited to the press. On Harvards
campus, the authors of the initial letter denouncing Wilson began identifying
themselves as the Sociobiology Study Group (SSG), allied with the Boston chapter
of Science for the People. Members of the SSG helped to establish similar groups at
other universities, such as the Ann Arbor Science for the People Editorial Collective,
who co-authored publications such as Biology as a Social Weapon (1977), a
collection of papers echoing the sentiments of sociobiologys critics at Harvard.
Through the writings and activities of the SSG, a critical industry was born, and
with it a flurry of articles revealing the purported hidden ideology, racism, sexism,
and so forth in bad science (Segerstrle 2006:81). From 1975 to the mid-1980s,
the SSG kept up a collective attack on sociobiologists at Harvards campus and


For his part, Edward Wilson explains that he was a political naf during the
1970s, surprised by the outrage his publications had inspired (Levine 2006:110-
111). Each semester, students and faculty lined up to picket and protest outside
classes led by Wilson and his colleagues (Kirby 2005:82; Pinker 2002:109-112). The
most infamous of these confrontations occurred at the 1978 meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. There, as
Wilson began to speak, protesters from the SSG and the International Committee
Against Racism stormed into the lecture hall, chanting Racist Wilson, you cant hide,
we charge you with genocide! One member of the group leapt onto the stage and
doused Wilson with a pitcher of ice water, shouting, Wilson, youre all wet! (Malik
2000:148-159; Segerstrle 2000; 2001:549).
In the early 1980s, members of the SSG co-authored a general-audience book,
Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature (Lewontin et al. 1984),
further criticizing sociobiology as a right-wing, sexist, and racist use of science.
Around this same time, Wilson quietly announced that he would no longer publicly
promote or defend sociobiology (Kirby 2005:82). Though some of its members
(particularly Lewontin and Gould) continued to challenge sociobiologists in the
popular press, the SSG dissolved in the 1980s into the non-profit Counsel for
Responsible Genetics (Moore 2008:177). Despite this rather anticlimactic end, how
these debates unfolded would profoundly shape the kinds of academic criticisms or
defenses that would (or could) be made about evolutionary science over the
following decades.


As it is understood in the EvoS Program, contemporary academic resistance
to evolutionary reasoning is similar to earlier reactions to sociobiology. This
ideology finds its historical roots in the polemics of the sociobiology debates, where
(from their initial criticism in 1975) the SSG took a stance of moral outrage, charging
that biological determinist theories provided an important basis for the enactment
of sterilization laws and restrictive immigration laws by the United States between
1910 and 1930 and also for the eugenics policies which led to the establishment of
gas chambers in Nazi Germany (Allen et al. 1975:42). At the same moment, similar
imagery was evoked by protestors who gathered outside sociobiology classes at
Harvard (Kirby 2005:80-81). Interestingly, in the public media, the interpersonal
dynamic of the debate seemed unfairly asymmetrical (Albury 1980:532-3). The SSG
forwarded criticisms that were thematically consistent, unified, and jointly
outraged. Sociobiologists began to publicly appear like a misunderstood and
persecuted minority, and often argued themselves as such (Kirby 2005; Prindle
2009:118-143). For instance, in his rebuttal to Allen et al., Edward Wilson writes
that the authors actions
represent the kind of self-righteous vigilantism which not only
produces falsehood but also unjustly hurts individuals and through
that kind of intimidation diminishes the spirit of free inquiry and
discussion crucial to the health of the intellectual community [E.O.
Wilson 1975b:61]

The SSGs collective criticism of individual scientists such Edward Wilson was
understood by many of their targets (and interested onlookers) as a reactionary and
narrow-minded assault.


For EvoS Program participants, frustrated by other scholars non-
engagement with their goals, such politicizations of evolutionary reasoning four
decades ago provide a historical explanation for their oppositions behaviors. Like
Edward Wilson, they see this fear as irrational, leading to undemocratic persecution.
For example, the programs founder argues:
With respect to Hitler and others who used evolution to advance their
nefarious causes, its not as if the world was a nice place before Darwin
and became nasty on the basis of his theory. America was colonized
before Darwin and the pioneers used the principle of divine right to
dispossess the natives []. Before Darwin, religious tracts claimed that
Negroes didnt have souls and women were designed by God and
Nature for a life of domestic servitude. Is it a surprise that the theory
of evolution would be pressed into the same kind of service? Is that a
reason to reject the theory? [D.S. Wilson 2007a:13]

Narratives of anti-evolutionist persecution are commonplace in EvoS participants
writings. For example, EvoS lecturer Barbara Ehrenreich and co-author Janet
McIntosh retell how their friend, Phoebe Ellsworth, was persecuted at a conference:
Colleagues who'd presented earlier had warned her that the crowd
was tough and had little patience for the reduction of human
experience to numbers or bold generalizations about emotions across
cultures. Ellsworth had a plan: She would pre-empt criticism by
playing the critic, offering a social history of psychological approaches
to the topic. But no sooner had the word experiment passed her lips
than the hands shot up. Audience members pointed out that the
experimental method is the brainchild of white Victorian males.
Ellsworth agreed that white Victorian males had done their share of
damage in the world but noted that, nonetheless, their efforts had led
to the discovery of DNA. This short-lived dialogue between paradigms
ground to a halt with the retort: You believe in DNA? [Ehrenreich and
McIntosh 1997:11]

Stories of this kind pepper publications by EvoS participants (see Geher 2006; Geher
and Gambacorta 2010; Glass et al. 2012; Gottschall 2008:17-39; Gottschall and D.S.
Wilson 2005; Tiger 1996). They complain of evolutionary scientists persecuted in


U.S. universities, characterizing institutional critics as an unrelenting mob, who
attack individual researchers without concern for professional decorum. David
Sloan Wilson writes that these reactions
have always been based on fear of the consequences of accepting
evolution why else would people who know so little about it feel so
strongly about rejecting it? Once evolutionary theory is seen as a tool
for positive change, it can be easily accepted, leading to insights that in
retrospect appear like just plain common sense. [D.S. Wilson 2007a:99]

Clearly, these commentaries share a view that their critics are afraid of
evolutionary reasoning. EvoS participants understand these fears as reactionary and
typically misguided, and further that movement members experience persecution
from their colleagues because the latter see evolutionary reasoning as morally and
politically dangerous.
For EvoS participants, this in-house ideology historically grounds
contemporary tensions between the movement and those disciplines it most
directly challenges, drawing particularly on its similarities to the polemical
sociobiology debates. Below I will expand this argument and suggest that (for
program participants) a second in-house ideology logically follows: While the first
EvoS ideology represents critics as rejecting evolutionary reasoning out of fear, this
second ideology explains that the Social Sciences and Humanities dogmatically
embrace postmodernist explanations for human behaviors, thus relegating
evolutionary science to the (non-human) Biological Sciences.


Rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education is due to the
dominance of postmodernism in the Social Sciences and Humanities. In some
ways related to the first, a second EvoS ideology represents this resistance to
evolutionary reasoning as a more-or-less unshakable commitment to contrary
intellectual traditions. Though of course these traditions are more diverse than this
ideology presents them, EvoS participants commonly understand their critics as
adhering to postmodernism. For EvoS, this moniker is shorthand for the principles
and concepts that seem to dominate the Social Sciences and Humanities in the
absence of evolutionary reasoning during the last three decades: constructivism,
relativism, deconstruction, skepticism toward grand theorizing, attention to social
inequality, and (most importantly) criticism of the authoritative explanations of
science. To understand the historical grounds of this ideology, it is necessary to
consider how reinvigoration of evolutionary reasoning in the 1990s occurred within
the terse academic climate surrounding the authority of science.
Over a decade after stepping away from sociobiology debates, Edward
Wilson delivered the June 1996 keynote address to the Human Behavior and
Evolution Society (HBES). There, he identified and vilified the opponents of
evolutionary reasoning as postmodernists in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Historian Ullica Segerstrle describes his audiences confusion as
Wilson lashed out against Jacques Derrida and deconstruction, of all
things. (My first reaction was that Wilson had brought the wrong
manuscript, or mistaken the HBES audience for another one say, a
gathering of the National Association of Scholars.) It was all rather
embarrassing: Wilson went on to treat the audience as a kind of big in-
group, using a conspiratorial tone and acting as if we all knew what he
was talking about and automatically agreed. [Segerstrle 2000:363]


While his HBES audience was confused, Edward Wilson was attempting to position
evolutionary science within the debates over scientific objectivity that took place in
many U.S. universities in the 1990s. The book Wilson was writing, Consilience: The
Unity of Knowledge, would become a central reference in these debates. As
Segerstrle elaborates:
With hindsight, everything falls into place. Although at the time the
audience didnt have a clue, Wilsons keynote address was obviously
adapted from his newest book, then in progress. Consilience in different
ways, indeed, urges the natural sciences and humanities to unite
around the tenets of evolutionary biology. It is also clear why Derrida
and postmodernism were introduced: they were perfect as anathema
to Wilsons proposed unification scheme, because they epitomized the
skeptical and relativistic accounts of socially constructed realities
supplied by intellectuals who have lost faith in the original
Enlightenment quest for unified knowledge, as Wilson later
formulated it. [Segerstrle 2000:363-364]

This keynote address was thus a particularly illustrative moment in U.S. higher
education, in which Edward Wilson and others began to juxtapose evolutionary
reasoning to the intellectual interests that (they believed) most inhibited its
acceptance in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Consilience was a product of, and contribution to, the debates over the
neutrality of professional science within numerous U.S. and European universities.
These are now popularly (perhaps regrettably) remembered as the Science Wars.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, antagonism surged over critiques of scientific
objectivity and authority, posed by scholars in Science and Technology Studies,
Cultural Studies, History of Science, among others. These critics argued that
scientific texts uncritically employed stereotypes about (among others) gender,
race, class, disability, sexuality, and reproduction (for example, see Bordo 1987;


Fausto-Sterling 1992, 1997, 2000; Martin 1991, 1994). Others were dissatisfied
with professional ethics, positing that contemporary science had flourished through
unequal access to education and socio-economic inequality between researchers
and their subjects (Haraway 1989, 1991; Harding 1998, Latour 1987, 1993). Critics
varied in the intensity of their deliveries, but generally posited that scientific facts
and (as well as their authors motives, authority, and neutrality) should be
considered relative to the times and places in which they are authored and
Needless to say, such critiques did not sit well with many professional
scientists. Among the more vitriolic responses were Paul Gross and Norman Levitts
Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science (1994) and
physicist Alan Sokals infamous hoaxing of the Cultural Studies journal Social Text in
1996. The most lasting effect of these reactions and the most damaging
consequence, for their targets was the widespread conflation of the disciplines and
critics I describe above into a single, supposedly-unified academic trend,
postmodernism, whose advocates supposedly doubted the existence of mind-
independent reality, empirical inquiry, and even the objectivity of math, chemistry,
and physics.
In this terse academic landscape, Edward Wilson re-emerged to position
evolutionary science as intellectually and professionally opposed to postmodernism.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, he argues that the Social Sciences are
dedicated to theories and theorists whose conclusions cannot be confirmed or
denied through experiment. They adhere instead to cultural relativism, which


obliges them to argue folk psychologies as equally valid explanations for human
practices as those found in contemporary science (E.O. Wilson 1998a:186-204).
Further, Wilson argues, relativism in the Social Sciences is politically nave, citing
the concern of many social scientists to accord all cultures, and the people who
inhabit them, equality of respect [] which then, however, makes it completely
obscure why certain cultural practices should be looked at askance colonialism,
child labour, judicial torture, and so on (E.O. Wilson 1998a:203-204). The
Humanities, he argues, are in an equal state of chaos. Its professors and students
have embraced deconstructionist philosophies at the expense of producing usable
information that is understandable outside their disciplines. Under this influence,
Wilson worries, the Humanities similarly drifted toward anti-reason and anti-
In this view, truth is relative and personal. Each person creates his own
inner world by acceptance or rejection of endlessly shifting linguistic
signs. There is no privileged point, no lodestar, to guide literary
intelligence. And given that science is just another way of looking at the
world, there is no scientifically constructible map of human nature
from which the deep meaning of texts can be drawn. [E.O. Wilson

In Consilience and later publications, Wilsons argument against postmodernist
academics centered not just on their rejection of science, but evolutionary science in
particular. For example, Wilson argues that Homo sapiens sensory organs limit the
ways the species can investigate mind-independent reality, but that humans are also
adapted to grasp their experiences empirically. He writes, [o]utside our heads there
is free-standing reality. Only lunatics and a sprinkling of constructivist philosophers
doubt its existence. Inside our heads is a reconstruction of reality based on sensory


input and the self-assembly of symbol-based concepts (E.O. Wilson 1998b:18).
Postmodernist academics commitment to constructivism and relativism is an
intellectual liability. As literary theorist George Levine comments, for Edward
Wilson, unless one believes implicitly that the world is (secretly) totally ordered,
and commits oneself absolutely to the pursuit of the full unification of knowledge
that will demonstrate and make use of that order, one is merely a Romantic [] or
now much worse, of course a postmodernist (2006:113-114). In this way,
Edward Wilson drew upon the earlier polemics of the Science Wars, placing
academic acceptance of evolutionary reasoning as the marker of ones allegiance to
the side of reason and sanity.
Although Edward Wilsons attack on postmodernism at the HBES conference
took his audience by surprise, other evolutionary scientists in the 1990s were
challenging relativism and skepticism of scientific objectivity. For example, in one
infamous passage, Richard Dawkins challenges academics that debate the
supremacy of Western science and technology:
Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet and I'll show you a
hypocrite. Airplanes built according to scientific principles work. They
stay aloft, and they get you to a chosen destination. Airplanes built to
tribal or mythological specifications, such as the dummy planes of the
cargo cults in jungle clearings or the beeswaxed wings of Icarus, don't.
If you are flying to an international congress of anthropologists or
literary critics, the reason you will probably get there the reason you
don't plummet into a ploughed field is that a lot of Western
scientifically trained engineers have got their sums right. [1995:31-

Elsewhere, in what remains the seminal text for evolutionary psychology, John
Tooby and Leda Cosmides took lengthy exception to (what they name) the


Standard Social Scientific Model (SSSM), and particularly the position in such
disciplines that
what complexly organizes and richly shapes the substance of human
life what is interesting and distinctive and, therefore, worth studying
is the variable pool of stuff that is usually referred to as culture.
Sometimes called extrasomatic or extragenetic [] to emphasize its
nonbiological origins and nature, this stuff is variously described as
behavior, traditions, knowledge, significant symbols, social facts,
control programs, semiotic systems, information, social organization,
social relations, economic relations, intentional worlds, or socially
constructed realities. [1992:27]

In The Language Instinct (1994), Steven Pinker drew on Tooby and Cosmides to
pose a similarly cutting criticism to anthropology and sociolinguistics, challenging
the groundings of these disciplines in the linguistic relativism of Edward Sapir and
Benjamin Whorf. He would later extend this argument to the entirety of
contemporary Social Science in his widely popular book, The Blank Slate: The
Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002).
For EvoS participants, academic rejection of evolutionary reasoning is (in
part) due to investment in postmodernism (that is assumed of evolutions critics).
One of the most vehement arguments of this sort appears in Ehrenreich and
McIntoshs The New Creationism: Biology Under Attack, positing that academic
critics of evolutionary reasoning have adopted an outlook eerily similar to that of
religious creationism (1997:12). The authors explain:
Like their fundamentalist Christian counterparts, the most extreme
antibiologists suggest that humans occupy a status utterly different
from and clearly "above" that of all other living beings [] It was only
with the arrival of the intellectual movements lumped under the term
"postmodernism" that academic antibiologism began to sound
perilously like religious creationism. Postmodernist perspectives go
beyond a critique of the misuses of biology to offer a critique of


biology itself, extending to all of science and often to the very notion
of rational thought. [1997:13]

More recently, Jonathan Gottschall (a Binghamton University alum and frequent
collaborator with EvoS) writes that he finds his own evolutionary literary theories
regularly resisted by his colleagues. The Humanities, he writes, are rather
committed to
endlessly asking questions while despairing of more valid answers; to
deconstruction without a clear sense of how to reconstruct once things
are made to fall apart; to smothering the flame of Enlightenment
without a clear vision of how to light a world that deprived of reason
is demon haunted []. The quintessence of the dominant paradigm
is, then, constitutional and reflexive pessimism about the ability of
humans to really know anything. [Gottschall 2008:11]

The EvoS Programs own leader more explicitly argues the intellectual positions
most fiercely opposed to sociobiology and evolutionary psychology include social
constructivism, postmodernism, and deconstructionism []. These debates usually
become so polarized that they reveal the worst aspects of tribalism in our species
(D.S. Wilson 2005b:20). Echoing Ehrenreich and McIntoshs proposal that
postmodernism is a new creationism, David Sloan Wilson further argues that
cultural relativism is a central reason for the rejection of evolutionary reasoning in
the Social Sciences and Humanities:
Secular creationists insist upon an anything-goes conception of human
nature because they think it is required to establish their vision of the
good life. Ironically, their own vision is better achieved by adopting a
conception of human nature that fights tenaciously to survive and
reproduce. [D.S. Wilson 2007a:99]

For EvoS participants, their in-house ideology offers a relatively uncomplicated
representation of the EvoS Programs goal of integrating the academic disciplines,
and the irrationality of its critics. Further, epithets like secular creationism suggest


that this ideology also capitalizes on popular knowledge of ongoing debates
between science educators and religious fundamentalists in the United States. This
conflict is characterized by the rationalization of evolutionary reasoning, argued by
its proponents as a unified (or unifying) science, relative to the fragmented
knowledge production of the postmodernist academy.
To this point, I have suggested that participants in the EvoS Program
understand the anti-evolutionism of U.S. higher education in two ways: On one
hand, critics fear the moral and political consequences of embracing evolutionary
explanations for social life. On the other, they dismiss evolutionary reasoning due to
their commitment to postmodernist trends in their own disciplines. For EvoS
Program participants, these in-house ideologies represent a landscape of academic
antagonism in which more-or-less unified, homogenous sides are placed into
dynamic opposition to one another. Attending to the intellectual and political
tensions in U.S. universities during the 20th century, the programs ideologies can be
seen as rooted in earlier disputes over evolutionary science (such as the Science
Wars and sociobiology debates), and broader episodes in which the structure and
functions of higher education where challenged (such as campus peace movements
during the Vietnam War and the rising influence of feminism in academic settings
during the 1970s and 1980s). These broader events in the last half-century of higher
education reinforced representations of antagonistic, typically two-sided
controversies over evolutionary reasoning. Such dichotomizations take shape in the
immediate historical contexts of the Sociobiology Debates and Science Wars, as well
as the contemporary activities of the EvoS Program.


Rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education is due to critics
perception of it as politically incorrect. The third in-house ideology I wish to
discuss arises from recent disputes in US colleges and universities over political
correctness in publications, administrative policies, student conduct, and numerous
other arenas. Participants in the EvoS Program understand scholars in the
Humanities and Social Sciences as rejecting evolutionary reasoning as politically
incorrect. That is, critics of EvoS are offended by the subject matters of human
evolutionary research gender violence, warfare, racism, rape, infanticide, among
others as well as the unapologetic frankness with which evolutionary scientists
discuss them. The PC reaction of these critics thus leads them to dismiss the
application of evolutionary reasoning to human behaviors, typically without
considering its scientific legitimacy. As I have underscored with other EvoS
ideologies, the shape of political correctness (or incorrectness) in this program is
primarily influenced by the role of evolutionary scientists in this complex set of
historical debates in higher education.

As numerous researchers explain, political correctness spread in the 1980s,

first in higher education, then in popular media, and was for many associated with
the strengthening of feminist and post-colonial concerns in research, curricula,
administration, and (more broadly) the growing number of influential women and
ethnic minorities in media, business, and government (Hughes 2010; Lauter 1995)
Yet, there seems to no clear definition for the term itself, and no movement
promoting it with a unified voice, although critics of political correctness argued to


the contrary (Cameron 1995:116-165). Generally, concerns over political
correctness aimed to decrease the alienation of these people, advocating more
inclusive and accurate language use and policies, as well as greater sensitivity to the
ways that assumptions about race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and disability
lead to the privileges of some and the disenfranchisement of others (Andrews
1996). It was the emphasis upon sensitivity that angered many critics, who charged
that Leftist activism feminists, in particular had begun finding injustice in trivial
places, and sought to police and sanitize peoples language and thoughts. In this
sense, political correctness became a pejorative descriptor, associated by many
with a highly vocal and reactionary brand of feminism, whether or not this
association was in any way accurate. Further, during the mid-1990s, proponents of
(often explicitly labeled) political incorrectness gained popularity in popular media,
politics, and academia. Within this trend, speakers and writers offered a marked
irreverence toward issues of (among others) gender or race, similarly conspicuous
intention to offend those who are overly-sensitive to such issues, and often a fair
amount of parodying and contempt for PC concerns (for example, Garner 1994).
Further, overlapping with academic and popular criticisms of postmodernists, the
politically incorrect subversion of these sensitivities is typically accompanied with
much lip service paid to unfettered, scientific facts.
During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, evolutionary science particularly
Evolutionary Psychology has been squarely targeted by feminist critics. In these
criticisms, feminist scholars charge that Evolutionary Psychology tends to frame
women as reproductive commodities, uncritically assume Western kinship systems


to be an universal social organization, naturalize monogamy and heterosexuality as
human and non-human norms, and conceptualize gender hierarchies and violence
as inherent elements in both human and non-human existence (see Blackman 1985;
Harding 1985; Helmreich and Paxson 2005; Lloyd 2005; McCaughey 2008;
McKinnon 2005a; 2005b; Travis 2003). Critics were especially catalyzed by
publications and lectures by Randy Thornhill and his colleagues, who propose that
rape is a behavioral adaptation in both Homo sapiens and non-human species,
through which males ensure reproduction by physically assaulting and socially
controlling females (Gangestad 1993; Palmer 1988, 1989, 1991; Thornhill 1980;
Thornhill and Palmer 2000; Thornhill and Thornhill 1990a, 1990b, 1990c, 1991;
Thornhill and Thornhill 1983; Thornhill et al. 1986). These feminist interrogations
of the last two decades are likely the most sweeping set of academic criticisms ever
made of evolutionary science. Given the subject matter that these critics address,
some were expressed with notable vehemence.
Some responses from evolutionary science tended to understand these
criticisms as reactionary feminism a PC reaction against evolutionary science.
Addressing this explicitly in his New Republic essay (Feminists, Meet Mr. Darwin),
science journalist Robert Wright explains
It would be misleading to say that feminists casually disregard
Darwinism. A fair amount of effort goes into the disregard. A few
feminists have actually studied and then dismissed the Darwinian view
of human nature. Unfortunately, they seem to have expended more
energy on the dismissal than on the study. [1994b:34]

Elsewhere, discussing the severe attention paid to their evolutionary explanations
for rape and sexual coercion, Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer write,


the biophobia that has led to the rejection of Darwinian analyses of
human behavior is an intellectual disaster []. Most of what is
scientifically inaccurate and counter productive about how the social
sciences and academic feminism approach the study of rape stems
directly from the aversion to modern theoretical biology in those fields.
[Thornhill and Palmer 2000:122]

Understanding criticism as part of an aversion or dismissal, proponents of
evolutionary science positioned themselves (some more willingly than others) as
part of the backlash against academic feminism in the late 1990s. One of the more
purposeful voices in this counter-criticism remains sociobiologist Lionel Tiger, who
has extended his challenges to feminism and affirmative action into proposals for
Male Studies programs in higher education. Arguing that men are evolutionarily
predisposed toward maximizing their number of offspring by controlling womens
sexual behaviors, Tiger proposes that womens widespread access to birth control
since the mid-20th century creates conflicts with mens evolved predispositions, and
thus produces among men a continual sense of paternity uncertainty (1999:45-
58). Such uncertainties result in a plethora of anti-male policies in U.S. education
and government, as well as the self-righteous and automatic public support for
womens interests and issues (Tiger 2005).
It should be noted that evolutionary scientists courted such controversy
decades before political correctness was a widely used moniker, and they have
been targets of academic criticism precisely because they so frequently (sometimes
cavalierly) engage politically sensitive issues. In the earliest developments of
Sociobiology, evolutionary explanations for human behaviors were being presented
as subversive material to academic audiences. For example, in 1971, Harvard
professors Robert Trivers and Irven DeVore introduced a co-taught, undergraduate


course: The Biological Basis of Sex Differences. Their approach to the class was
apparent on the first day:
Standing before the class, DeVore boasted that he and Trivers would
systematically explain why men and women differ in everything from
physical stature to dating habits. Trivers went further: This semester,
he said, we will do no less than reveal the previously unknown
biological purpose of the clitoris []. Some students gasped; others
laughed. Outside the classroom, a group of female students chanted in
protest at the very idea of a biological basis to human behavior. [Kirby

As the course progressed, Professors Trivers and DeVore openly opposed their
scientific perspectives to the political sensitivities of the early-1970s university. As
Kirby describes, Irven DeVore opened each semester by announcing that, during
the semester, he would offend every race, sex, philosophy, and creed imaginable. He
usually did (2005:83).
Like their predecessors in sociobiology, many contemporary evolutionary
scientists recognized their arguments as controversial themes in higher education,
and often flaunted this irreverence. For instance, Martha McCaughey discusses her
participation in a 1989 HBES conference, where a male participant in a panel on
morality and evolution asked the participants If you were stranded on a deserted
island with a woman, would you rape her? (2008:1). Elsewhere, biologist John
Alcock relates an anecdote about sexual harassment of female employees in a
supermarket, proposing that the example
tells you something about men, namely, that they almost always view
women of reproductive age as potential sex objects (no matter what
they say in the interest of political correctness or a desire to deceive
women or to ingratiate themselves with possible sexual partners). It
cannot hurt to know this fact of life, and a few others, such as the
willingness of even nice guys to resort to coercive tactics to secure
sex. [2001:215]


Authors such as Alcock are conscious of the broadly controversial nature of their
explanations, and some (like Devore and Trivers) go so far as to exploit its potential
to shock, offend, and amuse. As evolutionary psychologist Edward Hagen writes:
Slavish support for reigning political and moral attitudes is a sure sign
of scientific bankruptcy. It is reassuring, then, that [Evolutionary
Psychology] has something to offend just about everyone. Surely you
[], if you are not already a jaded evolutionary psychologist, are
offended by at least one of EPs speculations that there might be innate,
genetically based adaptations hardwired into our brains for rape,
homicide, infanticide, war, aggression, exploitation, infidelity, and
deception. I know I was. [2005: 169-170]

Whether or not they are appalled by their own topics and findings, many
evolutionary scientists during the late 20th century made use of the fact that the
behaviors they researched were like those Hagen describes problematic and
controversial, both inside and outside of higher education.
Given this history of controversy, it is unsurprising that evolutionary
scientists attracted (sometimes fierce) criticism from feminists during this same
period. As I explain above, the backfire against feminism became a broader, popular
reaction to political correctness, as did the arguments of many evolutionary
scientists most notably Lionel Tiger and Randy Thornhill, but also more widely-
read authors such as Steven Pinker (2002). The resulting ideology resonates
through much of the U.S. and European evolutionary community: Evolutionary
reasoning is rejected by reactionary (predominantly feminist) critics, who are
offended by its politically incorrect topics and presentations. Conversely, this same
ideology represents proponents of evolutionary science and evolutionary
reasoning, itself as a subversive, often irreverent alternative to the political hyper-


sensitivities of its critics.

The research projects of some EvoS participants have drawn criticism from

feminist scholars and others, most notably Gordon Gallups inquiries into the
possible anti-depressant effects of semen for women (Gallup et al. 2002) and
correlations between a Dopamine receptor gene and test subjects tendencies
toward relationship infidelity and sexual promiscuity (Garcia et al. 2010). Like the
individuals I quote above, participants in EvoS tend to see such criticisms of
evolutionary reasoning as (in part) explainable as PC reactions to the subject matter
of their research. For example, Glenn Geher returns to the juxtaposition between
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) and the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM),
Adherents of the SSSM perspective argue that appealing to
evolutionarily shaped differences between the psychologies of men
and women to explain something such as universal sex differences in
desire for multiple sex partners is an inherently sexist approach. In
short, these new creationists believe that any appeals to an
evolutionarily shaped human nature to explain psychological
phenomena (regardless of how well the said phenomena are
documented) imply that human behavior is highly constrained by our
nature, is genetically determined, and is, in effect, immutable. As such,
adherents of the SSSM feel something of an obligation to fight EP, as
they believe they are fighting an intellectual doctrine which sees
human behavior as largely immutable and which ultimately provides a
scholarly rationale for the status quo. [Geher 2006:183]

Participants in EvoS (such as this author) understand their critics as rejecting
evolutionary reasoning due to a commitment to Leftist political obligations. As
other participants elaborate, universities are strongholds of the ideological Left
and resistance from the Left has been a major hurdle for EP since its inception [even
though] EP is no more politically conservative than other academic areas (Garcia et


al. 2011:757). The authors go on to worry that the strained relationship between
feminism and evolutionary theory might result in the renewal of the sociobiology
debates, and that Evolutionary Psychology might become a similarly taboo area of
inquiry unfairly framed as sexist, racist, and politically conservative (Garcia et al.
2011:757-758). Other EvoS participants argue that the (perceived) political
incorrectness of their topics has already established evolutionary reasoning as a
subversive or irreverent movement in higher education. For example, when
discussing how evolution is shunned outside of these portions of the university,
David Sloan Wilson often refers to evolution as the E-Word (D.S. Wilson 2007a,
2008b, 2010, 2011b) as if the very term cannot be uttered in certain spaces.

While this in-house ideology is admittedly quite complex, its relevance in the

EvoS Program is difficult to overstate. Participants are often highly aware of the
controversies surrounding Evolutionary Psychology, and many of them consider
themselves to be quite politically progressive, if not explicitly identifying as
feminists. As I stress throughout this discussion, these ideologies are quite
functional and pragmatic, working to orient EvoS participants within a
representation of the academic landscape that seems fraught with resistance to
evolutionary reasoning and the movements first principle.

Rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education is due to Ivory
Tower elitism and specialization. As is likely apparent, the outsider status of
EvoS in higher education is a characteristic that its participants simultaneously
resent and foster. The forth and final in-house ideology of the EvoS Program


underscores this matter, explaining rejection of evolutionary reasoning due to its
critics Ivory Tower elitism. While EvoS participants are distressed by what they
perceive as dismissals of evolutionary reasoning by professional academics, there is
(I have observed) a certain nonconformist pride derived from this as well. This
ideology functions to juxtapose the academic institution (as intellectually
conservative and elitist) to the movement (understood as intellectually progressive
and of the people). As I examine below, this ideology has its historical roots in the
rise of science writing for general audiences popular science over the last four
From the mid-20th century to the present, general-audience science writing
became a lucrative genre in the book publishing industry (and more recently in
online publishing). The influence of popular science upon academic practice should
not be underestimated, as it gradually but profoundly reshaped the public personae
of individual scientists from stuffy professionals to intrepid, opinionated truth
seekers. Similarly, popular science forced a transformation in academic
representations of scientific practice. Doing science no longer conjured up only
images of intense laboratory work, but dramatic narratives full of adventure,
danger, and self-discovery. Few areas of popular science writing delivered up this
kind of drama as thoroughly as evolutionary science. Moreover, some evolutionary
science writers have become public celebrities of a sort quite rare for academic
professionals (see Broks 2006; McCaughey 2008).

Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, a blossoming field of general-audience

science writers became bestsellers for their evolutionary explanations for


contemporary social dilemmas. Some of these writers were some practicing
researchers and professors (such as Konrad Lorenz and Desmond Morris) while
others were outsiders. A dramatist by training, Robert Ardrey was particularly well
known, not only for his sometimes gruesome descriptions of innate human
aggression, but equally for his polemical arguments about the academic elitism that
(he argued) alienated the public from scientific knowledge about human nature.
These unflattering depictions were central to the anti-academic flare of his works,
and many professional academics objected to these representations of academic
elitism as much as the questionable veracity of his science all of which, of course,
further legitimated the revolutionary spirit of Ardreys endeavor (Weidman 2011).
His critics were loath to call his work into question, realizing that their objections
would only lend credence to his stereotypes. Pointing out this ironic turn of events,
anthropologist Marshall Sahlins comments that Ardreys work falls into the Kon
Tiki genre. He explains:
It portrays a theory that sounds sensible, but which, for fuddy-duddy
reasons, the professors-that-be generally ignore. Right away, Ardrey
is an underdog. And to add to the appeal: simply by reading the book
approvingly, anyone can prove that he is the intellectual equal
indeed, the superior of the so-called scholars []. Obviously, it
becomes difficult to enter the lists against Ardrey. Who wants to be
accused of being a counter-revolutionary? What an improbable
position for an anthropological critic. To admit to intellectual
conservatism is contrary to the spirit of any science, and not the least
so to anthropology. In this context of conspiratorial allegation, how
can an anthropologist convey the impression that the theory seems to
him unsound? [Sahlins 1968:117]

Sahlins here suggests something more general about popular science: its assumed
status as an external critique of institutional academics. Such criticisms were
delivered by both non-professionals (like Ardrey) or practicing scientists, who


claimed to be exasperated with the conservatism of their colleagues and faced with
no other options than to go public with their knowledge. Examples of such
criticisms appear in the works of Robert Ardrey, Konrad Lorenz, and Desmond
Morris, as well as other mid-20th century popular science publications like Rachel
Carsons Silent Spring (1962) and James Watsons The Double Helix: A Personal
Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (1968). These authors chide
university professors as stuffy, impersonal, and conservative more intent on
defending their careers and reputations than informing the public or putting their
knowledge to practical use. Popular scientists, conversely, are independent from
academic infighting and bureaucracies, and (more importantly) intent on showing
science to be a means of personal transformation and solving enduring socio-
political problems.

While popular science writers like Ardrey and Morris made science exciting

or subversive for general audiences, it was Stephen Jay Gould who most
consistently represented scientific practice as a personal journey. In his books and
monthly essays for Natural History, Gould readily mixed scientific theories with
memories of childhood, interpretations of popular culture, even his love of baseball.
As Prindle notes,
Gould likes to bring the reader along on a voyage of discovery. He
does not so much present us with a conclusion we are to accept, as
admit us to his own experience and permit us to participate
vicariously in the process of realization []. By letting the reader in on
the hunt for knowledge, Gould creates what rhetorical scholars call
identification between himself and his readers. The members of the
audience join emotionally with the author and exult in his conquest of
truth. [Prindle 2009:28-29]


The popularization of science was, in this sense, simultaneously about the
personalization of scientific endeavors. For Gould, learning scientific facts was tied
to making sense of ones own life. Further, while Gould was critical of many of his
contemporaries (including Robert Ardrey), he similarly pursued scientific
explanation through personal essays, attempting to make evolutionary theories
interesting and exciting to a non-scientific audience.

The only other evolutionary theorist who has achieved Goulds level of

celebrity in general audience writing is Richard Dawkins. Though Gould and

Dawkins were roundly critical of each other (see Prindle 2009; Segerstrle 2000;
Sterelny 2001), Dawkins adopted a very similar approach to writing, presenting his
own popularization of science as a personal crusade. His first general audience
publication, The Selfish Gene (1976), proposed that genetic science had redefined
the meaning of life, which (he argues) is not a moral struggle within (or between)
conscious actors, but between genes competing to endure and replicate in
successive generations (see Journet 2010). As was the case for Gould, many readers
found Dawkins writing to be rhetorically brilliant, but they were also profoundly
moved by Dawkins radical argument of a (seemingly) foundational, evolutionary
explanation for all organic existence. As journalist Matt Ridley explains:
The [] exceptional thing about The Selfish Gene was its argument,
which was to many people brand new, utterly unexpected, deeply
unsettling, and yet plainly unsettled. In other words, not only could
readers feel privy to an unfinished debate, but they could see the
world in a different way. Where [Robert] Ardrey, [Konrad ]Lorenz,
and [Desmond] Morris had told them some surprising things about
themselves, Dawkins turned their whole world upside down. [Ridley


Like Gould, the approach that Dawkins took in publicizing his ideas was widely
enjoyed by non-scientists, to whom he delivered both scientific facts and a
revolutionary new philosophy. He strove to make them feel privy to a process of
scientific discovery, while simultaneously attempting to transform their
perspectives about themselves as organic beings, and thus turn their whole world
upside down. As Ridley suggests, this was not just a clever way to attract readers
and sell books. Figures like Gould and Dawkins took evolutionary reasoning to the
people, presenting it as a broadly applicable, life-changing, and personally
transformative first principle. To do so, like Ardrey and Morris before them, these
authors stripped evolution of the elitism of professional academics, and (as Sahlins
comments) their fuddy-duddy criticisms.
One result of this popularization was a breakdown in the distinction
between professional and general audience publications as primary sources,
which Gould makes explicit in his final collection of essays, I Have Landed:
I refuse to treat these essays as lesser, derivative, or dumbed-down
versions of technical or scholarly writing for professional audiences,
but insist upon viewing them as no different in conceptual depth
(however distinct in language) from other genres of original research
[]. In scholars' jargon, I hope and trust that my colleagues will
regard these essays as primary rather than secondary sources.
[2002:6-7, original emphasis]

Even more than Gould, Richard Dawkins works are among the most widely
referenced popular texts in evolutionary science. Further, as I comment previously,
The Selfish Gene and Dawkins subsequent writings helped to spearhead memetics,
which examines the endurance and spread of socio-cultural phenomena as
analogous to biological (typically genetic) survival and reproduction. Subsequently,


the term meme entered common vernacular use, describing influential or
infectious ideas (see Sterelny 2001).
In all, the late-20th century popularization of science marks a breakdown of
distinctions between academic and general audiences. Professional scientists
encountered more numerous and diverse publishing opportunities. At the same
time, university presses begin publishing a broader range of authors, including non-
professionals, and professional academics began to publish for general audiences
earlier in their careers. As I suggest above, the authors of popular science are often
notable for their critical representations of academic professions and research as
elitist conservative, mired in their careers and reputations, and detached from the
personally or socially transformative potential of science. Conversely, popular
scientists represent themselves (and one another) as progressive revolutionaries
who have been personally transformed by science, and thus challenge professional
dogma by going public with their conclusions.
The EvoS Program has been shaped by this recent history popular science,
appearing primarily as an in-house ideology, representing evolutionary reasoning as
broadly accessible and personally transformative. Generally, science is presented as
a blue collar activity, which can be pursued by anyone, regardless of his or her
educational credentials or socio-economic situation. For example, midway through
Evolution for Everyone (2007a), David Sloan Wilson explains to his readers:
Science is often portrayed as an exalted and difficult activity accessible
only to an elite caste of intelligent and highly trained individuals. I have
made every effort to portray it as a down-to-earth activity, like
farming, brick making, and house building []. If you have
accompanied me this far [in the book], then you have the makings of a
scientist, who with a little clear thinking and a lot of hard work can


help to create something both personally gratifying and larger and
more durable than yourself. [D.S. Wilson 2007a:65-66]

Leaving aside the fact that the down to earth professions that Wilson mentions also
require significant training, this passage expresses the authors everyman
approach to science. Similarly, Wilson argues that evolutionary reasoning can be
personally transformative a position which pervades his book. Opening his tenth
chapter (Your Apprentice License), Wilson addresses his readers, cheering,
Congratulations! I have finished conveying the barest essentials of
evolutionary theory, as I said I would do in Chapter 1. If you have
accompanied me this far, you can regard yourself as an apprentice
evolutionist. [2007a:63]

The author here attempts to make science into a journey that he shares with his
readers, in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould. Fascinatingly, as Marshall Sahlins
comments about Robert Ardreys writing, David Sloan Wilson here posits that the
very act of reading his book partially accredits them as evolutionary thinkers.
Like the popular science writers I discuss above, EvoS participants are also
dissatisfied with the elitism they perceive among academic professionals and
disciplines. David Sloan Wilson recalls that early receptions to his EvoS Program
were mixed in Binghamton Universitys Anthropology Department, where some of
his colleagues were aghast at the idea they didn't want the apartheid to end.
(2011b:17). This apartheid metaphor appears in Wilsons publications and those of
other EvoS participants (Tiger 1996:17; D.S. Wilson 2008a, 2008b:17; D.S Wilson et
al. 2013:4;), and also grant applications by program organizers, who posit that they
and their colleagues worry about an apartheid between evolutionary theory and
most human-related subjects and hope that breaking down the apartheid will


automatically result in the integration of the humanities, human-related sciences,
and biological sciences (D.S. Wilson and Heywood 2008:16).32 Similar
dissatisfaction is present in other metaphors used by EvoS participants to describe
academic conservatism. One especially common example of this is David Sloan
Wilsons comment in numerous publications, interviews, and lectures that that
Ivory Tower would be more aptly named the Ivory Archipelago in the past
decade, this observation on academic over-specialization has nearly become a
mantra for dozens of other EvoS participants in their own blog postings, lectures,
and publications (for example, see Carmen et al. 2013; Garcia et al. 2011; Geher and
Gambacorta 2010; Geher et al. 2011)
As I suggest throughout this discussion of the EvoS Programs movement in-
house ideologies, the ways that participants understand their critics are rooted in
the history of evolutionary reasoning in higher education. The academic disputes
that arise over evolutionary explanations for human behaviors are typically parts of
bigger socio-political disagreements that take place beyond academic settings in
(among other realms) popular media. Proponents and critics of evolutionary
reasoning thus tended to borrow from the broader concerns, such as anti-war
movements, challenges to and defenses of modern science, and the growth of (and
response to) academic feminism in the late 20th century. These earlier debates over


Arguably, the political incorrectness of such commentary is almost literal, but more importantly they
express a shared (if complicated) understanding of evolutionary reasoning as a subversive activity in higher
education. That is, in naming the plight of evolutionary reasoning in an apartheid in higher education,
Wilson and his fellow EvoS participants are pointing to the politically incorrect subversive-ness of their
movement, as well as recreating this incorrectness in their choice of metaphors.


evolutionary reasoning produced ideologies that continue to be indexed by EvoS
participants in the present.
These in-house ideologies are useful in the EvoS movement because they
represent the often extremely complex interactions of evolutionary scientists as the
unified concerns of a movement, which is at odds with a similarly unified set of
academic critics. EvoS represents these critics as rejecting evolutionary
explanations for human behaviors due to their: fears about its moral and political
implications, commitment to postmodernism, reactions to such explanations
political incorrectness, and academic (Ivory Tower) elitism. Understanding the
critics motivations in this way, EvoS participants are able to represent the purpose
and struggles of their own movement in juxtaposition to their critics: They are
marginalized or persecuted by those who fear the implications of evolutionary
reasoning. They are rational and scientific, relative to their critics postmodernism.
They are compelled to be subversive and irreverent by those critics who see their
arguments as politically incorrect. Further, seeing themselves and their critics as
more-or-less homogenous, oppositional parts of a shared social institution (US
higher education), the EvoS imperative to re-conceptualize and restructure higher
education becomes a coherent and vital challenge, targeting an institution that (they
argue) has tended to unfairly favor the positions of their critics.
There is obviously significant overlap between these ideologies. They tend to
merge and reinforce one another for EvoS participants such as Jonathan Gottschall,
who writes about his graduate studies in Binghamtons English Department:
[A]s in most English departments around the country, Binghamton
University's was tolerant of a profusion of different disciplinary,


ideological, and theoretical approaches. This tolerance reached its
limits, however, when it came to evolutionary theories of human
behavior and psychology, toward which students and professors
evinced nothing but skepticism, hostility, and, most of all, fear. Older
professors, like my epics professor, seemed to see the naked ape
perspective as a churl's insult to humanity and to great art. The
younger professors, as well as my fellow graduate students, saw it as
something far worse. I quickly learned that when I spoke of human
behavior, psychology, and culture in evolutionary terms, their minds
churned through an instant and unconscious process of translation,
and they heard Hitler, Galton, Spencer, IQ differences, holocaust,
racial phrenology, forced sterilization, genetic determinism,
Darwinian fundamentalism, and disciplinary imperialism. [Gottschall

Further, these same ideologies tend to overlap and reinforce one another in the
arguments by other champions of evolutionary scientists who are (it should be
noted) not EvoS participants. For example, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker
writes in a recent New Republic article:
The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of
postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism,
and suffocating political correctness. And they have failed to define a
progressive agenda. Several university presidents and provosts have
lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, its to
announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the
resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, its to
plead for respect for the way things have always been done. [Pinker

The historical precedents of these ideologies lead to their appearance in the
arguments of both EvoS participants (like Gottschall) and non-participants (like
Pinker). They evince much greater scope than the EvoS Programs own evolutionary
reasoning. That is, the EvoS Programs scientific arguments are less widely known or
presupposed than its assessments of the academic opposition to evolutionary
reasoning as a first principle in U.S. higher education. These it shares with a wide
range of authors, both now and in the past.


Chapter Four: Foregrounding and Contextualization in the EvoS Seminar
Series Lectures

In Chapter Two, I discussed what I call the EvoS Programs evolutionary
reasoning and related it to the movements first principle a challenge posed to U.S.
universities and colleges to radically restructure its disciplines, curricula, and
research, embracing evolutionary reasoning as its foundation. In the following
chapter, I detailed the programs in-house ideologies four representations of the
status of evolutionary reasoning in the past and present of U.S. higher education. I
suggested these ideologies can be seen as answering this particularly nagging
question for the EvoS Program (and many others in contemporary evolutionary
science). Why would professional academics who are not, typically, creationists
find fault with the argument that their disciplines should be foundationally based on
evolutionary reasoning? Four possible responses for this problematic situation
come from (what I have called) the EvoS Programs in-house ideologies: First,
rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education is due to fears about its
political and moral consequences. Second, this rejection is due to the dominance of
postmodernism in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Third, the rejection can be
attributed to critics perception of evolutionary reasoning as politically incorrect.
Fourth, rejection of evolutionary reasoning is due to Ivory Tower elitism and
specialization. Each of these ideologies carries with it a rather complex history, but
these histories also demonstrate how enduring and widespread these ideologies


have become. To this end, I argued that the in-house ideologies of the EvoS Program
possess significant scope within the evolutionary science community. More
importantly, they operationalize the movements first principle by calling attention
to the various professional grievances that proponents of evolutionary reasoning
have voiced over several decades.
While these grievances are undoubtedly felt by many professional academics,
this does not entirely explain the functionality of these ideologies for the EvoS
Program. Certainly, social movements of any kind are most visible (and audible) in
their complaints about the institutions that participants feel are mistreating them
and dismissing their concerns. But how would such complaints contribute to the
maintenance and spread of the movement? The answer is that movements may
creatively index their in-house ideologies regularly over time (and into increasingly
diverse settings), such that the ideologies become the overarching meaning of every
movement activity. By regularly voicing complaint in this way, we should find that
the first principle of a social movement will also be consistently affirmed as the
relevant (i.e. logical, ethical, pragmatic) solution to these problems. In this way, the
overarching message of a social movement remains consistent over time and
across settings, where it will reach new potential members, mobilize those already
participating, and (arguably) legitimate the continued existence of the movement
for those inside and outside its ranks.
Now, the question remains as to how the in-house ideologies of EvoS become
creatively indexed into its activities. Put another way, how does one go about
convincing undergraduates (or anyone else) that the rejection of evolutionary


reasoning in higher education is a significant injustice, and that (instead)
evolutionary reasoning should be embraced across all disciplines as a foundational
explanation for social life? To answer this, I turn to the most active and diverse
setting for EvoS at Binghamton University its Seminar Series. There, as I will
demonstrate, participants create foregroundings that (in some way) draw attention
to one or more of the programs in-house ideologies. These foregroundings appear
most frequently in EvoS lectures as four, regularly occurring types:
(1) attacks on the structure of academics,
(2) gratuitous displays or mentioning taboo subjects,
(3) personal testimonies, and
(4) marked modes of speaker performance/audience participation
As I explain in greater detail below, all four types share a common capacity to
violate the norms of academic lecturing, in one way or another. They tend to evoke
shock, confusion, or laughter from an audience, and potentially hold a listeners
attention until some kind of resolution is reached. As I will show, these
foregoundings function as creative indexicals that direct listeners attentions toward
the various complaints about the rejection of evolutionary reasoning in U.S. higher
EvoS lectures typically contextualize these foregroundings (and their
creatively indexed ideologies) by reaffirming that evolutionary reasoning should be
prioritized as the new, cross-disciplinary foundation within university education
and research. While this resolution is typically an intellectual and political
proposition made by the speakers, it is no less an attempt at semiotically closing


the overarching meaning of an interaction. The first principle and the programs in-
house ideologies are thus contextualized as the promotions take-away messages.
These contextualizations tend to perform further kinds of ideological labor for
speakers: abstractions that represent higher education as opposing groups of
intellectuals (for or against evolutionary reasoning), analogical extensions that tie
evolutionary reasoning to various other socio-political concerns (such as public
health or civil rights), and reflexive recursions that encourage audiences to consider
elements of their own lives (including their participation in the context-at-hand) as
foundationally explainable through evolutionary reasoning.
Lectures in the EvoS Seminar Series are different from many academic
lectures, in large part because of the types and numbers of foregroundings
appearing there. However, I am not arguing that the foregroundings found in EvoS
lectures are entirely different from lecturing styles that might be found elsewhere.
As I remind my readers throughout this discussion, lecturers might employ a variety
of foregrounding devices (some similar to the four I describe below) to punctuate
important concepts, differentiate their perspectives from others, make learning fun
for their audiences, or simply to keep them awake. Readers with experience
studying or teaching in U.S. higher education will likely find some similarities
between the practices of EvoS speakers and lectures they themselves have attended
or delivered. The foregroundings taking shape in EvoS lectures (like those
appearing in its promotions) are violations of academic norms, but they must also
be recognizable and likely sensible to their academic audiences. As might be said of
foregroundings in general, the quality of being different is also governed by rules


(Fnagy 1972:288). To this end, that EvoS Seminar Series lectures are dynamic
interplays between presupposed and creative indexicals, which (as I have said
before) are surprising to find in a social movement, given that such interplay is a
basic reality of sociolinguistic life.
This said, there exist four notable differences between the foregroundings of
the EvoS Seminar Series and those found in departmental seminars or academic
lectures at-large: First, these foregroundings occur quite frequently within and
across the Seminar Series lectures. That is, these four types of foregroundings
exhibit high statistical regularity within my data set. Second, these foregroundings
consistently index the same combinations of combinations of the EvoS Programs in-
house ideologies, described in Chapter Three. Lecturers thus contextualize their
foregroundings by assuming or even explicitly stating that these ideologies are
central to the relevant meanings to be drawn from their actions. Third, almost
always, the contextualizations of these foregrounding types reaffirm the
foundational status of evolutionary reasoning in higher education. Finally, most
broadly, these foregroundings distinguish EvoS as a social movement reproducing
implicit and explicit representations of its institutional opposition, reiterating the
movements challenge to higher education, and leading to repeated affirmations of
the movements first principle.
In my analysis below, I will present examples of these foregrounding-
contextualization orders in the following way: I describe the defining characteristics
of each foregrounding type, stressing the reasons behind my classifications. Then I
will lay out examples from the lectures in my data set. In each example, I discuss the


EvoS Programs in-house ideologies that are creatively indexed by these
foregroundings, how these ideologies are subsequently contextualized, and the role
of the programs first principle in contextualizing them (sometimes through
semiotic association with other, external ideologies). Next, I document the
statistical support for each foregrounding type, within individual lectures and
across the entirety of data set. Finally, I offer additional ethnographic evidence from
my fieldwork, further demonstrating how these foregroundings function to index
and contextualize the EvoS Programs ideologies and first principle into diverse
interpersonal settings.

1. Attacks on the Structure of Academics

Speakers in the EvoS Seminar Series often present critical attacks on the

structure of professional academics. The subjects of these complaints range from

specific professional conflicts, resentments over the limitations of disciplinary
specialization, to more sweeping condemnations of the social relevance of higher
education in the United States.
Of course, critical attacks are common to academic presentations. Lecturers,
conference speakers, journal articles often juxtapose past or present approaches
(negatively-valued, as inferior or short-sighted) to their own (positively-valued)
perspectives. In the EvoS Seminar Series, this type of foregrounding is notable
however not only for its frequency, but for its capacity to index the same set of EvoS
Program ideologies within and across numerous lectures, and the contextualization


of each foregrounding as an affirmation of evolutionary reasoning as a first
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as it appears in EvoS lectures, this foregrounding
type often indexes an in-house ideology representing the institutional opponents as
academic elitists who cling to disciplinary specialization. Additionally, this
foregrounding type commonly indexes a representation of evolutionary reasoning
as feared by its critics in U.S. higher education. Recalling the historical background I
laid out in Chapter Three, I show that these lecturers index combinations of these
ideologies, characterizing evolutionary reasoning as unfairly feared in U.S. higher
education by elitist or overly specialized academic professionals. While every
speaker presents a unique kind of attack, each invokes this shared account of a
movements challenge to (and resistance from) an academic institution. As each
foregrounding is contextualized, lecturers also affirm that evolutionary reasoning is
(or should be considered) a foundation for questions of human social life that would
resolve the various shortcomings of contemporary U.S. higher education.

Example 1a: You would want to get the whole story This first example of an
attack on academic structure is posed by a Seminar Series lecturer who objects to
the disciplinary divisions of higher education. Proposing that disciplinary
specialization obstructs free, intellectual inquiry, she tells her audience:
I cant understand how you could say Im a this and I dont go out of
my intellectual cage for the rest my life I just dont understand it If
you were interested in some subject like well marriage or table
manners or dueling you wouldnt arbitrarily say Im only going to
read things that are about these things after 1800 you know I just


draw the line there thats all Im interested in no you would
want to get the whole story

Here, the speaker attacks the disciplinary divisions in academic inquiry, which she
finds arbitrary and illogical. She contrasts this academic structure to an intellectual
imperative to get the whole story. In this way, she creatively indexes an ideology
representing an institutional structure marked by fragmentation and dogmatism. If
there is any uncertainty that this is indeed her meaning, the lecturer next clarifies:
Now I turn to biology particularly evolutionary biology just because
I want to get the whole story or I want the back story on something
that fascinates me in human history and prehistory and it irritates
me when friends who are often very intellectually curious people
will get dismayed if I start going/roaming back into prehistory in
this quest or raising questions about human evolution in this

The speakers juxtaposition of disciplinary divisions to getting the whole story has
here become the historically informed, ideologically grounded message of her
attack. To get the whole story, one must turn to a perspective unbounded by such
divisions evolutionary biology. To contextualize this foregrounding (and its
indexed in-house ideology), the speaker reaffirms evolutionary reasoning as the
first principle that gets the whole story, because it transcends the disciplinary
limitations of intellectuals who ignore or reject it.
Two points deserve our attention concerning this contextualization: First, it
effectively abstracts the intellectual universe that this speaker describes into two,
oppositional representations groups of discipline-bound and trans-disciplinary
intellectuals. These groups are distinguishable through their rejection or embrace of
evolutionary reasoning. Second, insofar as the speaker also describes dismay
among friends who are often very intellectually curious people, the speaker also


projects upon these abstracted groups the qualities of (on one hand) fearing
evolutionary reasoning and (on the other) experiencing undue criticism also an in-
house ideology of the EvoS Program). Even in this quite simple example, this is
overlap in the creative indexing of another in-house ideology (and the beginnings
of another affirmation of the programs first principle).

Example 1b: It thinks of itself as so progressive, but its actually become rather
regressive My second example comes from a visiting EvoS lecturer wishing to extend
evolutionary theory into literary criticism. While his foregrounding addresses a
narrower portion of professional academics (the Modern Languages Association) he
crafts his attack in a quite similar fashion as in my first example:
The Modern Languages Association it thinks of itself as so
progressive but its actually become rather regressive and allows
sort of very little room for substantial dissent from its parties and
no room for anything as reactionary as they imagine anything
evolutionary studies of anything human must be

This speakers foregrounding charges an academic institution with hypocrisy this
influential entity represents itself in a positive light, but contradicts its ideals in
practice. The speaker explains that this institution resists internal dissent, and
shows very specific resistance toward his mode of dissent. It objects to
evolutionary studies of anything human as reactionary, all the while thinking of
itself as so progressive. As is likely clear, this speaker indexes here an in-house
ideology within EvoS: institutional critics fear and misunderstand evolutionary
reasoning, and relegate its application to non-human disciplines. Yet, as the speaker
continues, he reports on a kind of reversal of fortunes:


But now that literary studies are in dire straits they have put out a call
for papers on new directions in twenty-first century literary
criticism I submitted something in response to their call that I
rather enjoyed writing something that just might have a chance of
passing their defenses those who think theyre in opposition to
evolution whether despite my efforts to make it palatable to them
it provokes a gag reflex I dont yet know

The irony of this scenario is underpinned by the ideologies the speaker previously
indexed a supposedly progressive institution encounters (likely financial) dire
straits, forcing it to seek the help of scholars it once suppressed. The speaker uses
this opportunity to push an evolutionary argument through the defenses of those
who think theyre in opposition to evolution. To this end, the evolutionary
reasoning is a subversive challenge to the institutional elitism and dogma.
The EvoS Programs first principle is less explicitly affirmed than my first example,
but appears here an interesting way. As the speaker argues, the targeted institution
is not genuinely in opposition to evolutionary reasoning, they only think theyre in
opposition to it. They misunderstand its foundational potential, and so convince
themselves that they must oppose it. They might be convinced, however, as he
subversively delivers evolutionary reasoning past their defenses or gag reflex
an act of persuasion akin to feeding castor oil to an obstinate child. This
contextualization is an abstraction of the same kind as above (example 1a), although
this speaker takes a more revolutionary stance, hoping to convert those who resist
the first principle by delivering a palatable version of it.

Example 1c: Theyre all thinking in little silo hats In this third example, an EvoS
lecturer discusses several health problems experienced by US children (obesity,
depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD). He complains that health professionals


inside and outside the academy are separated by the specializations of their
We have to start connecting the dots to see how things are tied
together cause right now in nursing and public health you
know theyre all thinking in little silo hats We have the obesity

Here, the speaker lifts his hands to the sides of head, delineating an imaginary,
cylindrical silo hat. The speaker then steps to his right, repeating the gesture:
We have the depression problem
Again, the speaker steps to his right, repeating his silo hat gesture:

We have the bipolar problem

The speaker steps to his right a fourth time, gesturing:

We have the ADHD problem
The speaker then lifts his left hand, gesturing to the spaces where he stepped and
mimed the silo hat, commenting:
And they dont see how those things are connected
In this sequence, this speaker offers a rather more dramatized attack on
institutional structure. Like the intellectual cages of my first example, this lecturer
targets an institutional structure (a set of isolating silo hats). Like those cages
prevented scholars from getting the whole story, these specialized silo hats
inhibit researchers from connecting the dots about childhood physical and
psychological health problems. This speaker takes his attack on institutional
structure even further, pantomiming its isolated parts for his audience. Like my two
previous examples, his performance indexes an in-house ideology, representing


academic critics of evolutionary reasoning as obsessively policing disciplinary

In further explanation, the speaker resolves his foregrounded criticism by

posing a serious imperative to his audience:

We need to frame whats happening to our children as a context for
how we might apply our technology to better our world and to link
the epidemiology from multiple formats to understand the causation
how they interact with evolutionary theories of biological processes
and historical processes and then to show how how we might
have a contextual response to make a change to change our world

The speaker here further juxtaposes the fractured, silo hat-wearing institution to
its unifying alternative evolutionary reasoning. That is, evolutionary reasoning
would transcend professional specializations and deliver an inclusive picture of
whats happening to our children. This contextualization also links the first
principle of the EvoS Program to an assertion that professional academic practice
can (or ought to) increase the quality of human life and change our world. This is
clear in the speakers final remark, in which he pushes scientists to show how we
might have a contextual response to [] to change our world:
Rather the standard I did the research I made my journal
publication the worlds saved No one else has ever done that

His audience chuckles at they way the speaker pokes fun at the self-importance of
academic institution that is actually ineffective. This comment draws directly on the
ideologies previously indexed by this speaker that (like the resulting irony in
Example 1b) now form the contextual grounds for his sarcastic quip.
Finally, this contextualization also analogically extends the first principle
toward another ideology, whereby the positive and unifying potential of


evolutionary reasoning is aligned with the happiness and welfare of children. The
relevance of Darwinian theories to childrens health and happiness is a relatively
novel connection, and so the extension pushes evolutionary reasoning into semiotic
association with a previously unrelated ideology. This said, the importance of
maintaining childrens health and welfare is likely a concern presupposed of
students and faculty in his audience, if not U.S. higher education in general.
Data Summary 1: Attacks on Academic Structure in EvoS Seminar Series














Attacks on academic structure appear in an overwhelming majority of

Seminar Series lectures in my data set: 19 of 20 lectures (95%), at a rate of 3.05

instances per lecture. Further, many of these (17 of 19) include two or more of this
type of foregrounding within a single lecture. Keeping in mind that this type was
most commonly appropriate only at the lectures start, these statistics are
particularly telling.
As my examples above demonstrate, the construction of each attack on
academic structure is unique to the speaker and topic. My classification of these
individual utterances as constituting the same interactional work is based on their
frequency across the majority of lectures, as well as each foregroundings tendency
to index combinations of the same in-house ideologies in order to ground them
interpretively. Ultimately, they all affirm the first principle of the EvoS Program.
These contextualizations may also incorporate other ideologies (such as saving the


children) to further ground EvoS Programs ideologies and first principle as
socially and politically important.
The frequency of this foregrounding type (and its subsequent
contextualizations) in my data set suggests that it performs a regular function:
indexing combinations of the EvoS Programs in-house ideologies and its first
principle as the relevant meanings of these lectures as a whole. Surely, there is
nothing inherently revolutionary in conducting a lecture or a series of lectures, any
more than attending weekly religious services, going to school board meetings, or
gathering at a local pub. Yet, as I discuss in Chapter Two, it is precisely these
mundane activities where the challenges of social movements become
interpersonal realities, as participants index a movements ideologies into the
normal interactions of their lives. To this end, it will be instructive to examine a few
broader examples of the EvoS Programs attacks on academic structure.
The EvoS Programs founder also poses attacks on academic structure. For
instance, in one of his most widely read books, he criticizes the Social Sciences as
a vast archipelago of disciplines that only partially communicate with
each other. My status as an outsider makes it easy for me to island-
hop the social sciences, and I am struck by the lack of consistency []
You know there is a problem when one mans heresy is another mans
commonplace. It signals a need to step back and rebuild the social
sciences from first principles, making the various subdisciplines
consistent with each other and with evolutionary biology. [D.S. Wilson

Here, Wilson complains of the lack of communication between an institutions
constituent parts, and the absence of a common theme across the whole. He poses
that the resolution lies in rebuilding the Social Sciences with evolutionary reasoning
as a foundational explanation for all disciplines. Considering his central role in the


EvoS Program, his comment is an explicit statement of his movements primary
challenge to U.S. higher education. It should be noted that the challenge that the
attack on academic structure echoes similar challenges in previous evolutionary
science literatures (Huxley 1963:20-21; Marayanski and Turner 1992:2-7; E.O.
Wilson 1978: 4-11, 1998a, 1998b; Wright 1994b:4-8), and has further been taken
up by others more recently (Barkow 2006; Garcia et al. 2011; Geher and
Gambacorta 2010; Geher et al. 2011; Gottshall and D.S. Wilson 2005; Hlodan 2008;
Lustick 2005; Platek et al. 2011; Robertson 2007; Vieth 2010).
David Sloan Wilson frequently moderates the Seminar Series lectures,
question and answer sessions, and social events. His introductions for visiting
lectures commonly index EvoS in-house ideologies, suggesting that the speaker is
representative of (if not in fact convinced of) the foundational status of evolutionary
reasoning. Introducing one lecturer, Wilson comments:
She just said to me last night You know the traditional academic
disciplines just dont make much sense and when she tackles a topic
she consults the anthropological literature, the biological literature,
neurobiological shes just crossing these disciplinary boundaries
all the time and thats what were striving to do here

Moreover, Wilson argues that students are similarly unsatisfied with disciplinary
limitations, and (through their participation in EvoS) come to understand the
transcending potential of evolutionary reasoning. Returning to a quote I present in
my second chapter, Wilson explains:
EvoS students regard EvoS as their academic home rather than their
particular department. As one student put it, EvoS provides a
stimulating atmosphere with which biologists, psychologists,
anthropologists, philosophers, social scientists, and even those in the
arts can transcend traditional academic boundaries and collaborate in
addressing mutually interesting questions. It creates a think-tank


atmosphere of sorts, and its a beautiful thing! [D.S. Wilson

Of course, this report is handpicked by the programs founder as evidence of its
academic success. It is remarkable, nevertheless, that this students evaluation reads
as a nearly verbatim reiteration of the foregrounded attacks and contextualizations
posed by Wilson and EvoS lecturers. How the stimulating atmosphere that the
student describes is created is, I suggest, largely due to the varieties of
foregroundings that take place there. This should become even clearer as my
analysis of them continues below.

2. Gratuitous Displays and Mentioning Taboo Topics

A second type of foregrounding in EvoS lectures involves speakers displaying

various gratuitous images and/or mentioning taboo topics to their audiences.

These displays and topicalizations appear as verbal and visual representations of
nudity, sex, violence, and other potentially shocking subject material. They typically
result in gasps and laughter from lecture audiences, likely because they appear in
institutional settings commonly presupposed to be austere, serious, and politically
As I qualify about lecturers attacks on academic structure, foregroundings of
this sort are certainly not exclusive to the EvoS Seminar Series. University education
affords lecturers much freedom in the ways they might shock, amuse, or otherwise
catch their audiences attention. Unlike other professional educators (for example,
in primary schools), college professors may curse, discuss various controversial
topics, or present provocative images in their lectures. They might then


contextualize these foregroundings as ways of challenging stereotypes, catalysts for
in-class debates, or simply as means for entertaining their students while they learn.
Whatever the case, such shocking and unexpected materials create foregroundings
because both lecturers and audiences recognize the materials as taboo within an
institutional setting presupposed to be politically-correct or humorless. The brunt
of the foregrounding lies in their disruption of these expectations. Foregroundings
in EvoS lectures are thus (at least on the surface) comparable to other lecturing
methods that might attempt to shock, offend, or amuse an audience for one purpose
or another.
As these foregroundings appear in my data set however, they are
distinguished again by several qualities relevant to this case study: First, they
appear with great statistical regularity, both within individual lectures and across
the whole. Second, like lecturers attacks on academic structure, gratuitous displays
and taboo topicalizations regularly index one or a combination of the in-house
ideologies I describe in Chapter Three. Third, this foregrounding type (like attacks
on academic structure) is regularly contextualized through a lecturers affirmation
of the EvoS Programs first principle. As will become clear through my examples and
other ethnographic evidence, these gratuitous and taboo instances show a very
specific ideological affiliation with violations of politically correct topics
particularly those dealing with sex and violence. Through their introduction in
academic settings, speakers are demonstrating that their work can handle topics
that others are too touchy to address.


Below, I will proceed as I did above. I will break down a few, step-by-step

examples of this foregrounding from lectures in my data set, focusing within each
example on the creation of the foregrounding, the in-house ideologies that are
creatively indexed there, and the lecturers subsequent contextualization of the
foregrounding (again affirming EvoS Programs first principle). After these
examples, I detail the statistical significance of this foregrounding type across the
lectures in my data set. Lastly, I offer further ethnographic evidence of this
foregrounding type as it is put to similar use in settings outside the lectures. I will
argue there as elsewhere that a primary use of this foregrounding type (and the
three others) is to regularly contextualize the in-house ideologies and first principle
of EvoS into increasingly numerous and novel settings.

Example 2a: The butt surgery. In my first example, an EvoS lecturer describes his
research on neurology and sexual attraction. Apparent within the set up to his
foregrounding, his research methods are rather unorthodox. He explains:
I was in the unique position to have photographs of women who went
to have surgical procedures to increase their waist to hip ratio the
procedure that by the way is called the butt surgery33 So I had
pictures of these girls prior to their surgery and I have pictures of
these girls after the surgery and I can then show these pictures to
men while Im looking at their neurological response to these

At this point, the speaker uses his hand-held remote control to bring up a new
PowerPoint slide. This slide contains a collage of a dozen, close-up photographs of


Gluteal Augmentation is a cosmetic surgery procedure in which doctors draw subcutaneous fat from
other regions of a patients body (typically lower stomach or inner thighs) and inject it into the patients
buttocks. The aim of this surgery is to increase the size and curvature of the buttocks, relative to the
patients waist and upper legs (see Mendieta 2006a; 2006b)


womens naked butts, taken previous to or following cosmetic surgery. The lecture
audience immediately bursts into loud laughter.

This lecturers foregrounding rests on a rather basic violation of what would

be an appropriate image for an academic lecture. Building up to this foregrounding,

he describes a somewhat unorthodox research method measuring mens
neurological responses to medical photos of womens naked bodies. Further, he
colors this explanation with humorous side-comments (the butt surgery) and
rather sexist word choices (pictures of girls shown to men). However, the
speaker gives little indication that he will actually show these photographs to his
audience. The brunt of his foregrounding thus lies in his pictures unexpected
inappropriateness. The speaker is clearly aware of this he plays it straight as his
audience laughs at the slide behind him. Continuing with his lecture, he gestures to
photos on the screen with a laser pointer and explains:
So this is pre-op and post-op pre and post
The speaker then suddenly realizes that the audience is amused and shocked by his
slide. He half-jokingly apologizes for this gratuitous display as if it were something
he did not plan:
Um sorry I should have warned anybody who has a soft stomach
that I was going to be showing naked female bodies

The speaker and his audience recognize this image as inappropriate for an
academic lecture. Relying on a violation of the presupposed seriousness of
university lectures, his foregrounding indexes an in-house ideology representing
academic institutions as humorless and politically correct, and thus easy to disrupt
with the subversive nature of his actions here.


In his next statement, the speaker explains the evolutionary significance of
this research:
But what we found is that if you look at the effects of pre/post we
get activation in frontal lobe and anterior superior and some posterior
visual areas that males preferentially find attractive females that
vary in the level of their curve-asious-ness or what is called their
waist to hip ratio and interestingly enough the waist to hip ratio
appears to be an honest biological signal of things like fertility health
and mental abilities of your offspring

Logically, of course, he could have made his argument without displaying these
slides. However, by introducing the pictures, the speaker created a foregrounding
that both he and his audience had to deal with. To contextualize his foregrounding,
the speaker reaffirms the first principle of the EvoS Program. The scientific
relevance of his unorthodox research (showing nude photos to test subjects) lies in
the support it provides to an evolutionary hypothesis on sex and sexuality.
As I suggest above, both the lecturer and his audience contrast the
inappropriateness of this display as a violation of the serious, humorless, or
politically correct delivery of other academic lectures. This foregrounding indexes
an in-house ideology contrasting the subversiveness of evolutionary reasoning to a
relatively politically correct academic institution. Contextualizing his foregrounding,
the speaker thus legitimates this gratuitous display (given its relevance to
evolutionary science) and moreover situates his own work within the
revolutionary spirit of evolutionary reasoning that is also valued within the EvoS
Program. While the abstraction created in this interaction is (arguably) more subtle
than those appearing in my previous examples, it can be observed that the lecturer
glibly suggests that some in his audience might have a soft stomach toward images


of naked female bodies a nod to the EvoS Programs understanding of higher
education as divided into politically correct intellectuals and those who advocate
evolutionary reasoning.

Example 2b: You probably know someone like this. The lecturer in my first
example introduced visual material to shock and amuse his audience. However,
EvoS lecturers also construct taboo moments through verbal descriptions, such as
narrating sexually explicit or violent scenarios for their audiences. In this second
example, a speaker describes the qualities of an individual with borderline
personality disorder:
You probably know someone like this maybe its someone whos a
big cardiologist here in town well liked well respected very
popular everybody loves the guy and he goes home and when the
doors close he is absolutely a monster to his family aggressive
abusive emotionally abusive abuses his kids his wife and his wife
can do nothing about it because if she tried to if she tried to tell
people about it they would never believe her

Here, the lecturer poses a hypothetical situation involving social deception,
emotional manipulation, and domestic violence. The speakers tone throughout is
emphatic, contrasting this mans spotless public veneer to his private violence.
Clearly, the speaker is trying to move her audience (You probably know someone
like this), and perhaps even frighten them. She frames the violence, deception,
and injustice as near to those listening, likely happening in their very community,
whether they know it or not. She further suggests that the wife of this abusive man
can do nothing to escape her horror, because of biases toward publicly successful
men, although their success may conceal an abusive or exploitative private life.


Next, the speaker builds upon her unpleasant narrative, describing a female

version of borderline personality:

But it could be either sex a woman might shes head of the PTA
shes Miss Popularity everybody looooves her she comes home and
shes a witch to her family the husband may say Ive had it Im
going for a divorce And shell say Honey you divorce me Im
gonna call the police... Im gonna tell em that you are sexually abusing
our children and I am soooo good theyll believe me what can you
do to me? ... And the courts will believe her too because our courts
are set up in many cases to think that the woman is a better

In this second passage, the speaker narrates a similarly despicable person
deceptive, mean, and perverse. With the same halting, dramatic voice, she
animatedly describes a womans angelic public image (everybody looooves her),
contrasted against her ghoulish private life. The lecturer similarly frames this
hypothetical individual as someone we all might know, the female equivalent of the
abusive, male cardiologist. Finally, the lecturer similarly brings home the message
for her audience: Our legal system is biased toward victimized wives and mothers,
even though some may be abusive or disturbed.

This speakers foregrounding builds through two unpleasant, fictional stories

of physical abuse and emotional manipulation. Unlike my first example, she

introduces taboo topics through verbal descriptions. She does not seem so intent on
shocking or amusing her audience as attempting to tap their sense of moral outrage
and creep them out. However, like the shocking images above, her foregrounding
draws its strength in opposition to academic lectures that would less likely to
include these kind of unsettling, fictional narratives. In this way, the speakers


foregrounding similarly indexes an in-house ideology, juxtaposing institutional
austerity or soberness to the dramatic performance of her narrative.

In closing her narrative, the speaker contextualizes her foregrounding by

reaffirming the explanatory power of evolutionary reasoning:

So the romantic idea of the family can be hiding these kinds of
personality disorders and you may think that theyre really crippling
but from an evolutionary perspective they can be very powerful
they can help them become dominant and controlling in any situation
without concern for anyone else and one of the most interesting
aspects of this kind of thing is that these individuals cant help what
theyre doing it happens in a way that is actually driven by forces of
evolution because it is a successful strategy

Through evolutionary reasoning, the speaker argues that a functional logic underlies
the abusive and manipulative activities she describes. That is, an individuals
abusive and exploitative behaviors can be explained as promoting his or her
reproductive success or social influence, and thus the perpetuation of the
psychological disorders underlying those same behaviors.
The speakers contextualization also analogically extends evolutionary
reasoning to a somewhat unexpected ideology a representation of the romantic
idea of the family as guilty of hiding domestic abuse from public view. The
dramatic urgency of this ideology echoes that of the speaker (in Example 1c) who
links a first principle of evolutionary reasoning to his social imperative to save the
children. As in that example, this speakers suspicion of the romantic ideal of the
family is likely a familiar complaint for her audience. Evolutionary reasoning, she
argues, would challenge this mythology by demonstrating the biological strategy
underlying private domestic abuse and deceptive public personas. Combining these
fictional horror stories with a (likely justifiable) assumption that her audience


objects to domestic violence, she arrives at a reiteration of the EvoS Programs
challenge to their audiences to embrace evolutionary reasoning as a foundational
explanation for social life.

Lastly, this contextualization works to legitimate her descriptions of

manipulation and domestic violence. As I commented in Example 2a, this lecturer

could logically have made her argument without detailing these kinds of suburban
gothic scenarios of child and spouse abuse, allegations of rape and incest, and so on.
Yet, more explicitly than my last example, this speaker poses the revolutionary
character of evolutionary science to her audience, narrating horrors that (she
proposes) are taking place in their own community, but can only be made
understandable from an evolutionary perspective. In this way, she affirms
evolutionary reasonings ability to address issues that others fear to take on.

Example 2c: Derogatory terms. In Examples 2a and 2b, I worked through the
foregroundings and contextualizations of two lecturers presenting taboo (sexually
explicit and violent) images and narratives to their Seminar Series audiences. In this
third example, a visiting lecturer creates a foregrounding of the same type, but using
written texts. Here, he discusses his work on personalities and emotions:
Weve been able to differentiate in some of our studies that controlling
the behavior of others having the specific emotional response for
people who are interfering with group effectiveness should lead to
people being stigmatized in different ways qualitatively different ways
that are specific to the nature of the threat theyre posing

At this point in his talk, the lecturer uses his hand-held remote to switch to an
overhead slide containing a collage of derogatory terms: slut, skank, loose,


whore, easy, bitch, cocktease, and several more. Many in the audience
immediately begin to laugh or mumble to one another. He comments:
Here are these very derogatory terms that get used by folks that we
gathered through our interviews

As in Example 2a, this speaker introduces (without much warning) a slide likely to
shock, amuse, and possibly offend an academic audience. Like that speaker, he
explains the derogatory terms on this slide as a part of an unorthodox research
method; and rather than omitting material that might be considered sexist or vulgar,
he unflinchingly introduces it to his audience. The audiences reaction is a
combination of shock and laughter, suggesting that the success of this foregrounding
(like those above) rests on its subversion of the appropriate (typically, politically
correct) material that one would presuppose of a serious academic lecture.

In the speakers following explanation, he apparently anticipated such an

audience reaction:
Now we might just think of it as a way of being derogatory of
being mean but it turns out that these terms are used in very
specific kinds of ways guys in particular will use the word
easy when theyre thinking about mate-seeking more so
when they have other kinds of motivation women
particularly use the words sluts or whores when theyre
thinking about mate-retention as a way of stigmatizing and
controlling other women who threaten mate retention

This speaker contextualizes the taboo topics (and the emotional shock they are
likely to invoke) as understandable through evolutionary reasoning. That is, he
argues, derogatory words are not just ways of being mean. Rather, men and
women use them to maximize their own reproductive opportunities, stigmatizing
others who pose threats to those opportunities. The speaker here indexes an in-


house ideology common to the EvoS Program, criticizing its critics as reactionary,
while evolutionary reasoning uncovers truths about human behaviors that are
hidden beneath a veneer of political correctness.
On this revealing potential of evolutionary reasoning, the speaker explains
An evolutionary perspective says that being mean is not enough
different groups pose different threats and therefore they require
different kinds of emotional responses some prejudices ought to be
characterized by fear some should be characterized by disgust
some should be characterized by anger in response to the different
kinds of threats these groups are posing

Introducing a potentially shocking set of terms to his audience, this lecturer explains
that the shock these terms are known to cause (and have, in fact, caused in this very
setting) has an evolutionary explanation. It is probable that his audiences reaction
was a result of encountering these terms in the midst of an academic lecture, an
anomalous development when opposed to institutional practices typically
presupposed to be serious or politically correct.
The speakers contextualization, however, speaks to the ultimate, biological
function of these terms. No less than the speaker in Example 2b, he analogically
extends the uses of evolutionary reasoning as a way to see the functionality
(controlling others reproductive strategies) underlying a problematic social
practice that normative ideologies inadequately explain as just a way of being
derogatory of being mean. In this way, like my previous examples of this
foregrounding type, this speaker contextualizes his subversive or politically
incorrect, derogatory terms as a necessary bit of evidence on the semiotic course
toward the radical explanation of social life.


Data Summary 2: Gratuitous Displays/Mentioning Taboo Topics in EvoS
Seminar Series Lectures
















In greater numbers than my first foregrounding type, gratuitous displays and
taboo topics appear within all the lectures in my data set: 93 foregroundings appear
across 20 of 20 (100%) of all lectures, with an average of 4.65 per lecture. This
second type of foregrounding appears at least once in all 20 lectures in my data set,
and two or more times in 18 out of 20 (90%). How a lecturer might create this type
of foregrounding is unique to the individual and content of the lecture. Yet, these
individual instances may be legitimately typified into a single category. Their
commonality lies not only the in frequency of this type across all lectures, but also
each foregroundings tendency to index combinations of the same set ideologies and
the speakers final contextualization through an affirmation of evolutionary
reasoning as a foundational explanation for social life. Moreover, the lecturers
contextualizations in Examples 2b and 2c analogically extend the first principle to
impress upon their audiences the social and ethical importance of embracing
evolutionary reasoning as an ultimate cause, underlying problematic social

To elaborate upon these quantitative results in my analysis, allow me here to

offer further ethnographic evidence on this foregrounding type, as it appears in

settings outside the EvoS Seminar Series. This type of foregrounding clearly draws
upon the earlier controversies regarding evolutionary science that I describe in


Chapter Three. They invoke domestic violence, child abuse, sexual promiscuity and
manipulation, and other topics of a politically sensitive nature. Evolutionary
scientists like Edward O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins were
uncommonly able to stir strong reactions from their audiences, often by presenting
controversial arguments about equally controversial topics, such as racism, sexual
orientation, or the existence of God. In the last four decades, evolutionary theorists
sparked more widespread criticism by publishing and lecturing on the biological
functions of politically sensitive subjects, such as rape (Thornhill and Palmer 2000),
homicide (Wrangham and Peterson 1997; Daly and Wilson 1988), genocide
(Diamond 1992, 1999), and despotic regimes (Oakley 2007). My point here is not to
argue that evolution is controversial. Rather, as evinced by lecturers in my data set
and the authors I describe here, proponents of evolutionary reasoning strategically
employ aspects of this controversy to draw audiences attention to their arguments.
The EvoS Programs founder also utilizes this type of foregrounding within
his own publications and promotions of the program. For example, he describes a
classroom lesson on the evolutionary explanations for infanticide. David Sloan
Wilson instructs students to collaborate for five minutes to identify situations in
which infanticide is biologically adaptive for the parents (D.S. Wilson 2005a:1003).
In their discussion groups, his students are eager to talk, and reliably identify the
three major adaptive contexts of infanticide: lack of resources, poor offspring
quality, and uncertain paternity (D.S. Wilson 2005a:1003). On this, Wilson wonders
at his students insightful conclusions:
How can they, mere undergraduate students, who know almost
nothing about evolution and (one hopes) know nothing at all about


infanticide, so easily deduce the major hypotheses that are in fact
employed in the study of infanticide for organisms as diverse as
plants, insects, and mammals? That is just one example of the power
of thinking on the basis of adaptation and natural selection [D.S.
Wilson 2005a:1003]

In this lesson, Wilson introduces a practice carrying substantial moral taboos. This
arguably contributes to his students enthusiasm to discuss it. However, despite its
controversial nature (he argues), evolutionary reasoning can be used even by mere
undergraduates to arrive at profound scientific conclusions about such
troublesome social problems. On the taboo nature of his classroom topic, Wilson
It might seem that boldly discussing subjects such as human
infanticide (which the students quickly connect to the contemporary
issue of abortion), along with other topics such as sex differences and
homosexuality later in the course, is the ultimate in political
incorrectness []. In the case of infanticide, evolutionary theory
doesnt say thats right it is used to make an informed guess about
when it occurs. All the students want to know if the guess proves to be
correct for humans in addition to other creatures, regardless on their
moral stance on abortion [D.S. Wilson 2005a:1004]

Here, Wilson acknowledges that his topic is taboo and thus subverts the political
correctness commonly presupposed of human-related subjects in U.S. universities.
The evolutionary explanations for infanticide (Wilson argues) successfully
transcend students moral stance on abortion. This transcendence is
complimented by the ease with which Wilsons students reached the three,
dominant theories on infanticide, employing nothing more than the power of
thinking on the basis of adaptation and natural selection. Further, evolutionary
reasoning demonstrates the hidden functionality of troubling social problems:
The picture that emerges makes sense of cases of infanticide that
appear periodically in the news (typically young women with few


resources and under the influence of a male partner who is not the
father) and that previously seemed inexplicable. [D.S. Wilson

Like the lecturer in my final example, Wilson here affirms the potential in
evolutionary reasoning to reveal heretofore inexplicable truths about even the
most emotionally charged human behaviors. Though he risks his students moral
outrage, Wilson boldly introduces a taboo topic for open discussion. To be sure, this
act is subversive in contrast to a presupposed, politically correct representation of
academic lecturing. Like the speakers in my Examples 2b and 2c, Wilson extends his
contextualization of this foregrounding toward an ideology less-readily associated
with Darwinian theories humanistic science. He explains:
Including humans along with the rest of life vastly increases students
interest in evolution and acceptance to the degree that it seems to
lead to understanding and improvement of the human condition. [D.S.
Wilson 2005a:1004]

Posing unpleasant or controversial topics to his class is a necessary step toward
impressing upon students the rationality and the humanistic necessity of
embracing evolutionary reasoning as a foundation in explanations of social life.
This combination of ugly facts and hopeful positivism is by no means new. It
is, rather, a hallmark of arguments in favor of an evolutionary first principle.
Numerous examples of this argument could be trotted out, but few are more
dramatic or explicit than Julian Huxleys comments shortly after the Darwin
Centennial in 1959:
Looking back, we see that evolving man has lurched from one crisis to
another. Great empires have collapsed, whole civilizations have been
violently destroyed; thought has been muzzled, common people
cruelly exploited, habitats ruined [] If we fail to control our
economic system, we over-exploit our resources. If we fail to prevent


atomic war, we destroy civilization. If we fail to control our
population, we destroy our habitat and our culture. However, our
increasing knowledge is indicating how we might remodel our
psychosocial organization and escape from the apparent impasse. The
new and central factor in the present situation is that the evolutionary
process, in the person of mankind, has for the first time become
conscious of itself. We are realizing that we need a global evolutionary
policy, to which we shall have to adjust our economic and social and
national policies. [Huxley 1963:20]

Despite its distinctly Cold War rhetoric, Huxleys passage poses the same challenge
as the examples I offer here, which he frames as no less a moral imperative for his
Debates over evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation are rarely
characterized by what one might call intellectual detachment. This same sort of
emotional investment is evident in what I have already described in EvoS lectures:
Some speakers charge academic institutions with ignoring or marginalizing their
science. Others argue an urgent need to embrace evolutionary reasoning to increase
human happiness, fight social injustice, and avoid self-extinction. There is a sense
that something quite personally profound is at stake in arguing this first principle.
This deeply personal something appears in the EvoS Program lectures as well,
which I explain as the third type of foregrounding commonly found there.

3. Introducing Personal Testimonies

EvoS speakers commonly introduce personal testimonies into their lectures,
offering various details from their own professional and private live a third type of
foregrounding regularly appearing in my data set. Employing this foregrounding,
speakers creatively index the same in-house ideologies of the EvoS Program as my


previously described foregrounding types. In particular, their personal testimonies
appeal to representations of evolutionary reasoning as unfairly feared by critics and
marginalized to non-human academic subjects. To contextualize these
foregroundings, speakers again reaffirm the explanatory potential of evolutionary
reasoning as a first principle. These contextualizations may also include complicated
semiotic processes I describe in Chapter Two (analogical extension and reflexive
recursion), through which the EvoS Programs first principle is put to some
surprising uses.
On the violation that this foregrounding type seems to require, I should
make clear (as I do above) that university lecturers are certainly not forbidden
from detailing personal information or subjective narratives to their audiences.
Professors might relate personal stories to their students for any number of
reasons: to demonstrate some conceptual point in a lesson, attempting to
humanize their classroom persona, or simply as means to amuse their students and
lighten the mood. As I suggest of those using gratuitous displays or taboo topics, a
lecturer interjecting personal information in an academic lecture will likely be a
foregrounding act. That is, it subverts a widespread (if stereotypical) presupposition
of lecture settings as impersonal and serious. When professors attempt to subvert
these stereotypes, their actions may often be grounded as attempts to entertain,
inspire student participation and debate, and pose (arguably) interesting examples
in their lectures.
Yet, as I suggest of my other foregrounding types, the lecturers personal
testimonies in my data set are special to the EvoS Seminar Series in four ways: First,


they appear with great statistical regularity, developed both within individual
lectures and across the whole. Second, like the other foregrounding types I observe
in the lectures, these personal testimonies regularly index combinations of the in-
house ideologies I describe in Chapter Three. Third, speakers regularly
contextualize this foregrounding type (like the others) by affirming evolutionary
reasoning as a foundation in explanations of social life. Finally, but importantly,
these lecturers are contextualizing their own experiences as examples of the
personally transformative potential of evolutionary reasoning, here applied to make
sense of problematic or confusing episodes in their own lives.

Example 3a: And I saw this and I was like oh my god he got it all!
In this first example, a visiting lecturer explains to the audience that he initially
began studying ethics because his childhood was such an emotionally explosive
period. He relates that:
I had two sisters growing up and that we fought every single day and
it was a very, very passionate kind of morality

The speaker here introduces a piece of his childhood to his audience. Such intimate
details are not forbidden from academic lectures, though his story does seem to be
an uncommonly personal reason for pursuing studies in ethical philosophy. This
kind of intimate information is in implicit contrast to a stereotypical representation
of academic lectures as typically impersonal and serious.
Next, the lecturer makes explicit this contrast between personal convictions
to institutional austerity. After explaining that he was drawn to philosophy and


ethics because of his emotionally-charged childhood, he describes his
disappointment that
My graduate studies in ethics were very, very dry and very cerebral,
with no bearing at all on my own experiences

The ideology he indexes here has appeared in similar manifestations, though
through other foregrounding types. As in previous examples (particular those
attacking academic structure), this ideology represents academic traditions
(broadly conceived) as elitist, conservative, and impersonal a critical
characterization of university education and professions as an Ivory Tower.
This conflict between the speakers personal knowledge and his academic
pursuits persisted until he encountered the first chapter of Edward Wilsons
Sociobiology: A New Synthesis (1975), titled The Morality of the Gene. In this
chapter, the speaker was introduced to a new perspective on ethics, which he
loosely explains:
Humans have passionate, emotional reactions to everything we
experience we have these brains our brains give us these emotions
and these emotions are adaptations they are adaptations to the
lives our ancestors used to lead

This argument resulted in a kind of epiphany, as he reports:

I read this chapter and I saw this and I was like oh my god he got it

Here, the lecturer describes his elation over encountering a field of philosophy that
more closely relates to the very, very passionate kind of morality of his childhood.
Contextualizing his personal testimony, he relates an intellectual transformation
that (for him) affirms evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation of social
life with intuitive truth-value. Also contextualized is his previous index of a salient


EvoS in-house ideology, which juxtaposes representations of an impersonal, elitist
academic institution to the diametrically opposite nature of evolutionary reasoning
its anti-elitism, broad applicability, and the personal revelations one might
experience in embracing it as a first principle (and thus getting it all). Here and in
subsequent examples, I point out that a rather complicated semiotic process takes
place in speakers contextualizations of foregrounded personal testimonies, wherein
evolutionary reasoning acquires a new ideological status as a foundation that
reflexively explains individuals own social life back to them.
On a final note, the reader no doubt sees that an integral part of the speakers
personal testimony here is an attack on academic structure. This is a yet another
overlap of indexical signs, essentially one foregrounding within another
foregrounding. My next example will show this quality as well.

Example 3b: Why do we need evolutionary psychology? Thats what we have
biology for! In this second example, an EvoS lecturer interjects a personal
narrative into his lecture on evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. Like
Example 3a, this personal testimony overlaps with his initially lighthearted attack
on academic structure, which becomes more explicit and cynical as he proceeds. The
speaker begins by describing his current teaching position and the complications he
When I teach evolutionary psychology the students sometimes say
to me Well why do we need evolutionary psychology thats what
we have biology for and after my heart mends from its breaking I
describe to them the importance of using the evolutionary approach


Here, the lecturer voices a misunderstanding of evolutionary reasoning, expressed
by his students. As he describes it, his students ignorance is understandable, even
cute, and the EvoS audience here chuckles at the heartbreak that their confusion
causes for the speaker. Arguably, their skepticism harkens to the a stereotypical
challenge from a student to a teacher (When are we going to need this in real life?)
However, the skepticism he reports also indexes a representation of evolutionary
reasoning as institutionally misunderstood and marginalized (considered a
biological rather than human science). In this way, like my previous example, his
personal testimony overlaps with an implicit (though soon-to-be explicit) attack on
academic structure.
As he continues, it becomes clear that this the speakers struggles to
legitimate his convictions against skepticism do not end with his students:
Well I recently submitted a paper about using the evolutionary
cognitive neuroscience approachand one of the reviewers wrote
What can we do with evolutionary cognitive neuroscience in fact
why do we need evolutionary cognitive neuroscience at all? And
after I was able to again re-conceive my thoughts and mend my

The professional complications within this speakers testimony have now shifted
from his students to an institutional source with real influence. The referee of a
professional journal questions the legitimacy of his field. The speaker repeats that
this skepticism caused him heartbreak (at which his audience again chuckles). One
might guess that the speaker is about to rebut this referees skepticism as he did he
previously did for his students. Instead, the speaker carries this skepticism even


And I thought its really an interesting question because at the very
lowest level we dont need an evolutionary cognitive neuroscience

This development presents an interesting and certainly more complicated twist to
attacking academic structure than those in Examples 1a, 1b, and 1c. Here, the
speaker unexpectedly agrees with the institutional skepticism that has caused him
heartbreak twice over. Arguably, he could not have done this without overlapping
foregroundings the personal narrative foregrounds (first) his students skepticism,
(second) a journal referees skepticism, and finally seems to foreground this
speakers own capitulation to these difficulties. Instead of defending evolutionary
reasoning, he gives in to the institution that doubts its worth something of a
heresy in this setting.
However, as it turns out, his capitulation was only a set-up to leverage a
more powerful appeal to the first principle:
In fact it should all be evolutionary like psychology for example
should be evolutionary just because it is a biological science we
shouldnt need to qualify!

The speakers contextualization thus turns out to be a rather crafty reworking of his
skeptics arguments. Challenged first by his students, then by an academic
institution, he finally concludes that his critics are right, though certainly not in the
way they intended. The skepticisms are groundless that contest evolutionary
reasoning in one discipline or another. Scholars shouldnt need to qualify whether
their disciplines are evolutionary - they are evolutionary, because they answer to
evolutionary reasoning as a foundation (whether acknowledged or not). The
speakers personal testimony, which includes two embedded attacks on academic


structure, thus ends with an affirmation that evolutionary reasoning is a foundation
underlying all other modes of academic inquiry.

Outside the remarks of the EvoS founder, it would be difficult to find a more

explicit statement of the programs challenge to higher education than this. His
convictions echoes those of David Sloan Wilson, such as his argument that I cite in
Chapter Three:
Evolutionary theory has arrived as an important theoretical
framework guiding research in the human behavioral sciences. Any
college or university that fails to teach evolution in relation to human
affairs is out of touch with current scientific research. [D.S. Wilson
2007b:4, original emphasis]

This said, the speaker contextualizes his personal testimony in an interesting way:
Positing that it should all be evolutionary and we shouldnt need to qualify, the
speaker uses the inherent trans-disciplinarity of evolutionary reasoning to console
and defend himself after facing critics skepticism regarding its application in a
particular field. On this note, like Example 3a, the reflexive recursion of the first
principle taking shape. This speaker comes to terms with his professional
struggles, reminding himself of the transcendent (albeit subversive) knowledge that
evolutionary reasoning imparts to those who embrace it as a foundation, and
(conversely) the limited understandings of those who do not.

Example 3c: Thats the kind of environment we had in evolutional [sic] times
In my first example (3a), an EvoS lecturer foregrounded personal information about
his childhood in order to index a representation of an impersonal academic
institution, in the end contextualizing his foregrounding by affirming the personally


transformative power of evolutionary reasoning. In my second example (3b), the
lecturer introduced a similar, though more complicated set of overlapping
foregroundings relating a personal narrative of the institutional skepticisms he
has faced as an evolutionary scientist. This speaker contextualized his foregrounded
testimony (and its overlapping, foregrounded attacks on academic structure) by
affirming evolutionary reasoning as special (transcendent) knowledge that has not
yet been embraced in higher education.
This speaker my third example delivers a lecture dealing with collective
punishment of individual offenses against group welfare. As she does, she relates to
the Seminar Series audience a story of her participation in a South Pole research
My husband is here today [she gestures to a man in the front row, who
raises his hand] He just retired last week and we got to work in a
South Pole station together and what I want to say about The South
Pole station is that it a small environment we had thirty people or so
per station and of course there always was one person per section
who was extremely obnoxious

Introducing her husband and some details of their co-employment at this research
station, the speaker shifts her talk into a subjective mode. As her husband raises his
hand, the audience chuckles at this somewhat unorthodox maneuver on the
speakers part.
As she continues, the speaker describes an uncomfortable confrontation with
the extremely obnoxious person at this research station:
I remember this one fellow he came in about six oclock in the
morning I was just finishing off a shift I had all my papers all
spread out there and he came up and said to me Youre a bitch and
women shouldnt be here he took my papers threw them on the


floor broke my pencil threw it on the floor so what do I do? I
threw coffee in his face hot coffee

At this point in her story, many audience members gasp or laugh. Her personal
anecdote has taken a surprising turn: a sexist co-worker violently confronted her
and she retaliated. This foregrounded personal narrative now overlaps with a
second foregrounding a taboo topicalization, replete with prejudice, aggression,
and profanity. The audiences reaction suggests that this foregrounding has (at
least) succeeded in surprising them with a story including such details. Arguably,
this foregrounding works because it violates presuppositions about impersonal
academic lectures that likely would not include such entertaining topics.
Whether or not the speakers last foregrounding performed this indexical
function, her next statement clearly introduces information that would be
uncommon in the stereotypical boring lecture. Gesturing to her husband in the
front row, she tells what happened next:
So later that night - someone I know who might be in this room
helped gather a group of people who did something called packing
and what packing is you take a person and you put snow into
various orifices and its very intense and its very uncomfortable
And Ive got to say this he never troubled me again in any way, shape,
or form

This explanation of packing draws peals of laughter from her audience. The
speaker has introduced an unusual punishment, carried out by her fianc and his
colleagues, which involved (one infers) stuffing snow into this mans butt. Her third
foregrounding overlaps with the second, presenting similarly shocking retribution
for the extremely obnoxious persons sexist offense. Further, as a contributing part


of her narrative, this foregrounding is like the one previous to it built into her
personal recollection.
Finally, the speaker contextualizes these overlapping foregroundings by
arguing the evolutionary significance of her experience. She proposes that
Thats the kind of environment we had in evolutional [sic] times we
lived in small bands of thirty or so people if someone was really
troublesome you either put him in his place by things like
packing or you actually took him off and - pushed him off the edge
of an ice flow or just otherwise got rid of him so there were
mechanisms if you wanted to be sly or vicious you couldnt hide
very well if you werent very functional or very altruistic or very
helpful for other people you wouldnt last very long

The speaker here employs evolutionary reasoning to contextualize her
foregroundings. This happens in two ways: First, she contextualizes the violence of
her second and third foregroundings as explainable through evolutionary reasoning.
Her recollection unfolded as a recapitulation of Homo sapiens evolutionary
ancestors an offender within the speakers small band was punished to maintain
group equilibrium. Second, the speakers initial foregrounding is now interpretable
as a personal testimony on the explanatory power of the evolutionary reasoning.
While she might have simply admired her husband as defending her honor,
evolutionary reasoning has shown her that his actions were, in fact, examples of
adaptive group behaviors, first exhibited by contemporary humans distant
ancestors. The speakers testimony also indexes some unexpected ideologies, but
these further contextualize her foregrounding. In particular, her story carries an
undertone of chivalry. In this sense, her testimony is also a relationship story,
including a mans act of bravery to protect a woman from violence. As the audience
can clearly interpret, this story results in the couples happy life together.


Example 3d:We are creatures who need to know. In this fourth example of
personal testimony, a Seminar Series speaker describes her struggles with her
colleagues in the Humanities. The resistance her associates toward biological
explanations for human practices is a source of continual disagreement. She

I was very surprised and saddened in the last ten years to find
that some very good friends of mine often intellectuals very
smart people would shrink back if I mentioned the possible
relevance of of biology to something they were raising and theyd
say things like uh Oh we dont want any biological reductionism
here you know as if somehow theyre going to be reduced to
something under a microscope if I started talking that way.

Like my previous example, this foregrounding embeds an attack of academic
structure, developing into a testimony of personal and professional conflict. The
speakers friends and colleagues misunderstand and fear evolutionary reasoning. In
this way, her complaint about their positions indexes a representation of
evolutionary reasoning as politicized in US higher education.

Next, the lecturer elaborates on her colleagues skepticism:

Or my friends would bring up the history the dodgy history of

the various misuses of biology to defend various forms of social
hierarchy you know the patriarchy where there have been all
kinds of ridiculous things said that claimed to be scientific and we
could talk about that forever or racist again drawing on things
which claimed to be biology at one point or another

Continuing to describe her colleagues antagonism toward her interest in evolution,
the speaker again indexes an in-house ideology positing evolutionary reasonings
unfair demonization by institutional opponents. Academic critics of evolutionary
science charge that Darwinism has historically been used to justify racial or gender


discrimination. But, this speaker argues, those uses of evolution were not science,
but were in fact part of the dodgy history of ridiculous things said that claimed to
be scientific.

The lecturer continues even further in her complaint:

Or if I raised the question of human nature put very broadly and
human nature my friends in the humanities just shrink in horror
from What do you mean human nature? Theyll say that thats
something that you cant define it what are you saying here... thats
going back to the essentialist racist etcetera forms of biology

At this point in her personal testimony, the lecturers friends are speaking with a
unified voice to express their reactionary fear toward evolutionary reasoning
applied to human affairs. In a less sarcastic fashion than the lecturer in my previous
example, she partially concedes to their objections:
Id say to that True human nature at any time is socially
constructed or certainly constructed by our institutions and how
we organize ourselves but its constructed out of something there is
something there about us

It now seems that the conclusion to this lecturers story of intellectual persecution
has begun to take shape. Exhausted by her friends condemnations, she more or less
acknowledges the legitimacy of their fears. She concedes that human nature is a
social construct, qualifying that social constructions are likely expressions of a
universal something there about us. In this way, the speakers personal narrative
indexes a representation of evolutionary reasoning as rational as unifying or
conciliatory in the face of institutional dogma and obstinacy.

Closing her testimony, this lecturer underscores that she is not deterred by

the institutional obstructions and fears of her colleagues:

I will keep going on these questions because I have to know I
really want to know and wherever that leads me to whatever


fields or questions it leads me into you know okay you
know Im ready

In defiance to the skepticism of her academic friends and the institutional
marginalization of evolutionary reasoning, she tells her audience that she will
courageously proceed. Fascinatingly, in contextualizing her personal testimony, the
speaker poses evolutionary reasoning as an explanation for her own actions:
And actually - thats one part of our evolved human nature thats
really interesting to think about is that we are creatures who need
to know even when it seemingly has very little to do with our
material existence or capacities for reproduction we need to know

The speakers affirmation of a first principle here contextualizes her intellectual
struggles and quest for absolute truths as itself a behavior that can be explained
through evolutionary reasoning. Doing so, she presents an example of the third,
semiotic process of contextualization that I describe in Chapter Two reflexive
recursion. Referring to a universal, human need to know, she legitimates (and
valorizes) her own struggles against marginalization as a lived affirmation of
evolutionary reasonings foundational explanations for her own convictions.

Data Summary 3: Personal Testimonies Introduced in EvoS Seminar
Series Lectures

















As detailed in Data Summary 3, this third type of foregrounding appears in a

majority (17 out of 20, or 85%) of the Seminar Series lectures in my data set, with
69 instances total at an average of 4.1 per lecture. Further, in this majority, 16 of 17
lectures include two or more personal testimonies. This statistical frequency


demonstrates the commonality of this brand of foregrounding within and across
Seminar Series lectures. Further, like the examples above, personal testimonies
typically index a combination of ideologies expressed in the EvoS Program. More
often than not, lecturers contextualizations of their personal testimonies reaffirm
the status of evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation for social life.

The above examples of personal testimonies also exhibit complicated

patterns of overlapping types of foregroundings. In these passages and across my

data set, lecturers deliver personal testimonies containing attacks on academic
structure and taboo topics. As I describe in my analysis, these sets and series of
foregrounding types also index complex combinations of the ideologies commonly
encountered in the EvoS Program. For instance, in Example 3d, the lecturer
describes her sadness when her friends resisted her attempts at evolutionary
reasoning. She builds this personal narrative into a series of attacks on institutional
misunderstanding and fear of evolutionary reasoning. Doing so, she indexes a
combination of in-house ideologies, together representing the politicization of
evolutionary reasoning by its academic opponents, whose postmodern relativism
clashes with the positivist goals of her science. Overlapping foregrounding types
into such elaborate combinations seems, in hindsight, a somewhat tall order.
However, as that example demonstrates, the complexity of these foregroundings
unfolds as a rather rapid and seamless interplay between presupposed and creative

To compliment these results in my data analysis, here I wish to offer further

ethnographic evidence on this foregrounding type, as it appears in settings outside


the EvoS Seminar Series. To be sure, the personal importance that these speakers
attach to evolutionary reasoning is by no means exclusive to the EvoS Program. In
one of the more celebrated texts of human evolutionary science, Darwinism and
Human Affairs, Richard Alexander argues that evolutionary reasoning offers the
means to both progressive social change and personal happiness:
It does this by telling us who we really are and how to become
whatever we may want to become. Evolutionary understanding, then,
more than anything, has the power to make humans sufficiently
plastic to accomplish whatever they wish. This grandiose notion, of
course, loses all its glamour if there is any doubt at all about the
centrality of evolutionary theory as explanatory of human nature.
From my personal viewpoint, however, to have discovered that I love
my child, not because it shares my genes, but because I have
associated with it in certain fashions, and to discover that I am likely
to prefer my own child to an adopted one like it solely because of my
reproductive history, are realizations that have simultaneously made
me more likely to adopt a child, less likely to reproduce compulsively,
more likely to reflect in a calm and reasonable fashion over tensions
associated with sexual competition, more tolerant of others in
connection with all of these enterprises, and, I believe, more likely to
maintain an enjoyable existence, tolerable to others, as well as
worthwhile to myself. [Alexander 1979:277]

The reflections that Alexander provides here illustrate a similarly recursive
application of evolutionary reasoning to self-knowledge in the examples from my
data set. I might also point out that Alexanders comments speak to the complex
sentiments that such testimonies tend to produce. While Alexander clearly takes
evolutionary reasoning as the foundation in explaining human social life, the
lessons that Darwinism has taught him have led him (counter-intuitively) to higher
expectations of himself and greater tolerance of others.
In a virtually identical fashion, the founder of the EvoS Program also employs
personal testimonies on how evolutionary reasoning has empowered him. Truly, it


might be argued without exaggeration, that Wilsons (2007a) Evolution for Everyone:
How Darwins Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives is a book-length
version of this type of foregrounding. Even for a popular science publication, it is
remarkably autobiographical, particularly in describing his terse relationship with
his own father, the novelist Sloan Wilson. The younger Wilson describes his life,
spent in the shadow of this creative giant. For many years, he felt unappreciated and
misunderstood as a person drawn to science who is also the son of an artist, in a
family of literary intellectuals. Yet, a redemption of sorts took place for Wilson in the
1980s and 1990s, when he became a champion of group selection theory, which he
has since used to explain numerous human social practices. He explains:
One reason that I became so passionate about group selection was
because it so clearly related to the human condition, in addition to the
rest of life. My professors and peers regarded themselves as
evolutionary biologists. They respected the academic convention that
studying humans is somehow not biology, as if we were set apart from
the rest of nature. I had become an evolutionist, perhaps because I am
the son of a novelist. For me it was an unexpected homecoming. I had
been paddling away from my father, but now I had returned to ponder
our own species, just like him, except through the lens of evolutionary
theory rather than the lens of fictional narrative. [D.S. Wilson

Here, and throughout his book, Wilson builds a kind of extended testimony of
existential struggle. Like lecturers in the Seminar Series, this foregrounding indexes
ideologies representing his pursuits as unjustly feared or marginalized, despite their
populist potential and applications to increase human happiness.
As in Wilsons passage (and my examples above), contextualizations of
foregrounded personal testimonies can affirm evolutionary reasoning as a
foundation in an individuals search for meaning. For example, Wilson describes


the reaction of an audience member to a lecture he delivered on how evolutionary
theory had been applied by agricultural scientists to increase egg production. In this
lecture, Wilson explained to them that chickens who lay the most eggs are often
those that have achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of their
cagemates (2005a:34) continuously pecking the hens around them, sometimes to
death. Following Wilsons lecture, he reports:
a professor ran up to me and exclaimed, That first slide describes my
department! I have names for those three chickens! Evidently her
department had adopted a policy of promoting members entirely for
their individual accomplishments, with results comparable to the first
method of breeding chickens [] Genetic evolution had not taken
place, of course, but something had taken place that gave comparable
results. [DS Wilson 2007a:35]

Like my previous examples (particularly 3a), an individuals self-transformation
has taken place, reported here by Wilson as an audience members excited
discovery that struggles in her own profession matched his evolutionary
explanation for aggression between farm chickens.

This process of reflexive recursion draws upon evolutionary reasoning as the

grounds for ones self-identification, as (on one hand) a product of natural selection
and (on the other) a participant in a movement that encourages others to recognize
the same of themselves. Admiring that the biodiversity in his own backyard is the
result of the sculpting action of natural selection, Wilson writes:
Its awesome and humbling to contemplate that we are the product of
that same sculpting action, not only our bodies but also our minds and
the very thoughts that run through our minds. I sometimes wonder
what it must have been like to be present during the early days of
Darwins theory, when the idea was so new and so much remained to
be discovered. Then I realize that I am present during the early days
of Darwins theory. The intellectual events taking place right now are
as foundational as the events of 150 years ago. How amazing that


virtually everyone can partake in the excitement, as an observer or a
participant [] Evolutionary theory is not the kind of belief system
that hurls you like an arrow in a previously chosen direction. It is
more like a sailboat or kayak bobbing by the shore, inviting you to
take your own voyage of discovery. [D.S. Wilson 2007a:348-349]

This passage obviously includes most of the points I argue above, and likely requires
little commentary. To Wilsons thinking, evolutionary reasoning has the potential to
explain not only our bodies but also our minds and the very thoughts that run
through our minds a foundational proposition if I ever saw one. His emphatically
personal, nearly evangelical tone in this passage (and throughout the book) is
indeed signaling his genuine astonishment at what he has learned about himself
through evolutionary reasoning.

4. Marked modes of speaker performance/audience participation

Clearly, when lecturers in the EvoS Seminar Series construct their

foregroundings, they rely strongly on their audience reactions. In my examples,

lecturers present shocking visuals in order to evoke surprise and laughter, deliver
narratives of personal struggles and unsettled professional hardships, or dramatize
their arguments with physical gestures (such as a series of silo hats in Example
3c). A fourth type of foregrounding appears in my data set in which these lecturing
methods build into marked modes of speaker performance and elaborate instances
of audience participation. As dramatic performances, these foregroundings may be
interpreted as breaking the fourth wall between speakers and their audience
(Brecht 1964a, 1964b; Jameson 1972:58-93). That is, speakers oblige audience
members to join the production of foregroundings, indexing the same set of


ideologies, and ultimately arriving at contextualizations that reaffirm evolutionary
reasoning as a foundational explanation for social life sometimes even the context-

As I qualify about other foregrounding types, marked speaker performances

and audience participation are not exclusive to the settings in my data set. In other
academic lecturers, speakers may oblige their audiences to participate by asking
questions, taking votes, or taking volunteers from the audience to illustrate their
lecture topics. Academic lecturing may also include unusual speaker performances,
breaking the fourth wall when a speaker sits with audience members, roams about
a lecture hall, or otherwise violates one or more (typically implicit) rules of
personal space and lecturer-student decorum. As I suggest in Chapter three, for
several decades, U.S. higher education has become increasingly influenced by
student-centered pedagogical strategies. These strategies argue for greater student
participation (in-class discussions, real-time demonstrations, hands-on learning,
etc.) and for lecture content and delivery that stimulates students attention and
(arguably) entertains them. The rising popularity of these strategies has resulted,
conversely, in a steady critique of content-centered or teacher-centered methods
as antiquated, boring, and ultimately ineffective. It is worth noting that several
recent articles on science education argue that these strategies are necessary to
increase students acceptance of evolutionary theories (Alters 2010; Alters and
Nelson 2002; Brem et al 2003; Griffith and Brem 2004; Lord and Marino 1993;
Smith 2010a, 2010b; D.S. Wilson 2005a). These authors encourage student
participation, group discussions in-class demonstrations, and storytelling as means


to shift evolution education from its stereotypical moorings in impersonal science
toward an experience that is (perhaps) more relevant to students.

Considering these trends in U.S. higher education, it is unsurprising that

lectures in the EvoS Seminar Series include attention-grabbing performances by

speakers or requests for audience participation. Nor, by this point in my analysis,
should it be surprising that these foregrounded performances and participation will
index the EvoS Programs in-house ideologies, here accomplished as a joint effort
between speakers and lecture attendees. What is surprising, as I show below, is that
this type of foregrounding can be contextualized as a reflexive recursion that the
audience should feel themselves. That is, lecturers use audience participation as
means to ground the lecture itself as an evolutionary phenomenon.

Example 4a: If I walk up to any one of you in the audience with a hammer
In this example, an EvoS lecturer (the same as Example 3b) explains the basics of
cognitive neuroscience to his audience, suggesting:
Cognitive neuroscience actually started with the onset of
understanding the brain-behavior relationship

At this point the speaker steps toward the few audience members in the front row
and raises his arm, as if he is holding a hammer. He continues:
That is if I walk up to any one of you in the audience with a
hammer and I knock you on the frontal lobe

Upon saying knock you on the frontal lobe, the speaker forcefully brings
down his arm, as if he were striking one of these audience members on the
skull. People in the front row flinch and shrink back from the lecturer as he


delivers this knock. Many in the audience laugh. Stepping back, the speaker
I can predict with pretty good accuracy that youre going to start
acting a little differently as a consequence because Ive damaged
that part of your brain - thats a brain - behavior relationship. And
cognitive neuroscience is founded on understanding the brain-
behavior relationship in its very basic nature

Next, the speaker elaborates this brain-behavior relationship, as it has been studied
in people with brain injuries or undergoing neurosurgery:
People who had lesions in particular parts of the brain people who
had surgical recessions of particular parts of the brain people who
had their corpus callosum cut so they had split brain procedures
acted differently but in many cases acted similarly to other people
who had similar injuries or surgical procedures So whats come
from cognitive neuroscience is that there is a relationship between the

Here, the speaker interrupts himself. Rather than saying and behavior (as
expected), he again steps toward the front row of his audience and strikes them
with a hammer. He comments that
If I hit you in the frontal lobe with a hammer youre gonna act

The audience again chuckles at their lecturers gesture. Again stepping back,
he quips to the audience as a whole:
I mean if you dont believe me then see me after the lecture and
well do an experiment But I would hate to have to show you in that

The audience laughs more at this remark. As their laughing subsides, he finishes
the sentence that he interrupted to hit his audience:
So certainly theres a relationship between the brain and behavior


This speaker has now twice struck his audience with an imaginary hammer the
pantomimed violence of these two foregroundings akin to the taboo images and
topics I discuss above. He subsequently comments on his gestures, jokingly
suggesting that any doubters in his audience should see me after the lecture to
have it demonstrated on them for real, although he would hate to have to show you
in that way. He continues:
But what people have been ignoring is the relationship between the
inherited characteristics and how they are organized in the brain

Here, the speaker contextualizes his previous foregoundings by complaining of an
institutions negligence in applying evolutionary reasoning to their science. He
asserts that
We need to think about what are the genes that impact behavior and
the brain activation that drives those behaviors and theyre the
genes that led to differences among species and not just in this
case this is pitted as the gene that made up the big brained Homo
sapiens but the genes that made the coraciids34 pretty darn smart
in the bird world and humans pretty darn smart in the primate
world and every other organism uniquely adapted to solve problems
in their environment

The speakers unorthodox performance thus arrives at a familiar conclusion,
affirming evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation for brain-behavior

Example 4b: The fact that youre here right now. In this example, an EvoS
lecturer discusses the benefits and costs faced by social organisms, such as bees,
ants, and mammals such as elephants, whales, and most primate species. He
describes humans, in particular as ultra-social organisms:


Coraciidae are a family of birds that include kingfishers and hornbills.


Were these creatures were these social creatures were highly
interdependent upon one another and our ancestors lived in highly
interdependent cooperative groups gained significant survival and
reproductive advantages over those who maintained more solitary
independent kind of lifestyles over time and humans as a species
developed a strong preference for social life and people talk about
this idea under the label of ultra-sociality

Next, continuing his explanation of ultra-sociality, the speaker qualifies:

But there are costs to social living as well in fact - most critters are
not social animals and theyre certainly not social animals in the way
that were social animals theres a reason for that there are costs to
ultra-sociality just based on mere proximity to other folks

At this point, the speaker creates his first foregrounding:

The person next to you right now thisll freak you out the person
next to you right now at any moment without you realizing it could
take their elbow and smash it into your face

At this, he lifts his arm and violently mimes elbowing an imaginary person beside
him. Chuckling, he quips
You didnt want to think about that did you? But thats the
circumstance that you put yourself in as a social creature

The lecture audience lightly laughs at this comment. The speaker here points to an
audience members immediate proximity to other folks as evidence that the costs
of ultra-sociality include possible, unprovoked attacks. He then elaborates that an
audience members situation-at-hand (attending a lecture in the company of
strangers) is a risky, but evolutionarily explainable circumstance that you put
yourself in as a social creature.
Insofar as he attempts to freak out his audience and remind them of risks
that they didnt want to think about, this speakers marked performance also


embeds a taboo topic as a further foregrounding. The speaker subsequently builds
upon this foregrounding:
Or contagious disease The fact that youre in here right now you put
yourself at risk for catching a contagious disease from the other
people here

Thus, just as present audience members risk unanticipated attacks from strangers,
their evolved tendencies toward ultra-social behaviors (for example, attending
EvoS Seminar Series lectures) also threatens them with contagious disease. In this
way, the lecturers foregrounding reminds his audience of the risks involved in the
fact that youre in here right now which are the unexpected side effects of Homo
sapiens adaptations. To this end, he points out that:
If you were a solitary creature and you werent just hanging around
with other human beings you wouldnt need to be worrying about

Beginning with a marked performance (pantomiming an audience member
attacking another), this lecturer further introduces two taboo topics (vulnerability
to violence and contagious diseases). While these taboo topics do not approach the
shock-value of the examples of my second foregrounding type, they arguably deviate
from appropriate behaviors for an academic lecture. That is, on one hand, this
speakers foregrounding relies on the presupposed seriousness of institutional
tradition, which he violates by mentioning uncomfortable topics. On the other hand,
the speaker directs these taboo topics toward personalizing his argument for
audience members.

On this last matter, the evolutionary reasoning is also performing a

complicated role in this speakers conclusion. It is not only being affirmed in this


example, but also applied to creatively contextualize the audience itself as a group of
ultra-social beings. This contextualization may be interpreted as an extension of
the lecturers attempt to personalize his argument. However, in further examples, I
will show that the first principle is repeatedly employed to reflexively Darwinize
attending Seminar Series audiences.

Example 4c: Anyone notice something that I did to a lot of people in this room
earlier? In this third example, the EvoS speaker obliges his audiences participation
before his talk even begins. For around 20 minutes prior, as attendees enter and
seat themselves, he busily circulates around the lecture hall, introducing himself and
shaking hands with nearly everyone. This is no small feat, considering an audience
headcount of close to 100 people.
His lecture begins and he speaks for roughly another 20 minutes. Then, the
he abruptly pauses, asking the audience:
Anyone notice something that I did to a lot of people in this room earlier?
He waits for a response, but the audience remains silent. Raising his own hand in a
handshaking gesture, he reminds them:
I came over and shook [some in the audience chuckle and raise their own
hands] your hand

The lecturer then explains:

Now that it is actually proven to improve participation attendance
and attention of people in a classroom in experimental studies

At this explanation, some members of the audience nod or grunt approvingly.
This speaker has here introduced a rather unusual twist into his lecture. His
assertive friendliness before the lecture was certainly unexpected. Several audience


members (including myself) were confused by his actions. Reminding us later of
what he did to a lot of people in the room, the lecturer informs us that he was,
applying the results of experimental studies to stimulate our attention and
participation. In this sense, his surprising performance prior to the lecture has
obliged our (unwitting) participation in a real-time recreation of past studies.
However, the lecturer has not yet made his point or finished engaging his
audience. He qualifies his last explanation:
But we have informal policies such as school districts might imply
All teachers and staff should not

He waits for his audience, apparently expecting them to fill in the blank of these
informal policies. After a few seconds, several people in the audience respond, in
unison: Touch. The lecturer approvingly echoes their answer: Touch the
children Together, he and the audience contrast the actions encountered within
this setting to policies in public schools forbidding those same actions. The former
actions are informed by science, while the basis of the latter are unclear and (likely)
not grounded on science.
After the lecturer and his audience concede on this informal school policy, he
sighs emphatically, explaining:
Now those policies are impacting the fundamental mechanisms of
evolution and at the bottom level manipulating our perception of
the most fundamental issue in human life friend or foe

The policies of public schools (unlike the actions taking place inside this lecture) are
not just neglectful of the findings of science, but evolutionary science. With his
audiences help, the speaker has here created a new foregrounding, which is akin to


an attack on academic structure, but challenging instead the absence of evolutionary
reasoning in the structure of primary education.
Pursuing this issue of friend or foe, the lecturer next asks his audience:
What is the principle predator of human beings outside of single cell

Several voices in the audience enthusiastically respond: Humans. As he did before,
the lecturer echoes their answer: Humans He elaborates:
For example in some societies we have anthropological and
forensic evidence that somewhere between four to forty percent of
adolescents died as a result of intra-species conflict also called
homicide. Now you notice that it was mostly boys they took the
women off and the girls off to be sex slaves they killed the boys

With the audiences assistance, the lecturer here crafts yet another foregrounding.
After they correctly identify that humans prey upon each other, he describes a
gruesome, prehistoric scenario, involving the sexual enslavement of girls and
women and slaughter of adolescent boys.
Contextualizing this series of foregroundings, the lecture poses yet another
question to his audience:
Now have you ever noticed that boys are more aggressive toward
figures of authority?

The audience chuckles at this, some nodding and muttering, Yes. Finally, the
lecturer concludes this long series of foregroundings, asking:
Could conduct disorders defiance of authority be an evolutionary
mechanism to promote survival when humans in authority become
predatory? [16:29-33]

Given the series of questions and responses that precede it, this question is quite
obviously hypothetical. Neither the lecturer nor his audience comment further.


The lecturers conclusion is a clear appeal to evolutionary reasoning as a
foundational explanation for social life the unsurprising resolution of this complex
interaction. To reconstruct his argument in reverse: Certain boys who survived
prehistoric mass slaughters because they distrusted threatening authority figures.
Today, boys exhibit this inherited trait when they perceive teachers and other
authority figures as foes, not friends. Boys are likely to perceive authority figures
as foes because informal school policies forbid physical contact between students
and teachers. If school policies employed evolutionary reasoning, these boys
conduct disorders could be recognized as what they really are: manifestations of an
evolved survival strategy. Schools would then (arguably) adopt policies that
encourage physical exchanges between teaches and students, such as the lecturer
performed with his audience, prior to his talk.
Despite its complexity, this example contains the same elements as other
foregrounding types. Two in-house ideologies are indexed that are common to the
EvoS Program. Respectively, these ideologies represent evolutionary reasoning,
firstly as neglected by academic institutions (in this case, public schools), and
secondly as tackling various politically incorrect topics (mass slaughter, sexual
slavery) from which its institutional opponents shrink. Further, these ideologies are
contextualized through an appeal to evolutionary reasoning as a first principle,
which enters this speakers argument as a means toward educational reform. Most
importantly, the ideologies and first principle in this example were indexed and
contextualized in a joint effort by the lecturer and his audience. Beginning with the
lecturers initial, marked performance, a series of (somewhat leading) questions are


posed and answered, attacks are leveled at institutions and taboo topics mentioned,
together building to a dramatic, evolutionary explanation for behaviors occurring
both outside and inside this very lecture.

Example 4d: Most of you I hope had a quick visceral reaction. In this fourth
example, a Seminar Series lecturer engages his audience in a series of tests that
recreate past experiments he conducts on morals and emotional responses. These
tests involve introducing various gross and morally confounding scenarios to
subjects (and, here, the lecture audience) and recording their reactions.
Setting up his foregroundings, the lecturer tells his audience that he hopes to
convince them (though he will likely not need to do much convincing with this
group) that their immediate responses to these scenarios reflect a set of universal
psychological adaptations the results of selection pressures (such as contagious
disease and food poisoning) in Homo sapiens evolutionary history. He adds:
All of you already had an emotional reaction to me you had an
instant first impression based on my accent based on my
appearance based on whatever I said first so first impressions are
really important whatever your initial emotional reactions are
theyre going to sort of tilt you toward accepting or rejecting
whatever it is that I have to say

Interestingly, unlike other examples, this lecturer introduces his foregroundings by
explicitly stating that he wishes to convince them of evolutionary reasonings worth
as a foundation. Commenting that he will likely not need to do much convincing for
some, the speaker also acknowledges that he is preaching to the choir by making
this argument in this setting. Many in the audience subsequently chuckles and nods
at this side comment.


He then poses his first experiment scenario to the lecture audience:

Okay so a family sees their dog run over in the street, so they cut it
up and serve it for dinner how many think its okay and how many
think it is not?

Many in the audience raise their hands in response that it is not okay. The lecturer
comments, Okay so dogs are much safer in Binghamton that they were where I
was at. The audience chuckles. He describes one test subject, disgusted by this
He said Well get sick get sick from the meat and I said No you
wont its cooked so theres no bacteria so does that make it
okay and he said oh um well no!

A second story he tells his test subjects (and the lecture audience):

Jennifer is a morgue technician and though she is a vegetarian she
sees an opportunity to sample the flesh of an unclaimed corpse while
she prepares it for cremation. She cooks it and eats it, with no
negative consequences. Is this is right or wrong?

Many audience members reply wrong. The lecturer comments now most of you I
hope had a quick visceral reaction most of you wouldnt say well on the one
hand The audience laughs, and he continues: Most of you are just Whoa thats
terrible its gross its horrible
Next, the lecturer describes a third experiment in which he and his adviser
stored and sterilized a cockroach in pure alcohol which they explained to test
subjects then dipped the cockroach in a glass of apple juice and asked the subjects
to sip from the glass. Without asking for an audience vote, he explains:
Most people say no why not? well itll make me sick No it wont
its totally sterilized there are no germs now will you have a sip?
NO! why not well uh uh its just gross!


Finally the lecturer describes a fourth experiment, inspired by an episode of The
Simpsons in which Bart sells his soul to another child for two dollars:
We wanted to model that situation in the lab and we gave people
this piece of paper that said I Joe Smith hereby sell my soul after
my death to [this lecturer] for the sum of two dollars And it says
this at the top it says This is not a legally binding contract and we
said Here Ill give you this piece of paper and if youll sign you
name on it Ill give you two dollars for real and you can rip up the
paper instantly just sign it and rip it up and Ill give you two

The lecturer puts the question to the audience, raise your hand if youd sign that
piece of paper for two dollars. Nearly everyone raises their hands, and thenlaughter
breaks out in the audience. Seemingly dejected that his experiment has failed, he
comments, okay so I guess you guys hate your own souls.

This example offers a more nuanced pattern of overlapping foregroundings

and audience participation than I have described previously. This lecturer

repeatedly presents elements of his experimental research and obliges his audience
to recreate these tests in the lecture. He also repeatedly points out how their
responses are similar to those of experiment subjects, and further interjects jokes
about each response to amuse the audience. His final scenario fails in this setting,
though similarly resulting in his audiences amusement, perhaps because it results
in a real-time demonstration of their secular beliefs.

Interestingly, this failure seems also to result in a non-contextualization of

evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation for the kinds of visceral

reactions the speaker is attempting to invoke from his audience. This is true in one
sense (the contextualization does not directly follow the foregroundings), it is
important to recognize that this speaker in fact contextualized his foregroundings as


resolvable through evolutionary reasoning before he posed them. This creative
structure is met with a high degree of audience participation, suggesting that the
first principle of the EvoS Program has a presupposition of the lecture that is, the
foundational explanatory potential of evolutionary reasoning is a proposition for
which the speaker will likely not need to do much convincing.

It may not seem especially noteworthy that the EvoS Programs first

principle has here shown itself to be a presupposed indexical in this lecture. One
could imagine that this first principle would necessarily inhabit the entirety of these
activities, given that it is so frequently reaffirmed through the foregrounding-
contextualization patterns that I detail in this discussion. While this is likely, I wish
to point out that my previous examples have continuously shown the first principle
to be creatively and explicitly indexed as the relevant resolution to previous
foregroundings. In this case, evolutionary reasonings foundational status is casually
mentioned and set aside as a forgone assumption of this interpersonal context.

Data Summary 4: Marked Modes of Speaker Performance/Audience
Participation in EvoS Seminar Series Lectures








































This type of foregrounding does not show the very high frequencies across

my data set as the other three types. Considering the complexity involved in my
examples above, it might be argued that this type still shows notable statistical
regularity across lectures: 57 instances, across 15 of 20 lectures (75%), at an




average of 3.8 per lecture. This foregrounding also appears more than once within
single lectures, 14 of 15 lectures (93%). Arguably, these relatively lower frequencies
are due to the lecturing styles of individual speakers and the receptiveness of their
audiences. The kinds of elaborate performances and participation in my examples
above are rarely seen in academic seminars, in which visiting speakers deliver talks
to audiences they have typically never met and will likely never lecture to, again.
Further, as Data Summary 4 details, there are remarkably high frequencies in
certain lectures, suggesting that these speakers were more comfortable or practiced
than others with delivering performances and encouraging participation.

Further, performances and participation will include series of overlapping

foregroundings of other types, such as the sets of taboo topics in Examples 4b and
4d. As these foregroundings build upon each other, the repeated instances of
speaker performance and audience participation are similarly building into setting-
specific parallelisms. As I discuss in Chapter Two, these patterned rituals of language
use possess great potential to grab and hold participants attention and direct it
toward a possible conclusion. In my interviews with participants, these instances
were variously described as fun or exciting as well as another example of how
EvoS pushes the envelope. Conversely, those lecturers who did not perform or
oblige audience participation my respondents overwhelming judged as delivering
the boring talks in the Seminar Series.

A remarkable quality of this foregrounding type is the lecturers use of

evolutionary reasoning to creatively contextualize their audiences participation as

(in one way or another) a real-time reflexive recursion. In Example 4b, a lecturer


poses that, by attending his lecture, audience members are vulnerable to the risks
inherent to their evolutionary status as social animals. The lecturer in Example 4c
explains that he took time to shake everyones hands because this practice recreates
a conclusion from evolutionary science regarding students perceptions of friend or
foe. Fascinatingly, these contextualizations attempt to Darwinize the interaction-
at-hand in ways that echo my earlier examples, such as the speaker in Example C4,
who explains her intellectual inquiries into human evolution as part of our evolved
human nature, that we are creatures who need to know. That speaker
contextualizes her personal testimony as an example of evolutionary reasoning in
action. The role of the first evolutionary reasoning in this fourth type of
foregrounding-contextualization is similar, but projected onto the audience as an
evolutionary explanation for their participation in the lecture, itself.

It will be useful to here look at ethnographic evidence of this type of

foregrounding (and its contextualization) outside the Seminar Series lectures. As I

explain above, audience participation has become a popular practice in student-
centered teaching strategies in U.S. universities, and has further been taken on by
several authors as imperative for increasing student understanding and acceptance
of evolutionary reasoning. These new teaching and training strategies include kinds
of marked modes of performance and participation. For example, Price proposes
by simulating evolution through performance, students become
physically, as well as mentally, engaged in thinking about evolutionary
concepts. This instructional strategy redirects tension around the
subject toward metacognitive reflection. [2010:83]

This author delineates a set of such performances, wherein a teacher separations
students into predators and prey, acting out three, multiple round, role-playing


lessons in Darwinian theory: More Offspring Than Survive Survival of the Fittest
and Heritable Variation. Students assume one of 24 unique postures in the initial
round of each lesson, and then (in the following rounds) perform the effects of
differential rates of survival and reproduction, natural selection, and subsequent
generations inheritance of the beneficial adaptations of their ancestors.
Elsewhere, several EvoS contributors propose that evolutionary education
programs (such as EvoS, itself) should not be constrained to classrooms, but could
be complemented by a fitness and nutrition course that is similarly informed by
evolutionary reasoning. Such a course would be, the authors argue,
a carefully prescribed physical fitness and nutrition regimen that,
based on what we can surmise from anthropology, psychology,
biology, physiology, exercise science, and sports psychology,
approximates what our ancestors faced on a daily basis and modern
hunter gatherer groups undergo daily. This physical fitness and
nutrition program, which we are tentatively calling EvoT (pronounced
evo-tee; Evolutionary Training), makes use of three basic principles to
aid education about evolution while simultaneously increasing
student physical health and fitness. First, the students are exposed to
evolutionarily inspired physical fitness programming [] Second,
students are exposed to the Paleolithic diet (http://www.
thepaleodiet.com/), which is our best estimation of what our
ancestors subsided on. And third, students will be taught why this
particular exercise and nutrition program works to aid their weight
loss, muscular development, general physical fitness and
preparedness, athletic performance, mental acuity, and psychological
well-being. [Platek et al. 2011:42-43]

The EvoT proposal bears similarities to the EvoS Lifestyle Project I discuss in
Chapter Three, although an interesting difference is the formers assertion that EvoT
is a way of a means of helping students learn about evolution and how it can be
used to increase their own quality of life (Platek et al. 2011:41).


At a broader scale, increasing numbers of theorists argue that educational

practices should embrace evolutionary reasoning as a means to increase test

performance and attendance while decreasing dropout rates and bullying (Ellis et al
2012; Embry 2004; Embry and Biglan 2008; Gray 2007; Gray and Chanoff 1987;
Geary 2007; D.S. Wilson 2011b; D.S. Wilson et al. 2011). In a recent synopsis, Peter
Gray proposes
education is part and parcel of our biological makeup. An analysis of
education in hunter-gatherer bands indicates that young humans are
designed, by natural selection, to acquire the culture through their
self-directed play and exploration. Research at a modern-day
democratic school designed to facilitate self-education demonstrates
that our hunter-gatherer educative instincts are quite adequate for
education today, given an appropriate educational environment. [Gray

The primary hunter gatherer educative instinct that Gray stresses is mixed age
play and learning, in younger students are instructed by those slightly older, who (in
turn) gain further insights and confidence through teaching. While reviewing Grays
textbook on evolutionary education, the EvoS founder reports:
Once I began to appreciate the importance of mixed-age learning, I
realized that it might partially account for the success of our EvoS
program, especially the Current Topics course built around the EvoS
seminar series [] EvoS seminars are attended by a large audience of
undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty from all
disciplines. The dinner and continuing discussion takes place in a
large room in the University Union. The discussion can last an hour,
can achieve a very high level of discourse, and usually ends with loud
spontaneous applause. Many of our EvoS speakers are amazed that
most of the people in the audience who are asking such sophisticated
questions are undergraduate students. The Current Topics course is
just one example of how an EvoS program can take advantage of
mixed-age learning. Among its other virtues, mixed-age learning can
be simple, enjoyable, and inexpensive emerging spontaneously,
much as it did before the days of formal education. [D.S. Wilson 2009]


It is important to note that his argument attempts to contextualize the EvoS Seminar
Series through evolutionary reasoning. Encountering educational strategies based on
evolutionary theories, Wilson posits that his own program (one dealing with
evolutionary theories) is already modeling these educational strategies. While
argued at a more ambitious scale, this is a similar process of reflective recursion as I
identify in Examples 3d, 4b, and 4c. In later chapters, I will examine how Wilson and
other EvoS participants attempt to further explain and promote the programs
activities through evolutionary reasoning.
My data set and fieldwork presents sufficient evidence for me to make six,
interrelated observations: First, the foregroundings occurring in EvoS Seminar
Series lectures regularly appear as these four types. Second, EvoS speakers employ
these foregroundings to draw their audiences attention lodging critical attacks,
introducing gratuitous or taboo material, offering personal narratives, and obliging
their audiences to participate in more or less elaborate ways. Third, participants in
these lecturers recognize and report upon the foregroundings in predictable ways
(for example, as shocking, confusing, or humorous). Fourth, these foregroundings
regularly index the in-house ideologies and first principle the EvoS Program into the
situation-at-hand, thus contextualizing the lecture as, in part, sharing the programs
goals and beliefs. Fifth, these contextualizations tend to perform further kinds of
ideological labor for participants: abstractions that represent higher education as
opposing groups of intellectuals (for or against evolutionary reasoning), analogical
extensions that tie evolutionary reasoning to various other socio-political concerns
(such as public health or civil rights), and reflexive recursions that encourage


audiences to consider elements of their own lives (including their participation in
the context-at-hand) as foundationally explainable through evolutionary reasoning.
Finally, and most importantly, the unique iterations of these foregrounding-
contextualization patterns sometimes involve complexly creative structures. In
many cases, these appear as inside jokes to an audience who is likely amiable to
suggestions that evolutionary reasoning is a foundational explanation for all social
life. In this sense, considering the interplay of presupposed and creative indexicals
that make up every one of these patterns, I find evidence that the first principle of
the EvoS Program does not need to be explicitly stated, as it is presupposed within
these interpersonal contexts (see Auer 1996; Silverstein 1992).
Lectures in the EvoS Seminar Series offer a partial answer to my broader
research question: How do social movements index their core ideologies into
interpersonal activities, thus maintaining the movements message over time and
spreading into new social settings? As this case study suggests, movement leaders
and other speakers create various kinds of foregroundings to enrage, shock, amuse,
or inspire other participants. These foregroundings typically index the core
ideologies of the movement as the relevant meanings necessary to make sense of
the foregrounding. Through repetition and increasingly complex combinations, the
movements ideologies may come to define the very settings and activities in which
they are indexed. By employing similar kinds of foregroundings over time and in
novel settings, the social movement may, in this sense, endure and spread.


In Chapters Five and Six, I will analyze how the EvoS Programs ideologies
and first principle are indexed within the activities following the Seminar Series


Chapter Five: Criticism and Modes of Defense in The Seminar Series Question
and Answer Sessions

In this chapter, I turn my analysis toward the Question and Answer Sessions
that follow most Seminar Series lectures, focusing particularly on the ways that
EvoS participants respond to audience criticisms. While these sessions are
significantly shorter than the Seminar Series lectures (typically around ten minutes)
and sometimes do not take place at all (as I explain below), they are important for
my discussion for three reasons: First, the Question and Answer Sessions include
further examples of the foregroundings and contextualizations that I detail in my
previous chapter. To this end, they can be viewed as a pattern that seems to appear
in numerous interpersonal settings, throughout the EvoS Programs activities.
Second, these sessions demonstrate what transpires when the programs first
principle and in-house ideologies are directly challenged. The modes of defense
that I discuss here will show that program participants rarely take on a critics
challenge directly, but do so in observably similar ways across different sessions.
Finally, I argue that the critics attending the EvoS Seminar Series are yet another
resource that is harnessed by this movement (albeit an often unpredictable one). By
engaging critics of their ideologies and first principle in strategic ways, EvoS
participants are able to further index and contextualize these same ideologies and
first principle in fashions that would likely not be possible, had they not been
explicitly challenged.


1. Time Limits and Moderation
It should first be observed that these Question and Answer Sessions are (like
the Seminar Series lectures) fulfilling general expectations of higher education. That
is, whether delivered by visiting speakers or residents, academic seminars will
typically conclude with questions from the lecture audience. Though this practice is
not always followed (in EvoS or other academic contexts), the Q & A can be said to
be an anticipated epilogue to any university seminar. Generally, such sessions
proceed with little explicit direction: Audience members raise their hands before
speaking and those raising their hands are responded to in the order that their
hands went up. Further, audience members address their questions to the lecturer,
and the lecturer addresses his or her response to the questioner, as well as the
audience as a whole.
However, the EvoS Question and Answer Sessions differ notably from other
academic seminars in three important ways: First, the audience comments in the
question and answer are limited to individuals not enrolled in the Current Topics
class. Because Current Topics students will be able (in fact, obliged) to contribute to
the subsequent Social Event discussion, an EvoS organizer expressly dissuades them
from posing questions in this setting. Second, EvoS Question and Answer Sessions
are notable because the lecturer, organizers, and a large portion of the audience are
obliged to leave five to ten minutes after the lecture. A program organizer will
typically remind all in attendance that they will shortly walk to the Social Event at
another location on campus, for dinner and continued discussion. Typically, the


organizer includes with this a general invitation to the entire audience to join them.
Finally, in conducting the Question and Answer Sessions, it is common for the EvoS
organizer to act as moderator, selecting among the raised hands in the audience, the
order in which these persons may speak, and announcing when the question and
answer session is over. Further, the moderator may add responses to those of the
lecturer or, in some events, responding in place of the lecturer.
Though the EvoS organizers may not have intended them as such, the results
of this situation are rather predictable: Due to the instructions of the EvoS
organizer, many questions come from persons who do not often (or ever) attend
EvoS events. These individuals often represent disciplines addressed (and attacked)
in the preceding lecture, and their comments are frequently critical of the lecturers
representation of that discipline, as well as proposals that evolutionary reasoning
should be embraced as the foundational principle in their professions and research.
Further, the time constraints of the Question and Answer Session affect the general
tenor of the setting. Both questions and responses are rushed, and there is rarely
time for audience members to ask follow-up questions. The noise level of the setting
rises as well. The audience is composed largely of students in the Current Topics
course, who have been asked to wait while other audience members to engage the
speaker. Many of these students grow impatient, and the lecture hall echoes with
the sounds of dozens of people whispering, shuffling papers, zipping bags, checking
cell phones, and so on. Few seem to pay attention to the questions others ask, and
they do not ask questions themselves (as they have been instructed).


The EvoS organizers moderation of Question and Answer Sessions not only

reinforce these time constraints, but also presents a situation in which audience
members may find themselves talking not just with lecturers, but representatives of
the EvoS Program as well. As I remark above, the moderator may respond in
addition to or in the place of a visiting lecturer. Also, many visiting speakers were
previously introduced as colleagues who are aligned with the goals of the EvoS
Program, and most index the in-house ideologies and first principle of the EvoS
Program during their lectures. To this end, the EvoS Question and Answer sessions
are marked by a palpable tension, such that an individuals criticisms of a lecturers
argument are (to a greater or lesser degree) also criticisms of the program.

2. Critics in the EvoS Audience

It is not my intention to paint the Question and Answer Sessions that follow

Seminar Series lectures as all-out arguments between non-EvoS members and the
lecturers. Many genuine compliments and non-critical questions come from
attendees at these activities, as expected in any academic seminar. On the other
hand, the first principle of the EvoS Program must be recognized for what it is: a
challenge to the structure and values of the institution within which it operates. As I
have suggested this challenge is posed primarily toward the Humanities and Social
Sciences. Given the topics often covered in Seminar Series lectures, there are likely
to be many representatives from these academic spheres in any EvoS audience
(professors, graduate students, and undergraduates). Further, since not everyone in
a Seminar Series audience is an EvoS participant or familiar with the types of


foregroundings that regularly appear in the series lectures, it is not surprising that
there will be some who remain unconvinced by lecturers arguments and perhaps
even upset with the socio-political implications they see there. Given the kinds of
directives and time constraints that EvoS organizers have placed upon the Question
and Answer Sessions, it would seem almost inevitable that the most intent persons
will pose challenges to the lecturers.

As I have found in my fieldwork and interviews, several individuals

(professors and graduate students from the Social and Biological Sciences,
primarily) are dissatisfied with the EvoS Program, but regularly attend Seminar
Series lectures because of their interests in evolutionary science. Though they are
often dissatisfied with the arguments of EvoS lecturers, these persons have told me
in interviews that they are committed to the programs survival. Often times, these
same individuals will link their commitment to EvoS with concerns about spreading
creationist and Intelligent Design movements in the United States. Unsurprisingly,
given their investment in the explanatory power of evolutionary reasoning, these
persons have often not been shy about raising their objections in the EvoS Question
and Answer Sessions.
Other audience members are less interested in evolutionary science, but
attend the Seminar Series somewhat regularly because they have been persuaded to
do so. During my fieldwork, I learned that some graduate students and professors
(most in the Humanities) began jokingly calling the EvoS Seminar Series The
Church. From further interviews, I was told that these individuals felt obliged to
attend what they perceived to be a ritualistic worship at the feet of Darwin (as one


grad student put it). Several of my interviewees complained that the EvoS
organizers and lecturers were obsessive or single-minded regarding
evolutionary reasoning. Typically, their motivations for attending the Seminar
Series stemmed from their colleagues participation fellow graduate students or
professors, advisors, and sometimes their undergraduate students would persuade
them to go (though they often left with many misgivings). For example, two of my
interviewees discussed a recent Seminar Series lecture (which one had attended but
the other had not). When the interviewee who attended the lecture said That was
the worst EvoS Ive ever been to, the other responded, Everyone I know always
says that the last EvoS was the worst EvoS theyve ever been to. These individuals
would occasionally raise criticisms in the Seminar Series Question and Answer, but
their disenchantments were largely expressed outside EvoS activities.

Other individuals attend only a few or one Seminar Series lecture, likely

influenced by some particular topic overlapping with their own professional or

personal interests. Such persons do not seem particularly predisposed toward
raising criticisms during the Question and Answer, although I will offer examples in
my discussion here. More frequently, they will simply not return to the Seminar
Series, though perhaps critique it more privately. For example, one of my
interviewees recalls the only Seminar Series she attended, in which a speaker
attempted to analyze D.H. Lawrences novella The Fox, using evolutionary reasoning
as the guiding principle of her analysis. My interviewee characterized as idiotic the
lecturers suggestion that a useful tool for contemplating this novella might be to
study the behaviors of real foxes, even though the fox in this book is a metaphor for


the sexual tensions between its characters. Incensed by this argument, she did not
return to the Seminar Series again.
Though the organizers of EvoS almost certainly did not intend this situation,
those who choose to raise criticisms in the Question and Answer Sessions are put
into a rather compromised situation. In this setting, the time constraint and
audience impatience will likely limit or interrupt a subsequent exchange with the
lecturer. If they wish to challenge a speakers assumptions, methods, or conclusions,
audience members are offered two, unsatisfactory options: On one hand, they may
pose their question in this setting, where it will likely be cursorily addressed by the
speaker and ignored or resented by the majority of the audience. On the other hand,
they may hold their questions and join the throng of people walking to the Social
Event, a 90-minute to two-hour commitment including dinner and discussion. While
the EvoS organizers typically invite any and all audience members to the Social
Event, they also seem unaware that this might be inconvenient or unreasonable for
persons not involved in the Program. In my interviews, when asked why they were
not attending the following Social Event, persons in the lecture audience typically
responded that they could not spare the time. Another suggested that the practice
itself was weird and scary, and still another complained that he would feel out
of place. Further, these audience members were often annoyed by the lecture topic
and its delivery, and so not attracted to the possibility of casual dining and
conversation with the speaker. For example, when I asked one audience member
why he would not be attending the Social Event, he explained I cant stand listening
to that asshole talk for another hour.


3. Modes of Defense Against Audience Critiques

In analyzing these interactions in my own fieldwork, I distinguish each by the

ways that lecturers and moderators respond to an audience members criticism.

Three types of responses regularly appear in my data set: First, respondents may
dismiss a critique, by ignoring it, joking about the asker, or by asking for another
question or calling the session to an end. Second, respondents may create diversions
from a critique by introducing new foregroundings lodging attacks on academic
structure, introducing taboo topics or personal anecdotes. Third, presented with a
particularly challenging criticism, lecturers and moderators may respond to an
audience members critique with a reaffirmation of evolutionary reasoning a
foundational explanation for all social life, oftentimes drawing analogical extensions
to contextualization (for example, appeals to the importance of public health) that
would be difficult to further challenge.

3a. Dismissals of Audience Critiques

Presented with a particularly challenging critique from an audience member,

EvoS lecturers often respond by dismissing the criticism and, in one way or another,
dismissing the person who poses it. This type of response may take a variety of
forms for example, joking or teasing. The audience member is typically pointed out
as unreasonably skeptical toward the lecturers argument and the EvoS Program. In
this sense, dismissing audience criticism also indexes (sometimes explicitly) in-
house ideologies juxtaposing the EvoS Program to the elitism and conservatism of


the academic institution, stereotyping the audience member as a representative of
the latter.
Dismissal Example 1: He and I go a long way back. In this example, an audience
member (known to many EvoS participants as a skeptic) challenges a lecturers
evolutionary explanation of religious belief systems. Calling on this audience
member, the EvoS moderator admonishes him:
Okay I see a couple more hands and I dont want to stop the
conversation so just make it quick thats all I have to say to you
and then we can have the next person.

Knowing that this individuals comment will likely be deeply skeptical, many in the
audience chuckle lightly at this warning. As the laugher subsides, this audience
member comments:

Well I was going to say speaking of belief systems your ultimate
category has essentially to do with function and function as it plays
out and this one could assert is a dominant almost religious
view of our western civilization and this is bleeding into your work
as a belief phenomenon

While politely stated (considering the moderators warning), the audience
members criticism poses quite a serious problem for an evolutionary explanation of
religious belief. Specifically, he asserts that functionalist methodology an almost
ubiquitous element in evolutionary reasoning is an ideology that is revered with
near-religious conviction in the history of Western science. In this sense, the
audience member charges that the speaker has used one religion to explain all
The visiting lecturer is observably confused by the interaction between the
audience member and the EvoS moderator. There is a tense silence for several
seconds, after which the lecturer turns to the moderator and asks for assistance:


Okay do you want to comment on that one?
The EvoS moderator chuckles:
Oh No he and I go a long way back
After a moment, the moderator turns the lecturer, asking him:
Would you like to comment on that one?
The lecturer considers and declines:
Uh perhaps not if were running out of time
The EvoS moderator then moves on to another audience question, commenting:

Okay well then lets just go on to the next one

Quite plainly, this individuals criticism has been dismissed, seemingly owing to
both his history as a perennial skeptic and the time constraints of the Question and
Answer Session. While the lecturer appears confused by the EvoS moderators
warning and reaction to the audience member, the moderators explanation that he
and I go a long way back partially resolves this confusion that is, dismissing this
audience members criticism is acceptable. Citing his concern for the time schedule,
the visiting lecturer opts out as well.

Audience members can make unreasonable requests upon speakers in any

academic lecture asking them to account for issues outside their arguments or
address the concerns of disciplines quite outside their own expertise. Some may also
pose these same sorts of trying criticisms to at multiple lectures, leading moderators
to dismiss their questions. However, what transpires here in this EvoS Question and
Answer Session is a combination of factors that distinguish the Seminar Series from
other academic lectures. This audience members criticism is dismissed as a result of


the sessions time constraints and moderation by an EvoS organizer whose
professional history with this individual marks the latter as a nuisance.
The audience members criticism is a particularly challenging sort for the
EvoS Program. This challenge in essence suggests that evolutionary analyses of
human practices and ideologies uncritically accept their own practices and
ideologies as those most suited to explain all others. In this way, the audience
members criticism echoes those of my interviewees who refer to EvoS as The
Church. A similar challenge is posed in my next example, with a similar (if less one-
sided) outcome.

Dismissal Example 2: Well let me turn the argument back on you. In this
example, a member of the audience criticizes an EvoS speakers arguments about
supernatural phenomena, which the speaker proposes are descriptions of empirical
reality without evidential support, but nevertheless hold adaptive value for their
believers. The audience member challenges that, in the lecturers analysis, nearly
any activity could be classified as supernatural. He posits:
In your argument I dont think you have really shown how to
understand supernatural events it seems to me that even causal
explanations in science or anywhere else could count as
supernatural and in that case then even the most mundane
interactions in everyday life are supernatural and well I dont get
the point

The audience member here critiques that the lecturer has defined supernatural too
broadly, and one could include any shared conviction that cannot (as yet) be
supported by empirical evidence. What is supernatural might then include
phenomena that are so mundane as to require no reflection upon their factual basis.


More unsettling to the speakers position, the supernatural could also apply to
scientific hypotheses. Thus, like my first example, this audience critic points to an
over-extension of foundational thinking.
In response, the EvoS lecturer attempts to distinguish natural from
supernatural explanations:
Well thats probably because I didnt make clear the definition of
what supernatural would be supernatural would be by definition
contrary to the natural laws as we understand them and secondly
without any basis of evidence in terms of reputable phenomena
whereas the things youre talking about are natural and do have
reputable phenomena.

Unlike my previous example, the speaker does not immediately dismiss his
challenger. Neither does the EvoS moderator interrupt. Rather, the lecturer
attempts to hedge his argument through appeal to a commonly-indexed ideology.
However, the audience member pushes the issue:
No if we follow with your line of thought even causation would be
supernatural I think you are committed to accept that and in that
case I dont see the distinction between everyday pragmatic
relations with objects and sensations and what you call supernatural
beliefs because theres not yet proof that everyday relations

Becoming impatient, the lecturer interrupts the audience member, challenging:

Well let me turn the argument back on you so youd say then
theres no supernatural events?

By this point, the interaction between the audience member and lecturer has turned
into something of a sparing match. The lecturer prods his critic to defend a position
(that the audience member has not argued) that would totally dismiss supernatural
phenomena. The audience member is nonplused, and retorts after a moments


Well I think that the burden of proof is on you.

The audience begins to laugh, likely because the last comment was a clever rebuttal,
and also because this interaction has become so tense. At this point, the moderator
steps in, announcing:
Okay so we have time for one more question!
As in my first example, the time constraints and moderation of the session have
resolved a potential challenge by dismissing the criticism.
Interestingly, this lecturer briefly entertains the audience members
disagreement, but attempts to turn the argument back upon the critic, such that
his challenge amounts to a denial of the possibility of supernatural events. The
lecturers maneuver here is a creative twist on an in-house ideology indexed several
times in examples from EvoS Seminar Series lectures, as well as my historical
sketches from Chapter Three. That is, while Edward Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and
others equate intellectual skepticism toward evolutionary reasoning with an
irrational (postmodernist) denial of empirical reality, this EvoS lecturer suggests
that his critic denies the possibility of something beyond reality (not so much
irrational but closed-minded). The audience member does not reciprocate, however,
and in fact turns the argument back upon the lecturer, before the EvoS moderator

As both audience members do in my examples here (the first more explicitly

than the second), academic critics at EvoS lecture often challenge the priority given
to an evolutionary reasoning in socio-cultural analyses. This is unsurprising,
considering the academic skepticism of foundational thinking (meta-narratives or


meta-theories). Lecturers and moderators often dismiss such criticisms and, in the
case of my first example, admonish or stigmatize returning critics for their
skepticism. These dismissals are not out of keeping with EvoS ideologies
representing critics of evolutionary reasoning as postmodernists and academic
elitists. Insofar as EvoS participants understand academic critics of evolutionary
reasoning as unreasonable and (possibly) anti-science, critics and their challenges
are responded to as nuisances or attacks.
Dismissals of critiques are not surprising. Seminar Series lectures repeatedly
contextualize evolutionary reasoning as a foundational principle in explaining
human social life. To this end, challenges to evolutionary reasoning (such as those
critiquing it as a kind of religious belief) may be dismissed as incongruent with a
working presupposition in numerous EvoS activities. The in-house ideologies
indexed by the respondents typically stereotype the audience critic as part of the
institutional resistance to this movement a consequence of the critics elitism and

3b. Diversions from Audience Critiques

A second type of lecturer or moderator response to audience critiques is

what I label diversions. These responses typically introduce a foregrounding into the
interaction of a similar variety as I describe in the EvoS lectures. Thus, an audience
members challenge to a lecturer may be met with an attack on academic structure
or a gratuitous or taboo topic. This type of response effectively steers away from
the specifics of an audience members criticism, re-introducing commonly indexed,


in-house ideologies into the Question and Answer session. More practically,
diversions from audience critiques may entertain other audience members and run
down the clock of the limited time allotted for questions after the lecture.

Diversion Example 1: He was ousted then and there. In this example, an audience
member takes issue the lecturers assertion that contemporary psychologists ignore or
avoid genetic explanations within their diagnoses and theories. The audience member
You had said earlier that a lot of psychologists ignore biological
components I actually would argue that most psychologists would
agree it is both environment and biology its nature and nurture
for everything its not just nurture

Such a criticism is common in the Question and Answer Sessions, in which an
audience member (typically, university faculty or graduate students) questions a
lecturers representation of evolutionary reasoning as marginalized within academic
disciplines. It is likely this in-house ideology (often indexed through a foregrounded
attack on academic structure) draws challenges from representatives of those
disciplines or professions that have been accused of ignoring or marginalizing
evolutionary reasoning. In their challenges to this ideology, audience members
suggest that the representation of the non-evolutionary institution is an
exaggeration of the extent to which professional academics ignore or avoid
evolutionary reasoning.

In her response to this challenge, the lecturer introduces a new

foregrounding, similarly attacking academic structure. She retorts:

Absolutely but I think that for so long now theyll say okay its
fifty-fifty nature nurture but keep in mind that at Harvard when


the president dared of [loudly] EVEN INSINUATING AN IDEA that
there might be differences in the biology between men and women
he was ousted then and there so there is a lot of reaction and force
behind just insinuate the idea that there are any differences that
are genetic that have genetic underpinnings that any differences
were due to nature

The speaker here refers to Lawrence H. Summers controversial 2005 talk at the
National Bureau of Economic Research Conference on Diversifying the Science and
Engineering Workforce.35 This reference, it would seem, functions as a recent
historical example of the fear of evolutionary reasonings socio-political
implications. Intensifying this foregrounding, the speakers voice rises sharply as
she relates that even insinuating the idea of genetic explanations resulted in
Summers ousting.
Following her response, the EvoS moderator announces Okay one more
question and reminds the audience that the lecturers book will be for sale at the
following Social Event, where she will also be available to sign copies.

This EvoS lecturer thus responds to the audience members original

complaint (that the lecturer had misrepresented psychologists as dismissing

evolutionary reasoning) with an impassioned attack on academic structure. The
substance of this foregrounding has little to do with the initial challenge, instead
directing attention to a perceived injustice perpetrated by academic institutions.
This foregrounding repeats others appearing throughout my examples from


While Summers was the focus of several controversies and disputes with Harvard faculty, his comments in this talk
were explicitly intended to provoke his critics. Specifically, many objected to his argument that men and women are
unequal in their mental abilities, and that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic
aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact
lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination (Summers 2005). The academic and public
backlash to his speech was fierce, and Summers resigned his position soon thereafter.


Seminar Series lectures in Chapter Four. Like my previous examples in this chapter,
an EvoS moderator intercedes to move to another question.

Diversion Example 2: Your ejaculates just a little bit bigger than if you were
just by yourself In this example, an audience member poses a problem in the
speakers application of evolutionary reasoning to explain romantic jealousy. During
this speakers lecture, he proposed that experiments using Rhesus Macaques
demonstrated the violent responses when males witness their female partners
mating with other males.36
This audience member argues that the Rhesus Macques experiments are
problematic as an analogy to human jealousy, because these animals do not pair
bond in the wild. If experimental conditions were to be consistent with Macques,
human subjects would have to be tested for jealous responses to viewing both their
sexual partners and strangers engaged in intercourse. The latter scenario would not
produce the same effects for humans as Macques, because humans pair bond. In this
way, she says, she finds the evidence from Macques un-interpretible.
At this point, the lecturer interrupts her:
Wellllllll Wellll Well I do agree theres certainly going to be
differences would it eradicate the effect? I dont think so


Experimenters in this project (Rilling et al. 2004) placed male Macaques behind a two-way mirror, allowing them to
see another male Macaque with a female with whom the former had previously mated. Hormonal, behavioral, and
neurological measures suggested that the reactions of these male witnesses were similar to reactions to violent attacks
from rival monkeys. The experimenters propose that their findings are analogous to situations in which human males
learn of a partners (real or suspected) infidelity, a frequently reported motive in cases involving spousal abuse
(Rilling et al. 2004:364). The authors argue that sexual jealousy in male humans is also often accompanied by
vigilance behavior and anxiety and might recruit a similar neural network (Rilling et al. 2004:364), and as this
lecturer argues possibly paralleling human romantic jealousy.


The lecturer goes on to explain that the scenario he describes of Macques could also
be true in human subjects:
If you put up a situation and this is particularly for men if you put
up a situation where you have a reproducably [sic] viable female and
another male is having access to her men do get upset and the
evidence for that is not neurological but its based in sperm
competitions theres some data suggesting that a male can
modulate the volume of ejaculate as a function of watching another
female be mated even though he has no familiarity with that female

Here, the lecturer begins to steer his response into rather odd territory. While the
research he is discussing remains unnamed37, he suggests that the amount that men
ejaculate might be influenced by test conditions in which they view intercourse
between strangers.

Clearly, the lecturer is introducing taboo topics and his foregrounding only

becomes more outrageous as he explains further:

So in other words if you download pornography to masturbate to
and theres just one female you produce much less semen than if
there is a male in that pornography and in fact the number of
men in that pornography also predicts ejaculate size to some degree
because it increases potential sperm competition mechanisms

As his audience catches on to what the lecturer is describing, people begin to laugh
out loud. He continues:
So if its a missionary position or a standard mating operation


The speaker is likely referring to research by Australian zoologists Sarah J. Kilgallon and Leigh W. Simmons. In
2005, these researchers published the results of an experiment in which 52 heterosexual men (ages 18 to 35) were asked
to masturbate to images of two, different sexual scenarios - one depicting three women having sex, the other depicting
two men and one woman (a sperm competition image). The test subjects then collected their ejaculated semen and
the experimenters measured its volume, number of sperm, and sperm motility. The researchers concluded that men
viewing images of sperm competition produced ejaculates with a higher proportion of motile sperm (Kilgallon and
Simmons 2005:254).


Here the lecturer holds his thumb and forefinger up, spreading them as if he were
estimating the contents in a test tube:
Your ejaculates just a little bit bigger than if you were just by
yourself But if she were getting mated by ten guys

The lecturer spreads the distance between his thumb and forefinger, estimating the
difference in volume. Much of the audience is, by now, roaring with laughter.
Then the stakes are higherSo testes modulate ejaculate as a
consequence and as to how that would play out in the brain

The lecturer pauses, shrugging dramatically, and comments:

Hell Ive been tryin to do that experiment my whole life!

As the audiences laughter continues, the EvoS moderator announces that it is time
that we head over to the discussion room, and thus ends the Question and Answer

Clearly, this speakers response to the audience members skepticism

includes several taboo topics pornography, group sex, masturbation and

functions more as an increasingly ribald commentary than an answer to her
criticism. The speaker does not explicitly name the experiment that included these
methods, relying instead on its egregious implications to entertain the audience.
Whether or not the questioner was satisfied with this turn of events, she does not
rebut his remarks, nor is there time to do so.

In my interviews with Seminar Series audience members, I found an

unsurprising but strong dissatisfaction with these kinds of diversions from

criticisms. Many students and faculty who questioned the validity of a lecturers
science or cross-disciplinary knowledge (as in these examples) reported that their


doubts went largely unaddressed during the session. Lecturers instead sought to
avoid criticisms by entertaining the audience or introducing new and typically
unrelated topics. Many of the individuals I interviewed attended Seminar Series
lectures in the past, but were put off by the lecturers arguments and the cursory
treatment of criticisms during the Question and Answer Sessions.

There is nothing especially unique in a speaker creating diversions to avoid

addressing pressing critiques, either in academic or non-academic settings. This

said, the diversions I present above are similar to EvoS lecturer or moderator
dismissals. Both types of response appear in a setting that is, on one hand, subject to
narrow time constraints and, on the other, moderated by EvoS Program organizers.
Whether a lecturers response satisfies an audience members criticism or diverts
attention by introducing new foregroundings, there remains little opportunity for
any further debate.

By introducing these foregroundings, however, those responding to audience

critiques demonstrate a continuity that stretches not just across Seminar Series
Question and Answer Sessions, but between these sessions and the lectures I detail
in my previous chapter. As in the examples above, dismissals tend to index the in-
house ideologies also included in (and observable across) Seminar Series lectures.
The Question and Answer Sessions are similarly imbued with representations of
evolutionary reasoning as feared or considered politically incorrect by its academic
critics though, in my second example, the lecturer is clearly using such a
stereotype to his advantage.


3c. Assimilating

The third type of response commonly delivered in these Question and

Answer Sessions reproduces the contextualizations within the EvoS lectures, in

essence assimilating the audience members criticism into a foregrounding to be
resolved by explicitly reaffirming evolutionary reasoning as a foundational
explanation for all social life. As I demonstrated of the Seminar Series lectures,
respondents in the Question and Answer sessions also create analogical extensions
between evolutionary reasoning and other practices and ideologies. These
extensions ground the speakers argument through association with more
established or unquestionable ideologies (for example, child welfare or gender
equality), while simultaneously extending the first principle into new socio-political
territory. As I detail below, these reaffirmations of the first principle appear within
the same time constraints and EvoS organizer moderation as respondents
dismissals and diversions, and thus unfold with similar results as these other
response types.

Assimilation Example 1: Theres room for the wolves and theres room for the
rabbits. In this example, a Seminar Series speaker has just finished her lecture,
proposing that evolution reasoning explains and be employed in treatment of
sociopathic and psychopathic behaviors. Opening the session, the EvoS organizer
Well be eating shortly but well have a few questions now theres
going to food and even beer [chuckling] if youre of age but lets
have a couple questions before


The moderator then calls on an audience member who raises his hand. The audience
member challenges the speakers use and understanding of evolutionary reasoning:
According to Darwinian theory whats selected is the average so if
youre talking about personality you have to be an average personality
all these traits are recessive that youve looked at theyre not
adaptive for the rest of a population theyre not the traits the rest
of the population is going to get evolutionary theory does not predict
what youve looked at

This attendee poses that the behaviors that this lecturer attempts to explain with
evolutionary reasoning would not contribute to an individuals reproduction or
survival. Even if psychopathic or sociopathic behaviors could demonstrated as
heritable (the critic humors the lecturer on this contentious matter), persons
exhibiting them would be less likely to live longer lives or have more children than
people who do not suffer from these conditions. As a result, the critic argues,
evolutionary reasoning is misapplied in the speakers argument.

Such a criticism is doubtlessly difficult for an EvoS lecturer to hear, let alone

engage. In their promotions, the EvoS Programs organizers praise their Seminar
Series speakers for applying evolutionary reasoning in novel areas of research (see
D.S. Wilson 2005a, 2007a; D.S. Wilson et al. 2011; Geher and Gambacorta 2010).
However, such arguments are vulnerable to critics who (like this audience member)
express their skepticism by demonstrating their own familiarity with Darwinian

Reluctant to address this criticism, the lecturer awkwardly responds:

Okay so - people whove studied finches in the Galapogos finches
have a variety of different kinds of beaks and depending on what the
environment is like some types of finches are chosen preferentially
right? by forces of evolution so if we look at the beaks of the
finches on the Galapagos can we say that the beaks are on the average


of a certain length yes but looking more carefully what theyve
found is evolutionary forces act very very strongly and different
types different groups different individuals with different shapes
of beaks can depending on their circumstances have a very
beneficial environment for themselves so what Im trying to say
here is that humans are almost like within the human species
theres room for the wolves and theres room for - the rabbits and
each of these can have utility in places depending on their
concentration in the society

Remarking on the widely known research on Galapagos Island finches (one of
Charles Darwins own examples of adaptation), the speaker here struggles with the
audience members challenge to her application of evolutionary reasoning. Her
response borders on diverting from the topic altogether, until she draws a shaky
analogy between finches and humans.38

Seeming to sense the lecturers uncertainty, the EvoS moderator intercedes:

And both of these things can be explained by the same principle you
can see things that might or might not be adaptive and you wind up
with an individual whose behavior is not only bad for others but also
bad for herself that isnt necessarily an adaptive strategy so some
are adaptations and some perhaps not

The moderator here reaffirms evolutionary reasoning as a first principle more
explicitly than the lecturer would be able to achieve. Evolutionary reasoning
illuminates both the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of human social life. Having
stated this, the moderator quickly moves on, reminding the audience that (unlike
other Seminar Series events) university caterers will momentarily be leaving for the
Social Event:

38 Arguably, the speaker means: just as these different varieties of finches (isolated on different
islands for generations) possessed beaks adapted to foraging the food in their respective habitats,
varieties of psychopathic or sociopathic behaviors might thrive in the right kinds of socio-historic
circumstances. In her preceding lecture, she posited that such behaviors might positively contribute
to an individuals survival and reproduction in prisons or military regimes, as well as busy urban
settings where (she suggests) an individuals deception or abuse of others would likely go unnoticed
by police or social workers.


Okay - lets just have just two more and then its time to eat and I
hope youll all come and we can continue the conversation.

Like respondents dismissals of and diversions from audience criticisms, this
explicit restatement of the EvoS Programs first principle appears within a
moderated and time-constrained setting. The organizational practices of the
Question and Answer Session both elicit and delimit particular types of
interactions. Here, a two-person response poses the evolutionary reasoning
as a defense to an audience members criticism an interaction then swiftly
concluded by the sessions moderator. I will also note that the moderator
through analogical extension links the first principle to a concern about the
causes and consequences of mental illness in an individual whos behavior is
not only bad for others but also bad for herself. A similar extension appears
more explicitly in my next example.

Assimilation Example 2: WellI guess it depends on how you define feminism
Detailing the EvoS Seminar Series in Chapter Three, I suggested that some Seminar
lecture topics are more likely to inspire passionate challenges from audience
members than others. In this example, a visiting lecturer presented his research on
martial rape as explicable in terms of sperm competition an incendiary topic in
evolutionary science that has drawn criticism in the past, particularly from feminist
theorists and activists.39 During this his lecture, the speaker acknowledged this


Most notably, Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer (2000) provoked both academic and public outcries
with A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. In their book, the authors argue that
male-female rape may have an evolutionary explanation as a violent means of ensuring reproduction. The
authors compare human rape to examples of forced mating in other, non-human species, and propose that


controversy, reporting (tactlessly) that he and his colleagues had experienced a lot
of bruhaha from feminists in the past. As his talk continued, a few audience
members dramatically stormed out of the lecture hall.
In the subsequent Question and Answer Session, the lecturer and moderator
field a few queries about the details of the speakers research. Then, an audience
member who is observably upset stands and haltingly comments:
I was listening to your language and I noticed a few things... like you
use the word bruhaha And I wondered do you have any
feminists working on this with you?

While not particularly clearly phrased, the audience members challenge to the
speaker deals with the socio-political implications of evolutionary reasoning about
human social life, as well as his somewhat flippant assessment of previous
challenges. Likely, her question for him is similarly pained, but arguably suggests
that he is dismissive of feminist concerns about his research. The speaker responds
to her question:
Well I guess it depends on how you define feminism you know
Ive got two daughters two sisters a mother and I think that its
incredibly important that we figure out everything we can about why
this behavior occurs if we ever want to have a shot at stopping it.

The lecturer thus appeals to feminist concerns by describing the women in his
family. This would likely be an unsatisfactory explanation for his critic, if not
ridiculous for anyone remotely familiar with feminism in academic institutions. This
said, this portion of the lecturers response echoes back the diversions created by

forced copulation in humans may have evolved in the Pilo-Pleistocene, in response to womens preferential
mating with high-status men.


respondents in my previous examples, here foregrounding intimate details of the
speakers life as a defense against audience criticism.
In his following position that researchers should figure out everything we
can about why this behavior occurs, the lecturer reaffirms evolutionary reasoning
as a foundational principle. That is, evolutionary reasoning illuminates the ultimate
cause for contemporary problems in human social life. Further, he introduces an
analogical extension to the first principle, posing that evolutionary reasoning is an
integral part of rape prevention. It is debatable whether or not this extension could
be called an extension to feminist ideologies, but clearly the lecturer seeks to link
evolutionary explanation to socio-political concerns about sexual violence.
Admittedly, both the audience criticism and the lecturers response in this
example should be considered in light of the emotional tension that resonated
throughout this event. Acknowledging this, the lecturer responds to an audience
challenge with the first principle, creatively extended to the critiques that have
historically been leveled against it. Following this response, as the moderator closes
the session, reminds the students in Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies to head
to the Social Event, and invites the rest of the audience to join them for dinner and
continued discussion.

Assimilation Example 3: Thats why I say look if you want to improve
reasoning lets understand adaptation. In this final example, the visiting
speakers talk described a variety of ethically challenging situations (involving
incest, cannibalism, and blasphemy, among others), and documenting his subjects


immediate reactions to these scenarios. He subsequently posed that these responses
reflected the universal psychological adaptations to morally confounding situations.
An audience member questions the affective approach of the lecturers
experiments. It is flawed, argues the questioner, to record the gut-reactions in his
experiment designs, rather than allowing his test subjects to think over their
judgments and offer more thorough responses.

The lecturer responds by posing:

Well Im looking at intuitive reactions not post hoc

rationalizations we find ourselves saying that something is wrong
and we dont really rewind the tape to ask Well why would I come
to think this is wrong? we dont look at both sides were just off
and running and I challenge you all to notice this about yourselves

In this first portion of his response, the speakers challenge to the audience to
notice this about yourselves comes close to creating a diversionary foregrounding,
similar to the marked modes of audience participation regularly appearing in
Seminar Series lectures and in comparatively high numbers in this speakers
previous talk. In this sense, his response here might be interpreted as recalling the
same kind of interactive ritual (foregrounding to contextualization) created
numerous times over the preceding hour.
Holding true to this same pattern, the speaker closes his response by
affirming evolutionary reasoning as the foundational principle that might both
explain and resolve the problems of moral snap judgments:
You see the human cognitive system is not very good at reasoning on
its own except in post hoc rationalization and thats why I think
that if we want to improve peoples judgment maybe its not by
training the individual to think on their own but rather trying to
make social structures that bring things out thats why I say look if


you want to improve reasoning lets understand adaptation to try
to have external restraints on our thinking

The speaker here affirms the foundational status of evolutionary reasoning within a
fascinatingly complicated proposition: evolutionary reasoning about the adaptive
potentials of human social life (one product of human reasoning among many)
offers an ultimate cause for the weaknesses and strengths inherent to different
applications of human reasoning.40 The lecturers conclusion bears similarity to
David Sloan Wilsons argument that rationality is not the gold standard against
which all other forms of thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard
against which rationality must be judged, along with all other forms of thought (D.S.
Wilson 2002a:228).
Further, the lecturer extends this already complicated use of evolutionary
reasoning toward an ideological position on the practical applications of science to
improving reasoning by establishing external constraints on our thinking. What,
exactly, these external restraints might be, the lecturer does not say. Rather, like
other EvoS participants, he relies upon the presupposition that such changes are
necessary to fix the (also unidentified) pitfalls of human social life, and that
evolutionary reasoning offers the means to do just that.
The complexity of this speakers response should not distract from the
setting in which he speaks. This example of audience criticism and lectures

40 Obviously, my reconstruction of the speakers response (a post hoc rationalization on my behalf)
presents his creative and recursive uses of the first principle, much of which his audience members
were not likely to notice or dwell upon, in situ. Granting this point, the appearance of the
evolutionary reasoning in the lecturers response follows the pattern established many times over in
other Seminar Series lectures and Question and Answer Sessions.


response appear within the moderation and time-constraints shared by all other
examples from the Question and Answer Sessions. Declaring the session to be
satisfactorily concluded, the EvoS moderator announces:
Okay Thats a great way to end so lets head over to have more

Like my previous examples in this chapter, this moderator maintains the time limit
of the session, announcing when no more questions may be taken so that the
lecturer, and the programs organizers, and Current Topics students can leave for
the Social Event.

4. Critics of EvoS as Resources for the Movement

Despite the tension and unpredictability of the critiques I describe above, it

should be noted throughout that EvoS lecturers and moderators are (at the very
least) able to sidestep these challenges until the time comes for the majority of the
audience to leave. Just as often, though, they engage their critics in ways that allow
them to create new foregroundings, index the EvoS Programs in-house ideologies,
and contextualize criticisms as further problems that could be resolved using
evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation for all social life. To this end, I
suggest that the critics of EvoS (and, indeed, other social movements) are not
treated necessarily as enemies of the program, but as potential resources that EvoS
participants sometimes harness to further their cause.

In one sense, this argument could be made very simply: Critics who are

persuaded of the explanatory power of evolutionary reasoning become potential

EvoS members. Further, I could posit that even if critics are not persuaded, an


effective shut down of their arguments might encourage other audience members
to join. While these may be possibilities, I want to suggest that critics are useful
resources because they personify the rejections of evolutionary reasoning that are
represented by the EvoS Programs in-house ideologies. Insofar as these ideologies
are not immediately apparent (or relevant) to younger members of an EvoS Seminar
Series audience, critics reify the kinds of professional dissatisfaction that is voiced
by many EvoS lecturers. That is, as my examples above demonstrate they represent
those who are fearful of evolutionary reasonings socio-political implications, those
who are invested in postmodernism, those convinced of evolutionary reasonings
political incorrectness, and the elitist, over-specialized, Ivory Tower academics.

Given that the sample set I offer in this discussion is markedly small (a

consequence of the truncated lengths and unpredictability of the Question and

Answer Sessions), I want here to turn, as I did in my previous chapter, to further
ethnographic evidence. To do so, I will need to introduce the second EvoS Program
(at SUNY New Paltz), focusing specifically on its first Seminar Series event. The
program at New Paltz is particularly significant because its structure and activities
(a Seminar Series with visiting lecturers, regular faculty and student participants, an
introductory course for freshmen, etc.) so closely match the Binghamton program.
Its first Seminar Series lecture deserves our special attention as likely the most
contentious interaction to yet take place within an EvoS Program.


5. EvoS New Paltz and The Tiger Incident
The EvoS Program at SUNY New Paltz began in late 2006, founded and led by
evolutionary psychologist Glenn Geher. The New Paltz Seminar Series began on
February 12, 2008 (on Charles Darwins birthday). Their first invited lecturer was
Lionel Tiger, an evolutionary anthropologist whose books Men in Groups (1969) and
The Imperial Animal (1972, with coauthor Robin Fox) contributed to the rise of
sociobiology in the mid-1970s.
Like other sociobiologists, Lionel Tiger (whom I also discuss in Chapter
Three) was at the center of no small amount of academic tension for the last four
decades. His books and articles draw criticisms that he has misused the authority of
science to popularize deterministic explanations, particularly regarding gender and
sexuality (see Degler 1991:227-231; Segerstrle 2000:27-28). In the 1970s and
1980s, he was a primary target for participants in the Sociobiology Study Group at
Harvard (Bart 1977; Lewontin 1977; Lewontin et al. 1984: 156-162; Sociobiology
Study Group 1977). Since then, he has inspired critiques that could rival the
attention given to Edward O. Wilson or any other sociobiologist (for example, see
Bock 1980:7-35; Geertz 1984:267; Haraway 1989:146-150; Sperling 2008). On
these criticisms, Tiger comments:
For venturing to explore the role of biology in our social lives, I have
had more than my share of interesting moments. In addition to
slander and calumny depressingly standard fare in the academy
today I have received bomb threats at lectures in Vancouver and
Montreal and the promise of a kneecapping at the New School for
Social Research in New York. I have been the object of a
demonstration of angry male transvestites at the Royal Institution in
London, and I have seen one of the books I co-authored, The Imperial
Animal, compared to Mein Kampf! [Tiger 1996:14]


Tiger persevered, however, and in 1999 published The Decline of Males, arguing that
men are psychologically driven toward ensuring their reproductive success by
controlling womens sexual behaviors. Womens widespread access to birth control
since the mid-20th century (this book contends) creates conflicts with mens
evolved predispositions, and thus gives men a continual sense of paternity
uncertainty (1999:45-58). As I suggest in my third chapter, Tiger is known as a
critic of feminism and affirmative action. In a Wall Street Journal article (Youve Got
Male!), he writes:
Civic celebrations of antipathy to men such as the Violence Against
Women Act are finally generating specific and pointed responses by
men fatigued, if still baffled, by the knee-jerk assumption that they
suffer irredeemably from what I call Male Original Sin. [Tiger 2005]

The New Paltz EvoS Program could hardly have selected a more contentious first
speaker to begin its Seminar Series. It seems likely that the controversy he stirred at
New Paltz was actually desired by EvoS Program organizers there, who would
subsequently harness the critical responses within this event to further index EvoS
in-house ideologies and argue evolutionary reasonings explanatory potential.
Even before his visit to New Paltz, tensions were aroused throughout the
university. Like the Binghamton EvoS Program, students enrolled in the Seminar
Series for credits were to read a preparatory article by each lecturer in the series,
and New Paltz organizers assigned Tigers polemical Wall Street Journal article. This
decision did not simply promote Tiger as an evolutionary scientist, and thus his
relevance to the Seminar Series. Rather, organizers were likely attempting to
foreground this individuals antagonistic anti-feminism and thus make sure that
Tigers reputation would precede him.


If this was indeed the organizers intention, it worked very well. The week
before Tigers visit, professors from the biology, sociology, womens studies, and
psychology departments printed and distributed an unsigned flyer (Morrow et al.
2008) that challenged the scientific validity of his books and articles (see also
Hewett et al. 2008). As one of these critics later comments, at the heart of the
debate was whether Tiger was justified in making some of the broad claims he had
made based on rather weak evidence and the questionable methods he used to
come to his conclusions (Brooks 2008). Their dissatisfaction became more widely
known in the days approaching the visit, and Glenn Geher responded by scheduling
a Question and Answer Session for such criticisms to be addressed. He innocently
recounts, it occurred to me that this was someone who is not very friendly towards
womens studies necessarily, and someone people on campus would want to talk to
[] I wanted to provide a forum for discussion for those who wanted one (Geher in
Hanmer 2008).

At the Question and Answer Session, critics distributed their fliers to the
audiences, and many of its authors attended to challenge Tiger in person (Brooks
2008). As EvoS organizers recalls:
This relatively small event apparently got a lot of attention well
over 100 people packed the small room where the event took place.
Something of a small protest, organized largely by faculty, transpired.
Accordingly, the event was contentious and even somewhat
unpleasant. [Geher and Gambacorta 2010:33]

Stipulating that he would not respond to this anonymous flier or a hostile audience,
Tiger refused to address the challenges he received. In subsequent interviews, Tiger
calls the flier unsigned propaganda (Hanmer 2008) and argue, if students are


taught that shouting and pamphlets are an effective way to deal with issues, they are
doomed as effective members of society (Brooks 2008). In their flier and in later
comments, Tigers critics insist that they were opposed to the speakers lack of
empirical support, not his application of evolutionary theories (Murrow et al. 2008;
Obach 2008). On Tigers refusal to address them, one critic recalls:
When Tiger initially mentioned that the authors of the flier were not
known, I raised my hand fully within his view in order to identify
myself. He did not acknowledge me and I did not feel comfortable
interrupting his talk to clarify the matter. I did attempt again at the
end during the question and answer period to identify myself and the
other authors, but I was not called upon by the moderator. [Obach

While this is one persons description of these events, it parallels the dismissals of
EvoS critics I discuss above, such that Tigers Question and Answer Session was
moderated by the EvoS director, and the moderator and lecturer together dismissed
an audience challenge. As this same author elaborates, other people in this same
audience seemed to feel the speaker dismissed their critiques:
Several of Tigers comments were personal and cruel. Among his
many offensive comments during the afternoon session was when he
told womens studies majors that they would grow out of it. In
another instance, when one student challenged Tigers patently
flawed logic regarding the relationship between oral contraceptives
and single motherhood, Dr. Tiger was unable to offer a coherent
defense and instead declared that there must be something wrong
with her given that his point was so simple. [Obach 2008]

Again, Obachs report is the impressions of one audience member. This said, he here
poses examples similar to the dismissals I detail above the speaker here
dismissing two more audience members by signaling them out as unreasonable or
uninformed critics.


This event suggests that the indexical patterns in the Binghamton EvoS
Seminar Series were duplicated in this second program. Arguably, given his
reputation, the New Paltz EvoS Program was setting the stage for controversy by
inviting Lionel Tiger. The Seminar Series reading (Tigers Wall Street Journal article)
and his earlier lecture posed several foregrounded attacks on academic structure, as
well as numerous taboo topics (abortion, birth control, the battle of the sexes, and
so on) introduced by both Tiger and the EvoS moderator.41 Further, the Question
and Answer Sessions included moderation by an EvoS organizer and dismissals of
audience challenges similar to those in the Binghamton EvoS Seminar Series.

I argue that the organizers of the EvoS Program at New Paltz recognized their

critics as potential resources, and thus means of communicating the movements in-
house ideologies and first principle. In the wake of Lionel Tigers visit, the New Paltz
EvoS director and other program members argued that the controversy was
indicative of evolutionary reasoning perceived as politically correct and fears about
its socio-political implications in U.S. higher education. Interviewed by the New
Paltz student newspaper, the programs director quips, Guess what? Evolution is
controversial! [] I can't imagine a speaker who could have made this point more
manifest on our campus than Dr. Tiger (Geher in Brooks 2008). In another
interview, a SUNY New Paltz journalist writes that Geher understands evolutionary
thinking is notorious for eliciting hostility and that he was not surprised with the


While introducing the speaker, the EvoS Program moderator recounts a camping trip with his two young
daughters and son, who he and his wife catch causing mischief inside the family tent. The girls had opened
their mothers cosmetics bag and were applying makeup to each other, while their younger brother was
urinating in the corner. The moderator poses this as evidence of the inborn differences between males and


response Tigers talks evoked (Hanmer 2008). Fascinatingly, in following months,
the EvoS response to this controversy took a decidedly more complex turn, although
one that strongly supports my argument here.
In Spring 2008, Glenn Geher co-authored an online survey, ostensibly to
assess the possible reasons for the heated, academic reaction to Tigers visit,
positing that the majority of critical response seemed to come from a particular
sector of professional academics (those in Sociology and Womens Studies) with
notably Leftist political orientations, who he poses are also (by-and-large) not
parents qualities that might predispose an individual toward rejecting
evolutionary arguments on psychological differences between men and women.
With this survey sought to answer a research question that could probably only be
posed by EvoS members:
When it comes to accepting the idea of natural (evolved) behavioral
sex difference between males and females in our species, are there
important effects of (a) political orientation, (b) status as an employed
academic, and (c) status as a parent? [Geher and Gambacorta

As they explain, the researchers hypothesized that skepticism toward evolutionary
explanations of this sort might be influenced by (on one hand) a persons status as a
non-parent, and (on the other) ones status as a student or professor in womens
studies or sociology (Wind 2010). Justifying this direction in their investigation,
they explain:

42 Two (possibly obvious) points need mention here: First, EvoS New Paltz organizers clearly did not

recognize (or forgot) that several of the most vocal authors of the critical pamphlet were Biology
Department faculty or from his own department (Psychology). Second, we should recognize that the
question these researchers are asking (about acceptance or rejection of the idea of natural (evolved)
behavioral sex difference between males and females in our species) is very much shaped by Gehers
role as an evolutionary psychologist. As I have detailed above, the primary contentions voiced by
critics of Lionel Tiger had little to do with this foundational question of nature vs. nurture.


There are particular areas of academia that seem most relevant to the
current research. In particular, scholars in the areas of Sociology and
Womens Studies are especially known for denying the relevance of
biology to an understanding of human nature []. Further, Sociology
and Womens Studies are fields that are directly acknowledged by
Tiger as politically motivated and faculty from these fields were
particularly interested in protesting his presence on campus during
the Tiger Incident at New Paltz. Thus, a new variable was created
exclusively among academics. Participants were divided into
categories based on whether they reported holding affiliations with
Womens Studies or Sociology (or not). [Geher and Gambacorta

This survey is premised on an abstraction of a similar sort that I document in the
(Binghamton) EvoS Seminar Series lectures. That is, from the onset, the researchers
have divided the local academic landscape into groups likely to reject evolutionary
reasoning about human behaviors and those likely not to. More importantly,
however, note that these EvoS Program researchers like those I discuss in Chapter
Two have engaged students and faculty as research subjects, whose responses
might empirically demonstrate the programs in-house ideologies, and thus be used
to further promote its first principle.
A total of 268 individuals took this survey online during Spring and Summer
of 2008, although 97 did not complete it and so the final sample size included 171
people. The researchers asked these participants to estimate the degree to which
behavioral differences between males and females using a five point scale with 1
corresponding to Definitely mostly due to nature (biology) and 5 corresponding to
Definitely mostly due to nurture (environment) (Geher and Gambacorta 2010:36).
Participants were asked for their opinions on male/female differences in men and
women, boys and girls, roosters and hens, and dogs and cats. The researchers then
sought correlations between these responses and participants gender, age, parental


status, political orientation (very liberal to very conservative), career (academic
vs. non-academic), and their academic field.

After over a year of research, the results of Geher and Gambacortas survey

were published in an article titled Evolution is Not Relevant to Sex Differences in

Humans Because I Want it That Way! Evidence for the Politicization of Human
Evolutionary Psychology.43 Interpreting the results of their survey, the authors
[B]eing a parent seemed to predispose an individual to think that boys
and girls are different by nature while being an academic seemed to
predispose one to think that men and women are different due to
nurture. These findings provide evidence for the Ivory Tower effect of
attitudes about the origins of sex differences [] In other words, being
an academic seems to predispose one to deny the influence of
biological forces in behavioral sex differences. [Geher and Gambacorta

Specifically addressing this academic predisposition in respondents sociology or
womens studies affiliation, the researchers report:
These scholars were more likely than other academics to underscore
nurture over nature in explaining the origins of (a) sex differences
between boys and girls, (b) sex differences in human adults, (c) sex
differences between hens and roosters, and (d) universal features of
human psychology. Participants in this demographic group
underscored nurture over nature for all variables except the one
about explaining behavioral differences between cats and dogs.
[Geher and Gambacorta 2010:43]

While the authors acknowledge weaknesses in their data set,44 they here propose
that several in-house ideologies of the EvoS Program have been empirically

43 This article was published in the EvoS Journal.

44 Of the 268 participants who began the survey, 97 did not complete it and could not be included. Of
the remaining 171 respondents, 12 identified as students or professors in womens studies or
sociology (7% of the total sample).


supported by this survey. Specifically, their results support a representation of the
critics rejecting evolutionary reasoning due to their political correctness and Ivory
Tower elitism. As Geher explains in a subsequent radio interview:
I think that one of the implications here is that these things are
politicized there is clearly a political underpinning to beliefs about
whether things are due to nature versus nurtureWere at a
particular time culturally now where there are certain norms sort
of political norms and cultural norms that I think very much play into
this particularly regarding acknowledging sex differences as due to
nature I think that has become a somewhat politically incorrect kind
of comment to make under modern times

Arguably, the in-house ideologies predestined the kinds of conclusions that Geher
draws here. But the more important point is this: EvoS organizers have engaged
critics of evolutionary reasoning as a new and unlikely kind of resource for
creatively indexing these in-house ideologies into new venues such journal articles,
local news, and radio interviews.

Publishing their results in the online, open-access EvoS Journal, the

researchers use this opportunity to reaffirm the EvoS Programs first principle they
[t]he goal of an EvoS education is, decidedly, not to convince students
that everything is due to nature. Rather, a major goal of this program,
steeped in an interdisciplinary approach [], is to provide a deep and
broad education on the variegated kinds of organic evolutionary
forces that exist as well as the nature of cultural evolution and other,
not-directly-organic evolutionary forces. [Geher and Gambacorta

The authors downplay the role of naturalizing explanations, given that the entirety
of their research was explicitly about the acceptance or rejections of them. Yet, they
quite certainly affirm the EvoS Programs first principle here, giving a sweeping
vision of evolutionary reasonings interdisciplinary potential. This sentiment


echoes an earlier, multi-authored, EvoS Journal article (EvoS: Completing the
Evolutionary Synthesis in Higher Education) that references, but does not
specifically name, the Tiger Incident. Here, the authors explain:
In addition to highly positive interactions among members of the EvoS
community, there have also been some negative reactions, especially
to seminars on controversial topics such as human sexual behavior
and religion. This has manifest [sic] itself in the form of critical
questioning of the speaker following the talks, distribution of flyers
protesting a speakers work and a series of letters to the student
newspaper. The entire academic community has been forced to
examine long-held assumptions and explore new, unfamiliar territory.
As faculty, we are used to being experts, and it is healthy (if not
necessary) for us to explore radically new and/or different ideas, to
hear others perspectives and to articulate our own, just as we expect
our students to do. While these attributes may be at the heart of
scholarship within ones discipline, the thing that makes these
interactions surrounding EvoS different is the cross-disciplinary
nature of the discussion. These instances have allowed us to model
this type of discourse for students as an example of life-long learning.
[D.S. Wilson et al. 2009:8]

The authors here use the very fact of criticism to leverage new, creative indices of
the programs in-house ideologies and affirmations of its first principle, often in
ways that would not be possible, had the critical response not taken place. The
authors here affirm the EvoS Programs first principle as inherently preferable to
the disciplinary specialization and elitism commonly found in U.S. higher education.
Further, they analogically extend this affirmation to a positively valued situation in
which they have been able to model this type of discourse for students as an
example of life-long learning (although how EvoS organizers have accomplished
this remains unexplained).

The EvoS Seminar Series Question and Answer Sessions are tense but, as I

have shown, also useful activities for the EvoS Program. These are moments when


audience members who have found significant fault with the lecturers arguments
may pose serious challenges to the programs in-house ideologies and the relevance
of evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation for social life. As I show
above, these challenges may be emotionally charged, given the taboo topics and
other foregroundings that EvoS lecturers tend to include in their delivers.
Furthermore, audience members may in fact be more well-versed in the topics-at-
hand (or even evolutionary science, itself) than some of the lecturers, whose
attempts to apply evolutionary reasoning in novel ways can raise skepticism and
result in challenges for which they are not prepared. My own fieldwork suggests
that the time constraints and requests for non-EvoS member contributions seem to
encourage such terse challenges, more than might unfold if the sessions were
allowed to develop more freely.
The modes of defense that I outline above have become regularized ways of
dismissing, deflecting, or assimilating audience criticisms. These practices can
additionally create new foregroundings, direct attention to in-house ideologies, or
reaffirm the programs first principle as ways to deal with challenges to the
integrity of evolutionary reasoning. In this sense, EvoS lecturers and moderators can
make use of audience critics as real-time examples of the academic rejection of
evolutionary reasoning. Certainly, this particular resource is a capricious one, but
considering the examples I offer above (including the Tiger Incident at SUNY New
Paltz), the lecturers and moderators of the program (if not much more of the
membership) have sufficiently internalized the in-house ideologies of EvoS that
audience critics are recognized as embodiments of this academic rejection.


The SUNY New Paltz EvoS Program (modeled almost exactly to the
Binghamton program) includes many of the same modes of defense that I outline in
this chapter, as well as the foregrounding-contextualization patterns I discuss in
Chapter Four. It is a similar if more extreme example of Seminar Series critics
becoming resources for this social movement. As I describe above, the organizers of
the New Paltz EvoS Program went so far as to investigate the causes for the
skepticism they encountered, in essence making their academic critics into parts of
a science experiment. Publishing and popularizing their findings, these researchers
use such opportunities to creatively index the in-house ideologies of EvoS and its
first principle. They have used criticisms of their own programs ideologies to create
new avenues for promoting the movement and dissemination of its message.
Lastly, I point out that these Question and Answer Sessions function to
socialize students into the activities, relationships, ideologies, and first principle of
EvoS. They see how criticism of evolutionary reasoning tends to be formulated and
how such interactions are likely to unfold. In this sense, the Question and Answer
Sessions perform the challenges faced by evolutionary science in higher education
they bring to life the in-house ideologies of the program. Further, as in most other
academic events, students are here shown the spaces and times that their
contributions are expected. For the time being, they are asked to observe while
(typically) faculty and graduate students in the audience engage the lecturer and
EvoS moderator in critical discussions.
Of course, such criticisms and confrontations are an expected part of
academic discussions. These interactions are demonstration for undergraduate


participants in how to meaningfully engage with visiting lecturers and faculty.
Indeed, this is one of the primary compliments paid to the EvoS Seminar Series by
both the programs founder and some of its visiting lecturers. However, during my
fieldwork, I also witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of faculty and graduate
student participants in the Seminar Series. In interviews, former participants voiced
displeasure with what they perceived as unproductive and even rude responses to
their critiques. I also witnessed this dissatisfaction among undergraduates who
were largely annoyed by a particular visiting speaker. Many students discussed
complained to me and one another that the lecture was condescending, unscientific,
and even offensive. But their complaints were not part of the following Question and
Answer Session, nor were they heard at the subsequent Social Event. Although most
were roundly unimpressed with the logic and conclusions of this lecture, once they
were presented with the opportunity to voice these complaints, they chose not to.
Instead they asked superficial, non-confrontational questions or remained quiet.
When I enquired afterwards, students explained that they did not have the right to
criticize a professional researcher.
These experiences are obviously problematic, considering the bold
convictions (of the organizers and promotions) that EvoS provides numerous
opportunities for critical thinking and open discussion. Still more troubling is the
abandonment of the program by disgruntled graduate students and faculty, who
might otherwise have inspired more interrogation by student participants. Though
the consequence is not a desirable one, the time limits, methods of moderation, and


modes of defense of the Question and Answer Sessions may socialize students to
contribute in ways that do not cause confrontation.
In the next chapter, I investigate how student participation takes shape in the
following Social Events.


Chapter Six: Practice, Demonstration, and Criticism in the EvoS Seminar Series
Social Events

In this chapter, I examine the Social Events that follow the EvoS Seminar
Lectures and Question and Answer sessions. I argue that these activities include a
rather complicated set of patterns:
First, in the Social Events, students are encouraged to practice creating the
types of foregrounding-contextualizations that visiting speakers created during
their lectures (discussed in Chapter Four), and to further analogically extend
evolutionary reasoning toward previously unrelated ideologies. These patterns
(when performed by students) tend to omit the in-house ideologies of the EvoS
Program, which are likely not especially meaningful to them. If these students
contributions do not reaffirm the EvoS first principle, lecturers will correct them,
adding the affirmation and typically analogical extensions as well. If they have
successfully affirmed the first principle and analogically extended evolutionary
reasoning, lecturers praise these students, and furthermore help them to further
analogically extend it by creating new foregroundings off of these students
contextualizations. To this end, EvoS lecturers and moderators are guiding these
students toward a particular way of expressing their commitment to both the
program and evolutionary reasoning more broadly.
Second, in these Social Events, lecturers and moderators further
demonstrate foregrounding-contextualization patterns for the benefit of other


attendees. As I show, these foregroundings are often unsubtle attacks on academic
structure, especially ribald taboo topicalizations, and quite intimately personal
testimonies, none of which would likely have been appropriate in the Seminar
Series lectures. These demonstrations are often quite elaborate, including multiple
foregroundings and contextualizations in succession. Importantly, as I show below,
these individuals tend to leave their final foregroundings unresolved, suggesting
that the EvoS Programs first principle has become the presupposed resolution to
be employed in this setting.
Finally, in very few instances do Social Event attendees challenge the
lecturers in ways comparable to the criticisms I detail in Chapter Five. In the
examples I discuss here, lecturers sometimes employ the modes of defense in their
responses, but typically they answer these students challenges in ways that are
noticeably more frank than in the Question and Answer Sessions.
While these patterns are similar to other activities in the Seminar Series
(outlined in my previous chapters), they are different because the Social Events are
marked by a general tone of camaraderie, informality, and openness among many of
the participants. These events are a surprisingly warm and welcoming experience
for many visiting lecturers, considering they share a sense that evolutionary
reasoning has been widely rejected and ignored throughout U.S. higher education.
Generally, I found in my fieldwork that the Social Events offer a sensation that one is
in the fold here, participants can speak freely about evolutionary reasoning,
without professional reprisals or outsider criticism.


The Social Events are a particular favorite activity for David Sloan Wilson,

who wished them to recreate the kinds of solidarity and excitement he experienced
in graduate school. He fondly recalls participating in a similar initiative as the
Seminar Series:
Our little group was not prestigious, consisting of only a few young
professors and their students, but we were brash and not intimidated
by even the greatest authorities of our day. Most evolutionists are
wonderfully egalitarian and even the most eminent would cheerfully
come to East Lansing to talk about their work for little more than their
travel expenses. My fellow graduate students and I would often set
upon them like a team of young lawyers, challenging them on every
point. They in turn would be pleased that their work had generated so
much interest, and when we left the biology building it was merely to
continue the conversation over dinner and beer at the house of one of
the professors. Work merged with play, and the people with whom I
worked were the same as those with whom I enjoyed relaxing. [D.S.
Wilson 2007:340-341]

But, as I discuss below, the EvoS Social Events are different Wilsons recollections of
his graduate schooling, because student attendance and participation are required
at the former, in order to successfully pass the Current Topics course. In this
sense, the Social Events oblige the EvoS Program to adhere to certain institutional
obligations, such as taking attendance, facilitating discussions, and grading student
participation. Meeting such obligations requires significant structure and energy on
behalf of EvoS organizers.

Like the EvoS Program in general, the Social Events strike a tense balance,

attempting to simultaneously meet the demands of an institution while criticizing

and challenging this same institution from within. Participants in the Social Events
are separate and safe from the academic rejection of evolutionary reasoning (such
as the Question and Answer Session critics) that might compel them to defend or


censor themselves. On the other hand, a large percentage of these Social Event
participants are not only required to attend, but also to ask questions and discuss
their ideas, lest they lose points or fail the course. That said, it is not so different
than any other activity within this social movement, as its participants are
continuously striking this balance between adhering and subverting the norms of
higher education.

1. Encouraging (and Requiring) Student Engagement

Because the Seminar Series is the central component of Current Topics in
EvoS, the audience at any given Social Event is much larger than might be expected
at an academic seminar. These post-lecture sessions will typically include at least 80
people many more than could be anticipated at some similar type of department-
hosted reception, and remarkably more undergraduate students. These students
are being graded for their attendance and participation. An important function of
these events is to meet the expectations of the Current Topics course, and thus fulfill
its institutional legitimacy. Of course, how to encourage (and grade) student
participation is a continual problem for large, university courses particularly
those, like Current Topics, that do not include outside, discussion sections that are
typically led by funded, graduate student teaching assistants.
Organizing Student Participation. Beginning in 2008, EvoS Seminar Series
enrollment reached 60-80 (mostly undergraduate) students, and program
organizers began instituting different practices to require and evaluate participation
from the entire class during the Social Event. Some semesters, students have been


asked to form discussion groups and submit summaries of the discussions that take
place during the event. At other times, organizers have assigned students to groups
and required them to jointly decide on a question for the visiting lecturer, to be
asked by a group leader a role that will have been filled by every member of the
group, at least once, by the semesters end. During a few semesters, student
participation was more-or-less left open to each individual, although this
(predictably) led to some students regular contribution to discussion, while others
remained silent for the entire semester. Like the Seminar Series lectures, an
attendance sheet is circulated around the Social Event for students to sign in, thus
ensuring that course participants are at least physically present (unless friends sign
their names for them, which doubtlessly takes place).
Pizza and Beer. From its inception in 2004, the EvoS Seminar Series
garnered a notable reputation at Binghamton for offering free food (typically pizza)
and beer to its participants. David Sloan Wilson is well known among Seminar
Series participants as a lover of dark beers such as Guinness Stout, and additionally
enjoys patronizing independent breweries in Upstate New York. The Seminar Series
Social Events have typically followed his tastes, with a cooler full of 40 or more
bottles of high-quality beers. As the Current Topics course grew to over 80
undergraduate enrollees, this meant a much greater expense, as well as attending to
the legal drinking ages of many of the students. Wilsons graduate students and
office staff needed to book large rooms, handle delivery payments, ensure that the
food remained hot (and the beer cold), provide plates and utensils, and so on.
Organizational problems developed as this large group of students would arrive at


the Social Event en masse (sometimes bringing friends), and immediately begin
lining up for pizza and beverages. These problems were likely inevitable for a course
of this size, and particularly unsurprising for one that provides such staple
sustenance of university students for free! On this note, it would not be overly
cynical to suggest that these rewards for students have been incentives to
contribute to the Social Event discussion, and also to attraction for enrolling in
Current Topics course which, as I have pointed out, requires students to enroll as
members of the EvoS Program.
While a further point might be obvious, the injection of alcohol into these
events is an element that should not be underestimated. Not only does the beer
function to (psychologically) break down the inhibitions of students who might
otherwise not participate in discussions, but also its very presence lends the Social
Events a distinctly club-like tone. Since most of these students (and certainly David
Sloan Wilson) associate beer with socialization among friends, its capacity to
lighten the mood of ostensibly academic interactions has likely shaped their
outcomes in powerful ways.
The Role of the Founder. David Sloan Wilsons presence and participation
are important influences in obliging students to participate in Social Event
discussions, for a number of reasons. As I have observed, some students enrolled in
Current Topics are also cooperating with Wilson in his various research projects.
It is unsurprising that such students regularly contribute to these discussions
without extra prompting. They have surely spoken with Wilson (and likely the
visiting lecturer) previously, probably feeling that they have relevant ideas to offer,


and might also be interested in impressing Wilson and his colleagues. This is an
opportunity that Wilson is quick to point out in one Social Event, commenting:
I really want to emphasize what an extraordinary opportunity this is
especially for undergraduate students to be participating in
intellectual life at the same level as graduate students and faculty
especially undergraduate students who are contemplating going to
graduate school you are going to be learning what graduate school is
like what it is like to basically be engaged in intellectual inquiry for
its own sake and to be dealing only with the best and the brightest45

As might be expected, other students are more reticent to contribute and the Social
Event discussions will, on occasion, fall silent. Acting as moderator for most of these
events, Wilson will sometimes chide the audience, for instance saying
Okay youve gotta be brain dead not to have questions here do I
have a volunteer?

At any given Social Event discussion, Wilson can be seen roaming about the
audience, sometimes leaning in to inform individual students that he will be calling
on them to contribute in a few minutes time. As he light-heartedly warns the
audience at one Social Event:
Usually I have my own microphone so often Ill go around and
often usually theres a lot of questions but I do reserve the right to
call upon people at random and so that puts everyone on edge
right? Anyone of you - everyone of you needs to come up with a
question because I can approach you and just thrust this into your
hand - and theres nothing you can do about it!

Such assertive moderating on Wilsons part is no doubt a response to the large class
sizes of the Current Topics course, but is unlikely to be witnessed at any other
academic seminar series. This practice seems a likely way to encourage students


No comment.


toward contributions that (in one way or another) positively value the explanatory
power of evolutionary reasoning and reaffirm the EvoS Programs first principle.

The moderator role that Wilson plays is also significant for his consistent of

the Social Events to further promote the EvoS Program. His explanations at such
moments are likely intended for visiting lecturers and other attendees who are not
Current Topics students. At one Social Event, Wilson informs the audience:
The Current Topics course which has to be taken twice to earn the
EvoS certificate and so the students in that course as those of you
who are in the course know read something in preparation write
something in preparations attend the seminar and then attend this
continuing discussion and we provide just enough structure to
force you to do this in terms of writing in on time we take
attendance which makes it sound as if the undergraduates taking
this course are an unwilling bunch and theyre just here because they
have to be here but that is not the case at all

The EvoS founder here is clearly ad-libbing his introduction to the Current Topics
course (for the benefit of those not taking the class). However, he here adds an
important piece of legitimating information: the undergraduates in this course are
not just here because they have to be here, but rather they are responding to the
structure of a program that they engage in, even if there were not rewards. He
I actually learned something by studying religion that religions often
do this they provide a bit of structure and you know they make
you go to church but thats what you want to do and you get a lot out
of it but when you make something voluntary even when you really
want to do it because everyone is busy and because other things
intervene that very often you end up not doing exactly what you
want to do and so we provide just enough structure so that we make
you do this

Wilsons reasoning here is perhaps a bit nave, but he is speaking for the benefit of
the visiting lecturer and others who (perhaps) wonder just how genuinely


interested a large group of undergraduates could be in a semester-long seminar
series. Chuckling to himself, Wilson adds:
And hell were drinkin beer at least those of us that are over
twenty-one and were socializing what could be better than that?...
To combine a pleasant social event and a world class intellectual

The founders enthusiasm about the EvoS Program is palpable here, though there is
reason to suspect that he is self-consciously trying to legitimate the Current Topics
course for his listeners, as well as the markedly large audiences that it provides for
the Seminar Series.
A similar kind of qualification appears when, writing about the series, Wilson
recalls how his colleagues lecture
was followed by a boisterous reception with pizza and beer, which in
turn was followed by a continuing discussion attended by over sixty
graduate and undergraduate students, who surrounded [the lecturer]
in a big semicircle. They are taking a course designed around the
seminar series that has become hugely popular, and there was
nothing required about the spontaneous applause that ended the
discussion. [D.S. Wilson 2007:346]

Arguably, Wilson is here (and above) making too much of rather usual practices in
an academic seminar, such as students sitting around a lecturer or applauding once
the discussion has ended. To this end, Wilson is arguing that the presupposed
behaviors of interpersonal, quasi-formal, academic activities are (in fact) indexing
students unrestrained enthusiasm for the subject matter and evolutionary
reasoning in general. His intention here is clearly toward promotion. But, there is
reason to anticipate that such enthusiasm is (for some participants) quite genuine.


2. Student Practice and Lecturer Guidance

From my observations of the Social Events, it seems clear that these are

activities in which audience members from the Seminar Series lectures are
encouraged to practice the foregrounding-contextualization patterns that I describe
in Chapter Four. Their contributions often include complaints about higher
education, taboo topics, and personal testimonies that they, themselves, attempt to
resolve through an application of evolutionary reasoning typically drawing from
what they have learned from the present lecturer, previous speakers, and David
Sloan Wilson. Significantly, these student contributions are often then corrected by
the visiting lecturer or Seminar Series moderator, who will typically instruct the
student on the appropriate way to apply evolutionary reasoning and reaffirm the
EvoS Programs first principle. As I will show below, sometimes student
contributions reach this affirmation without lecturer or moderator assistance, in
which case the student is praised.

I want to stress two caveats from the outset: First, these practice-correction

episodes are of course not the only types of participant interactions in the Social
Events, or the only kinds of contributions made to discussions there. Often students
will ask visiting lecturers to clarify some complicated issue in their theories or
discuss research methods. First, as I will show in a later session, Social Event
participants also occasionally raise challenging criticisms during Social Event
discussions, demonstrating that they have not been persuaded (or have actually
been offended) by the lecturers arguments. Second, by proposing these practice-
correction interactions are common in EvoS Social Events, neither I am suggesting


that they are anything totally out of the ordinary for higher education. A great deal
of the business of higher education is teaching and learning. It is not unreasonable
to suggest that many students are not just interested in learning the information
presented in a course, but also in demonstrating that they can apply it in new ways.
If they are mistaken, an instructor will correct them. What distinguishes these
interactions from others in university practice is the reappearance of the EvoS
Programs foregroundings, in-house ideologies, and contextualizations here
enacted by a broader set of participants than I have so far shown.

Example 1a (Lecturer guides student): Dont say you believe in evolution.
In this example, the preceding lecturer dealt with the relationship between
evolutionary science and literary criticism, particularly as the latter has offered
critical histories of evolutionary reasoning. During her lecture, the visiting speaker
challenged arguments of evolution as narrative for example, that evolutionary
theories of human origins are heroic tales, thus reflecting the patriarchal socio-
political circumstances of the time and place in which they were written (see
Landau 1991). Such proposals tend to question the scientific factuality of human
evolutionary theories, which was this speakers problem with them. During the
following Social Event, a contributing student generally agrees with the speaker,
I wanted to push the issue that evolution is a narrative which Ive
heard from some of my Comp Lit professors and I guess I partially
agree though I dont think that its just another story you cant just
make up any story you want


This student is more or less complaining about her Comparative Literature
instructors postmodernist rejection of evolutionary reasoning as just another
story among other possible explanations. Doing so, she is indexing an in-house
ideology of the EvoS Program, similar to several comments made by the lecturer
during her earlier talk.
As the student continues, she attempts a more conciliatory reading of the
What bothers me is there is the assumption that narrative is
inherently untrue is a fiction because to my mind you know I
believe in evolution but I believe that evolution is a narrative that
has changed over time Im wondering if theres something about the
word narrative If we use paradigm maybe why does the word
narrative necessarily imply fiction?

The visiting lecturer is impressed with this students contribution, although her
praise is much more an affirmation of evolutionary reasoning as a foundational
Hmm I hadnt thought about that its an interesting point Im a
fiction addict I read a lot of novels all the time and I guess I dont
see anything wrong if we talk about evolution as a narrative But I
want to know how narrative began you know the origins of
narrative as an adaptation thats the story that I want to know

To some degree, the lecturer has accepted and praised the student, although she is
clear to remind her that evolutionary reasoning explains the origins of all others.
This is not only an affirmation of the foundational explanatory power of
evolutionary reasoning, but also an analogical extension of it toward explaining
narrative story telling. Importantly, the lecturer argues that whether or not we
think of evolution as a narrative, evolutionary reasoning provides the foundational
story (that would explain why other stories are told).


As if to hammer home this final point, the lecturer is also sure to correct the
student on another matter:
And if I could I just make one little Dont say you believe in
evolution Lets say you think the scientific approach is probably the
most convincing explanation But the word believe is I think
misused in the case of science I just dont want to use the language
of belief in science

On this comment, the student agrees with the lecturer, commenting

Yes yeah it implies a kind of fiction

The lecturer has here corrected the student on her word choice, which she seems
to suggest is inappropriate for its implication that science is something to be
believed or disbelieved (somewhat ironic, given the earlier theme of this
interaction). As I suggest above, the students contribution has been more-or-less
satisfactory to the lecturer as a demonstration of her belief that evolutionary
reasoning is a relevant matter to consider in literary studies. The lecturers
subsequent remarks more fully affirmed the EvoS first principle that evolutionary
reasoning is to be considered the foundational narrative, analogically extended to
explain the origins of narrative as an adaptation.

Example 1b (Lecturer guides student): There have always been people killing
people. In this second example of a lecturers correction of a students contribution,
a young man asks a follow-up question about the lecturers previous talk on
evolutionary reasoning in moral psychology. In that talk, the visiting speaker posed a
number of innate psychological mechanisms that inform philosophers that there are
foundational truths to be found about the human condition, but that these are facts


about the adaptations that benefited Homo sapiens evolutionary ancestors. The
student poses this contribution:
Youve said that we can find cases where our instincts serve us
wrong like with food with overindulgence where people eat
more fats now than they did in the Stone Age and maybe our
instincts as far as loyalty or inter-group violence that kind of thing
these find cases where our instincts serve us wrong and so
philosophers can find moral universals

The lecturer agrees that these are, indeed, cases where human instincts have served
them wrong. Clearly, the student is making an argument about maladaptation
(which also I discuss in Chapter Two), wherein contemporary environments and
behaviors do not match because the behaviors were adaptations to a now no-
longer-existing environment (i.e. the Stone Age). The student then poses
Then that kind of implies that there is an external absolute truth
outside of our own instincts that is outside the power of evolution to

The lecturer here objects, as the student has (rather clumsily) posed an argument
that challenges evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation. The lecturer
No no I think that philosophers need to recognize that we have
an evolved architecture which was not optimized to work well in
every single setting It was optimized to work as well as it could work
across the whole range of settings in which it was expected to work
so even in the ancestral environment there have always been people
killing people over misunderstandings when they could have easily
forgiven each other there have always been people who resist
changing things because they are afraid for their families So liberal
academics in general need to understand this too these biological
systems are never expected to be perfect

The lecturers response here is far more of an affirmation of evolutionary reasoning
as a foundational explanation for social life: Philosophy should be informed by the


universal architecture (of human brains) that predispose people to make poor
decisions because these organs were adaptations to selection pressures in the
ancestral environment. In this sense, the student was wrong to propose that any
absolute truth outside our own instincts could be found that would somehow be
beyond the explanatory potential of evolutionary reasoning. Moreover, as is clear
here, the lecturer has extended the explanatory potential of evolutionary reasoning
to argue it as relevant to liberal academics in general. That is, because resistance
to socio-political change is an inherent part of the evolved architecture of morality,
Left-leaning individuals would be wise to use such evolutionary reasoning to
understand the social and psychological decisions of conservatives.

Example 1c (Lecturer guides student): The predators are wrapped up in blue

In this example, a student is praised for using evolutionary reasoning to try
to explain a public health issue. During the preceding lecture, the visiting speaker
discussed the problem of contaminated food and water supplies. He argued that the
physiological effects of such contaminants were best explained as a mismatch
between the types of toxins that human bodies are adapted to tolerate and those
that people encounter in the present day. Upon hearing his lecture, a student
comments at the following Social Event:
I was right away reminded of this really blunt incident back in China
last year of tainted melons so after listening to your lecture and
you also mentioned how these biochemical factors from our food from
our environment also influence behavior because toxins like the
ones in these melons we wouldnt have encountered ten thousand
years ago so Im interested how do you think your discoveries and
your methods could frame into corporate responsibility?


The speaker is vocally impressed with the students question, and responds:

I must say I have really enjoyed the tenor and intensity of these
questions greatly because they stretch my mind for what we
might need to do in the world I suspect as our culture grows more
and more complex with more and more innovations and other kinds
of tools were going to have to explore experiment and test
interventions that would reduce the corporate greed and predatory
behavior its nothing short of predation its basically anti-social
behavior preying on other people for economic gain and well need
to understand predation its just that the predators are wrapped up
in blue suits nice blue suits - Armani blue suits

Interestingly, the speaker has here like the student he responds to affirmed the
explanatory power of evolutionary reasoning, but additionally created an analogical
extension from evolutionary reasoning to white-collar crime. That is, as he argues,
corporate greed is comparable to non-human predators, and understanding how
predation works will provide the foundation for policy interventions.

Example 1d (Lecturer guides student): Joshua Thank you for peeing in the
potty. In this example, a lecturer has just spoken on evolutionary educational
theories, which are critical of teacher over-involvement with students learning,
particularly when teachers over praise children for unexceptional things. Rather,
the lecturer argued, children should be allowed to learn in ways that allow them to
fail, thus creating a process of selection among the strategies they learn for the
future (see D.S. Wilson b; D.S. Wilson et al. 2011). At the following Social Event, a
student offers a personal testimony that supports this argument:
I went to a high school where they used positive reinforcement all the
time they had an awards ceremony and everyone got an award for
everything you know most improvement most this most that and
I also went to one of those school districts where you know theres a
lot of wealthy parents where if the kid didnt get an A they called up
the teacher and there was a lot of pressure on the school to inflate


grades so do you ever think its possible that theres too much
positive reinforcement? that we isnt it okay to sometimes let kids
fail and isnt that the way that humans probably used to do things? -
to say honestly they really did a better job than you so maybe you
should work a little harder

The student here offers his version of a foregrounding, similar to those observable
in the Seminar Series lectures. His story of overused positive reinforcement also
evokes a number of nods and chuckles from other students in the room, who seem
familiar with the situation themselves. In his own way, this statement additionally
contextualizes the problems presented in his personal narrative by asking isnt this
the way that humans probably used to do things?
Given that this is almost precisely what the visiting speaker argued during
his earlier lecture, it is not likely that he will disagree. He does not, and furthermore
praises the student, both directly and with a bit of humor:
The answer is yes and youre absolutely right But let me
backtrack the first assumption is that what you experienced at that
school was positive reinforcement it wasnt it was hot air it was
the equivalent of telling a thirteen year old boy

The lecturer at this moment turns to face the student and asks him his name. The
student tells him his name is Joshua. The lecturer then says:
Joshua thank you for peeing in the potty

At this point, the audience begins to laugh at the speakers remark, which he
delivers in a high school marm voice. In the spirit of the joke, the student replies,
No problem! The lecturer continues:
It is not appropriate to say to a thirteen year thank you for peeing in
the potty because a thirteen year old boy because a thirteen year old
boy does know that peeing in the potty is where you do it hes
learned it now thirteen year old boys sometimes forget one to lift the
lid and two to put the lid down but thats a different problem


By this point the audience is laughing out loud, including the student who made the
initial contribution. The lecturer has here created a taboo topic of sorts, although
there seems no need to resolve it. The student has apparently satisfactorily
demonstrated his ability to apply evolutionary reasoning (albeit in a cursory
manner) to explain problems that he experienced in his own life. In this sense, the
student has performed the analogical extension of evolutionary reasoning to assess
problems in U.S. primary schools such as empty rewards, grade inflation, and over-
protective parents.

As these examples demonstrate, students in the EvoS Seminar Series

typically do not index the EvoS in-house ideologies in their discussion contributions.
Rather they create foregroundings of their own (from the personal experiences and
knowledge about current events) and attempt to contextualize them through
evolutionary reasoning. Arguably, this is because they do not feel the kinds of
professional grievances that are more-or-less commonplace among the lecturers
and organizers of the EvoS Program. That is, while they have heard about the
rejection of evolutionary reasoning in higher education, they have few (if any) actual
experiences that might make it real for them.

Student contributions of this kind are key to the EvoS Programs first

principle, insofar as students in EvoS courses represent a wide number of

disciplines and backgrounds, but can easily all learn that evolutionary reasoning
should become the foundational principle for all explanations of social life. As I
mention in Chapter Three, this is an argument made regularly by David Sloan
Wilson, who recalls a course assignment in which students (without any previous


readings on the subject) readily agree upon three likely scenarios that that make
infanticide adaptive. These three explanations are, Wilson explains, the primary
explanations that evolutionary scientists have developed to explain this
phenomenon. Wilson ponders:
How did my students become so smart? They hadn't read anything on
infanticide, and I certainly hope that they hadn't experienced it for
themselves. Their evolutionary training had only just begun, but even
a tiny bit enabled them to become experts, honing in like heat-seeking
missiles on the predictions that are made by the experts. That is the
power of natural selection thinking that makes it such a big deal.

The contributions made by students to the Social Events suggest that there is some
validity to Wilsons reflection. However, considering the various rewards,
encouragement, organization, correction, and praise that I have documented so far,
this process of embracing evolutionary reasoning is a more complexly discursive
one than Wilsons rather simple example.
The Social Events demonstrate how many mundane resources and energy
must be expended to encourage even the most cursory participation in a social
movement. Further, they show us how unpredictable such activities can be, in a
sociolinguistic sense, in that the amateur participants of such a group do not share
the same knowledge or motivations of longer-term members, but rather make sense
of the movement in new ways that may or may not contribute to its first principle. In
talking with undergraduates in the Current Topics course, I found that most
juxtaposed evolutionary reasoning to creationism, and some had actually attended
schools where teachers and parents protested their school boards for not including
Intelligent Design theories in science curricula. Several other informants explained


to me that they were not especially interested in evolutionary science, but found
themselves enrolled in a number of courses that counted toward the EvoS
Certificate, and so figured it worthwhile enroll in the two semesters of Current
Topics to complete the requirements. Others had more personal reasons for
participating: three (unacquainted) male students told me that they were interested
in evolutionary science because they hoped to better understand female
psychology. To say the least, some of these are not factors that David Sloan Wilson
could have predicted would influence student participation in EvoS.
As is apparent from student contributions, patterns of foregrounding-
contextualization that are regularly performed in EvoS Seminar Series lectures have
travelled into the Social Events. In these settings, they are practiced by students
and corrected (or praised) by senior members of the program. In many cases,
student contributions are attempts at analogically extending evolutionary reasoning
to explain their personal experiences and other socio-political phenomena.
Next, I examine how EvoS lecturers and moderators at these events further
demonstrate foregrounding-contextualization patterns for the benefit of attendees.

3. Further Lecturer Foregrounding-Contextualizations

As I suggest above, the Social Events are special settings for EvoS

participants, because these activities are outside the realm of academic criticism of
evolutionary reasoning. In these settings, students may practice creating
foregroundings, contextualizing them by analogically extending evolutionary
reasoning to new ideologies, and receive instruction from EvoS lecturers and


moderators all in a gathering in which the foundational, explanatory power of
evolutionary reasoning is presupposed.

Seminar Series lecturers and moderators also employ foregrounding-

contextualization patterns in the Social Events, many of which would have been
inappropriate in the Seminar Series lectures. I suggest that these instances can be
best understood as further demonstrations (performed for the benefit of students) of
how to think and speak about evolutionary reasoning as a foundational explanation
of social life. As I show in the examples below, these foregroundings are often bitter
attacks on academic structure, taboo topicalizations that tend toward ribald
humor, and personal testimonies that divulge surprisingly intimate details about the
speakers own life. Unlike the student participants, the lecturers and moderators
will often index the EvoS Programs in-house ideologies in creating these
foregroundings. Further, these individuals foregroundings are typically much more
complex and elongated than those of the preceding lectures. Importantly, the last
foregrounding of such series often remains unresolved through any explicit
affirmation of evolutionary reasoning or its foundational, explanatory power. In this
sense (like Example 4d in my fourth chapter), these speakers do not need to invoke
the EvoS Programs first principle, as the foundational relevance of evolutionary
reasoning is so thoroughly presupposed in this setting.

Example 2a: The darkness hides in the shadow of the light. The Social Event in
this first example follows a lecture on applying evolutionary reasoning to policy
reforms in business and politics. Through a personal testimony, the lecturer


explains to his audience that he was once a member of the conservative youth
group, Young Americans for Freedom:
the Y.A.F. if youve ever heard of that is somewhere right wing of
Ghingis Khan
The audience laughs at the speakers comparison. He continues with his personal
testimony. It is likely that they are not only amused by his comment, but also at the
very fact that this individual once belonged to a conservative youth group, given
that he now sports multiple earrings and other jewelry, and previously disclosed to
the Social Event audience that he is gay. As the audience chuckles, the speaker
continues more seriously:
I actually have a picture of me when I was sixteen at a YAF meeting
and the founder of the YAF was an elected representative of the House
used to rail against the homosexual conspiracy and then was
arrested four years later in a House restroom for attempting to solicit
sex from a sixteen year old boy

Here several in the audience gasp, as the lecturers personal testimony has shifted
into a taboo topic. Not only was the founder of this conservative group a
hypocritical opponent of the homosexual conspiracy, but the young man with
whom he was attempting to have sex when he was arrested was the same age as the
lecturer. This leads him to contextualize this foregrounding, gesturing to David
Sloan Wilson in the front of the audience:
And this reminds me of a conversation that David and I had about
the problem of cheaters in evolutionary theory it is common - for
people who are engaging in a cheating strategy to site themselves in
the very protective or regulatory environment where people are
cooperating and playing by the rules and then engage in cheating
we saw this with the Wall Street crisis weve seen this with lots of


Not only has the speaker affirmed evolutionary reasoning as an explanation for his
previous foregroundings, but he furthermore extends that explanation to cheaters
in other institutions, such as unethical Wall Street executives. Given the time that
this Social Event took place (in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis of 2008), the
lecturers reference is no doubt familiar to his audience. Concluding his
commentary, the speakers tone grows even more serious:
Im not quite sure how to solve this problem but the darkness hides
in the shadow of the light so this is the issue of making sure that the
light does not allow the shadow to be present

The speakers conclusion here carries the same kind of urgency as his previous
foregrounding, although t he explicitly comments that he is not quite sure how to
solve this problem. Although certainly the kinds of abusive, dishonest behaviors he
discusses are complex issues to confront, this more-or-less unresolved, final
foregrounding would be contextualized through reference to evolutionary
reasoning. To this end, I propose that this speaker does not do this (and does not
need to) because this foundation is already presupposed from his previous
comments, and more broadly in the Social Event setting itself.

Example 2b: Blah blah blah blah blah! In this example, the visiting
professors preceding lecture dealt with fear and disgust, focusing specifically
on the ways that certain qualities of human physiology (such as outward
signs of disease or mental illness) cause people to react negatively to others.
The lecturer (a social psychology professor) posed an evolutionary
explanation for such responses: Fear or disgust toward the physically or
mentally ill likely benefited the survival of ancestral humans in the distant


past, and so remains a common (if socio-politically problematic) experience
in the present.
In the following Social Event, the lecturer extends a similar kind of
evolutionary reasoning to explain racial prejudice and violence. The commentary he
presents here offers several foregrounding-contextualizations in succession,
opening with a personal testimony:
I grew up mostly in Pittsburgh and so Pittsburgh had its sort of
very Wonder Bread sort of suburban areas and it has its sort of
African American sort of inner city area the Hill District in
Pittsburgh and on Friday every once in a while thered be football
games between the suburban kids out in the suburbs and the African
American kids in the inner city and it wouldnt be uncommon for
there to be some violence and some hostility between the fans of
these two teams when theyd get together for these games But let
me ask you a question what if those games were played on Saturday
mornings?... do you think youd have the same problems?

No one in the Social Event responds to the speakers question here, so he rephrases
What does darkness mean in terms of what does darkness afford?

At this point, an audience member suggests secrecy? The lecturer continues:

Right and that will be one of the things that people will say to you
in the dark you dont know who might be approaching you that you all
get more wary when youre walking around unfamiliar places in the
dark and even familiar places in the dark thats when you saw
this particular threat pop up the perception of the outgroup males
being threatening there was a cue out there in the situation like
encountering someone with a face thats malformed engages sort of
disease-protective kinds of psychology that now might lead to other
kinds of behaviors that is the nature of the situation darkness
sort of pulls the evolved inclination out into expression

The speaker is here beginning to contextualize his personal testimony, reasoning
that the inter-racial violence of his hometown was due, in part, to fans of opposing


sports teams encountering one another at night (an evolved inclination pulled out
into expression).

The lecturer seems about to analogically extend this affirmation of

evolutionary reasonings foundational power when he next begins another

foregrounding, attacking social psychology for its rejection of evolutionary
And we could manipulate these situations and this is why social
psychologists should love evolutionary psychology because what it
does in fact say is that by manipulating the situation I can now in
an informed way leverage the evolved inclinations that people have

Interestingly, the lecturer interrupts himself to index an in-house ideology of the
EvoS Program, representing academic critics of evolutionary reasoning as fearing its
socio-political implications:
And you can say geez you know youre thinking about evolutionary
psych youre thinking about prejudice from an evolutionary
perspective that means its going to be with us forever we wont be
able to change prejudices blah blah blah blah blah!

Obviously, this is a rather unsubtle complaint about the lecturers own discipline, far
more critical than any I detail in the Seminar Series lectures. In a similar way that
Social Events afford students a setting in which they can practice the their own
foregrounding-contextualizations, this lecturer uses this same setting to lay in to
his own profession more ferociously than would likely have been appropriate in his
preceding lecture. He continues, still speaking to critics of evolutionary reasoning:
Well you know what an inclination toward having prejudices will be
with us forever but an expression of any particular prejudice need
not be with us forever and an understanding of the evolved
inclinations that lead us to certain prejudices to begin with now gives
me the power to eliminate them and to try to do something


Here, the speaker returns to his contextualization an argument that evolutionary
reasoning must be recognized as a foundational explanation for inter-group
prejudice. The lecturer has quite seamlessly moved from a criticism of evolutionary
reasonings rejection by professional academics to its urgent usefulness for
resolving socio-political tension.
The lecturer uses this last statement to offer one, final attack on (what he
sees as) a broader naivet of anti-racism campaigns:
Thats why people fail when they say okay well just take a bunch of
people from different groups well put em together and well have a
nice big happy family where everyone will love each other [he begins
to sing] We are the world we are the children

Many in the audience laugh at the speakers reference to a particularly cheesy song
(although a good percentage of them are probably too young to know this was not
associated with an anti-racism campaign). Notably, this final foregrounding the
speaker leaves unresolved, and he arguably does not need to do so. The
explanatory power of evolutionary reasoning is already presupposed in his
commentary (and this Social Event setting). By applying evolutionary reasoning to
anti-racism initiatives, reformers could alleviate the kinds of ineffectual naivet that
he criticizes here.

Example 2c: Its an emperor with no clothes. In this example, a lecturer who
spoke on the status of evolutionary reasoning in economics is in discussion with
students at the Social Event, where he has outlined a current problem with his
discipline. He argues that academic economists do not accept the possibility that
humans are (by nature) capable of unselfish behavior. The lecturer draws heavily on


arguments posed by David Sloan Wilson that Homo sapiens are actually group-
oriented, and readily make economic decisions that do not directly benefit their
own survival and reproduction, but rather contribute to their social group (see D.S.
Wilson 2009; D.S. Wilson et al. 2013).
This foregrounded attack on his own discipline is then taken up by the Social
Event moderator (Wilson), who jumps in:
I just want to make clear this perspective is flying in the face of self
regarding preferences one question I want to ask or comment I
want to make is to just make crystal clear this concept of self
regarding preferences we have to keep in mind that economics is the
emperor with no clothes right?

To this, the lecturer responds Yeah, and Wilson continues:

Economic theory is this huge gigantic thing and its an emperor
with no clothes and how did it get that way? It got that way by
privileging this sort of mathematical formula where in order to
proceed mathematically you had to make assumptions about human
beings which were absurd the way people are could not be included
in this mathematical model because then it wouldnt be practical
and from that beginning which was a century ago

As his commentary here demonstrates, Wilson has taken this lecturers
foregrounding to greater extremes, posing that the working assumptions of the
latters discipline are absurd for their rejection of evolutionary reasoning. He
makes accusations that could not be made in the Seminar Series lecture, not only
because he has interrupted the lecturer, but also because his attack is so vehement.

Next, Wilson extends this attack to include rejection of evolutionary

reasoning in non-academic institutions, and his delivery (predictably) becomes even

more dire:
We have this edifice which has been built up which is steering our
worldwide economic policy and it bears no relationship what so


ever to the kind of species that we are lets be clear about this this is
amazing when you think about it this state of affairs just to
appreciate the enormity of it and to convince yourself that thats the
way it is is so hard so complicated you know this cant be true
but it is

Even more so than my previous examples, Wilson leaves his foregroundings here
almost entirely uncontextualized. In one sense, this is unsurprising because (as is
apparent by now) Wilson is continuously championing this very proposition in
nearly every public appearance he makes. However, the foundational status of
evolutionary reasoning is presupposed in this setting, and its relevance to resolving
the problems of both academic and non-academic economics should be obvious to
all present.

Example 2d: If we were all baboons wed be beating the shit out of each other
In this last example, a visiting lecturer (also discussed in Example 2b) has given a
talk about evolutionary reasoning and moral philosophy. In this lecturer (and the
following Social Event) he argues that U.S. liberals need to use evolutionary
reasoning to understand conservatives value systems. These values, he proposes,
reflect group-level adaptations of ancestral humans, and function to enforce social
hierarchies that liberals tend to criticize. Understanding these innate, social-
psychological adaptations will ground liberalism in evolutionary knowledge about
human nature. Here, he explains:
If you took any other species of primate and stuck us all together this
room I mean with food and females and beer thered be chaos
and pandemonium trust me if we were all baboons wed be
beating the shit out of each other


The audience laughs at this lecturers profanity, and likely also the fact that he
indexes the Social Event-at-hand as an example of the inherent orderliness of
human (as opposed to baboon) nature. He continues:
but we do this really really well somehow were able to live among
complete strangers and get along pretty well our evolved systems
here are sorta designed to make us good group members these
systems are designed to help us uh take care of our kin and
develop profitable alliances

The speaker then moves to analogically extend this affirmation of evolutionary
reasoning to explain the values of conservatives:
If you really get into the conservative culture and most importantly
this is a crucial thing if you can truly understand - what these people
are after so I dont think that anybody can understand conservatism
unless they understand what this stuff is about then a lot of
mystery will vanish

However, like the lecturer in Example 3b, this lecture interrupts this
contextualization to create yet another foregrounding, which he punctuates by
pounding on the desk beside him and yelling:
But if you go to conservatives and you say [pounding on a desk] This
is morality! If theyre not equal Its wrong! Im right women have to
be equal everyone has to be equal youre going to get ignored and
not get anywhere everywhere cuz the people youre studying dont
agree with you

The lecturers foregrounding then becomes a more explicit attack on liberal
and my sense from dealing with the people who do this is that theyre
Marxists theyre extreme liberals they dont get this theyre very
self-righteous they think that in every other culture - that hierarchy
is fascism!

Clearly, the speakers foregrounding here is quite unsubtle. Not only is he banging
on the desk at his side, but he is more-or-less accusing liberal academics of being


fanatical reactionaries. This is something like a creative index of an EvoS in-house
ideology, insofar as participants tend to accuse this same group of rejecting
evolutionary reasoning. To this end, it would seem that the speaker would, once
again, resolve his final foregrounding by reaffirming evolutionary reasoning as a
foundational explanation. But he does not, because as I have remarked before he
does not need to.

4. Criticisms and their Consequences in the Social Event

During my fieldwork in the EvoS Social Events, I witnessed only two

instances of serious audience criticism directed toward a lecturer that is, the kind
of criticisms that led to the kinds of modes of defense that I detail in my discussion
of the Question and Answer Sessions. Given the general tenor of these events, this
relative absence of criticism is perhaps not surprising. The safe space of the Social
Event it seems is primarily defined by the presupposition shared by most
attendees that evolutionary reasoning offers foundational explanations about
social life, and is therefore relevant across all academic disciplines.

The challenges that I witnessed in the EvoS Social Events came from Current

Topics students that is, not from outsiders, but from individuals well versed in
evolutionary science and familiar with the work of the visiting lecturer from
preparatory readings for the course. Unsurprisingly, these challenges are rather
intense, given these students knowledge base. Certainly this is the case, and these
two instances (particular the second) caused significant tensions when they took


However, I am not so much concerned here with the challenges that these

students offer as the manner of response they receive from visiting lecturers.
Interestingly, while the modes of defense I describe in Chapter Five appear here
briefly, these lecturers are astonishingly straightforward in their replies to these
criticisms. Rather than dismissing, deflecting, or attempting to assimilate the
students challenge, they offer answers that are (for lack of a better phrase) bluntly
honest responses that likely would have avoided (if not more thoroughly
critiqued) in the Seminar Series Question and Answer Sessions. To this end, I take
these responses as further evidence of the safe space that has been created in this
setting, and the shared presuppositions of participants within it.

Example 3a: Im not a cultural anthropologist Im an evolutionary
psychologist. In this example, a Current Topics student challenges the research
assumptions of a visiting lecturer. At the time, I was sitting next to this individual,
who was previously a student in a class in which I was a teaching assistant. During
the Social Event, he was told by the Social Event moderator (who was disappointed
by poor participation) that he would be expected to ask a question in a few minutes
time. This student informed me in the following moments how much he disliked this
practice, and decided he was going to use the opportunity to criticize (what he
viewed as) weaknesses in the lecturers research.

Handed the microphone by the EvoS moderator, this student poses to the

All these studies youve done they were on Americans right?... So Im
thinking like if you did tests on other areas like say a society that is
run by communism do you think the tests might be different and


youd have to come to different conclusions?... I just wanted to know
because you havent done studies really outside the U.S. how can
you come to conclusions youre assuming that the entire world will
come up with the same answers but you really havent tested it So?

It is important to note that this question is an extremely controversial matter in
evolutionary research. Many critics have challenged theorists claims that they have
uncovered universal behaviors or values the universiality of such phenomena
being more-or-less a precondition for an argument that they are adaptations from a
distant evolutionary past (see McKinnon 2005a, 2005b; McCaughey 2008; Smith
2005:130-152). These critics point out that theories in fields like evolutionary
psychology tended to assume such human universals, although research is not
conducted outside the U.S., and sometimes is restricted to surveys at a single
university. In this sense, this student is posing a challenge to adaptationism, one of
the basic presuppositions of evolutionary reasoning in the EvoS Program, as well.

The lecturer pauses, looking somewhat bothered, and then responds:

Let me ask you- are you from Boston or Providence?

The student responds no, and the class begins to chuckle because this students
Long Island accent is quite pronounced. The lecturer seems amused by this,
apparently not knowing that this is the home of a huge number of Binghamton
University students. He pushes the matter:
Would you tell us where youre from?

Unabashed, the student nearly shouts:

Me? Im from Long Island!

The room immediately fills with laughter and applause, likely because it is filled
with many students who were also born and raised in Long Island.


It seems reasonable to observe that this lecturer was attempting a dismissal

of a similar kind as I detail in the Seminar Series Question and Answer Sessions.
Pressed by an exceedingly difficult audience criticism, speakers sometimes make
jokes at the audience members expense. In this case, however, the lecturers
attempt at humor has backfired. Instead, he takes a more assertive approach:
Okay - its an entirely fair question I have a couple of reactions
nothing has actually been studied in every single place and in every
single kind of way so Ill throw it back to you and that is why
would you expect a difference?

The lecturer has here attempted posed a deflection to the students criticism,
similar to an example I offer in Chapter Five. He throws the question back to the
student, rather than answering directly. However, the students response is
reasonably well founded:
Well couldnt it be through kinds of cultural transmission that say
in a communist society theyd be brought up with different values
than in America

Interestingly, in a maneuver that we did not witness in the Seminar Series Question
and Answer, the lecturer decides to give a quite straightforward explanation:
I guess this sort of implicates my bias Im not a cultural
anthropologist Im an evolutionary psychologist I start from the
point of view that were a human animal and that weve evolved
certain kind of inclinations that are likely shared that exist so we
spread out across the globe we develop these cultures and all this
kind of stuff thats relatively recent but weve sort of been human
and humanoid or whatever you wanna say for a much longer time
than that so I sort of presume at a fundamental level

Responding to this students rather intense criticism, the lecturer attempted two
modes of defense: First he tried to dismiss the students challenge by pointing out his
accent (a maneuver that failed), and second he attempts to deflect the challenge by


throwing the question back to the student (a maneuver which evokes a fairly lucid,
if not equally challenging rebuttal). Finally, the lecturer simply comes clean and
explains that the assumptions of his research are much in keeping with evolutionary
reasoning in general, particularly the adaptationist arguments of evolutionary
As I mention above, this final move is a response to criticism that did not take
place in the Question and Answer Sessions. Allowing that there are very few
criticisms of that kind in the Social Events, I suggest that the speakers openness in
this instance is influenced by the setting itself, most especially the possibility that
the ideologies that comprise the EvoS Programs evolutionary reasoning are the
presuppositions of this context. Unlike the Question and Answer Sessions, it is more
or less appropriate for a lecturer to admit that he or she is a member of this social
movement in this setting. Further, considering the kinds of practice and
demonstration of students and lecturers in this event, it seems likely that this
lecturer was unconcerned with the immediate implications of an admission of the
kind he makes here. To this end, he is in the fold of like-minded colleagues.

Example 3b: I wanted to write something which annoyed people. This second
example of a Social Event criticism became rather infamous during my fieldwork, for
reasons that will become clear. The critic was a graduate student, well known in the
EvoS Program for voicing strong opinions (although, to this point, not directly to a
lecturer in a Seminar Series Social Event). During the previous week, this student
and I interacted several times, and she explained her deep agitation at the weeks


readings. In her interpretation of the assigned article, the upcoming Seminar Series
lecturer was disparaging indigenous belief systems by labeling them superstitions.
To her credit, I (and other participants) found this lecturers article egregious for its
glib tone and egregious examples of human sacrifice and cannibalism. I was
surprised, however, that this student was so angered by it, to the extent that she was
trembling while she confronted him, with tears in her eyes.

This example takes place approximately 40 minutes into a Social Event, when

this student takes the microphone and challenges the lecturer:

You frame supernatural beliefs from a western cultural construct
and the language you use in your article links belief in the
supernatural to evil murderers mental illness cannibals nave
intuition mass delusion but for many cultures in the world the
supernatural is normalized and is a belief system so how do you
address the terminology that you use that might lead other people to
have the wrong worldview of impression of people who have a
normalized supernatural outside of western science

Besides her obvious exasperation, the students criticism is complexly posed in the
jargon of contemporary Social Science. This said, her challenge is a deeply cutting
one: she is accusing this lecturer of misleading his audiences by disparaging the
beliefs of already oppressed and disenfranchised groups.

Remarkably, this lecturer is quite forthcoming in his response:

I wanted to write an article that was an article for a magazine some
years ago I wanted to write something provocative I wanted to
write something which annoyed people because it didnt smack of
anything like spiritualism vitalism all the sorts of things you were
talking about because I think the problem is as soon as you put
these things out there to be discussed everyone has an opinion on
the supernatural and these opinions are very emotive so I have
tried deliberately strategically to avoid discussing religion and go
through the sorts of things where people just cant understand why
anyone would do anything like that and these are often sort of


emotive issues and that is why it was killers and stuff like that it
was a ploy deliberately chosen to catch the attention of readers

While his comments do not explicitly invoke evolutionary reasoning, this lecturers
response (to a quite cutting criticism) parallels that of response eventually given by
the visiting EvoS speaker in Example 4a. He does not attempt to dismiss or deflect
this students challenge, but rather assumes that his take on this matter is part of
the presuppositions and openness of this setting. That is, he is up front about his
intentions to annoy and provoke his reading audience with (arguably) an article-
length foregrounding of taboo topicalizations.

What happens next in this interaction demonstrates just how successful the

lecturer was in this task. The student retorts:

But you linked it to voodoo dolls you linked it to the evil eye so
the supernatural is normalized in many indigenous cultures and
through this article is now seen as a very negative connotation
having a very negative connotation upon people who actually believe
in the supernatural and when people find that entertaining and
when its glossed over to be attractive to suit your purpose I find
that to be very dangerous and not much below eugenics

It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the most inflammatory suggestion that
one could make of an evolutionary scientist. To challenge that a use of evolutionary
reasoning smacks of eugenics is tantamount to calling its author a scientific racist.
Predictably, the students statement is followed by an incredibly tense pause,
with no small amount of audience whispering and nervous laughter. Finally, the
lecturer responds:
I think that is a very serious accusation to make

He then turns rather stunned to the moderator and the rest of the audience:

I mean thats incredible!


The EvoS moderator attempts to defuse the situation as audience members mutter
to one another:
Yeah I think that might be a misinterpretation of the article but
your point is taken I think what you [the lecturer] said is that you
were intentionally taking on a different framework here its not
the only framework possible

But he lecturer is offended, nearly shouting:

I do take objection to calling it eugenics I mean YOU CANT SAY THAT

The student does not back down:

Well I did

At this point, the moderator immediately decides to end the Social Event,
So we want to thank our speaker hes been very gracious

What took place next remains (to me) unclear. The lecturer left the hall quite
quickly, before even any of the students had risen to leave. In later conversation
with the student who posed this challenge, she explains that he was ushered from
the room by the EvoS moderator, perhaps out of fear that the argument would
escalate. Upon reflection, however, it seems likely that he simply stormed out. In any
case, this interaction remained for some time the most controversial and remarked-
upon episode in the Binghamton EvoS Program.

Though I think this confrontation is important for its heated subject matter, I

want here to reiterate the point that I have made throughout this chapter: This
speakers initial response to a student criticism was not a mode of defense, but
rather a quite frank explanation, delivered in a setting that was agreeable to the


presuppositions of his research although clearly not as much as he would have
liked. I suggest that his openness in responding in this way is indicative of the safe
space of the Social Events. Allowing that her remarks would have been
inflammatory anywhere, but considering the many examples that I present above, I
further suggest that the problems caused by the students challenge was a result of
this safety and openness being violated. Her accusation can be seen as the
ultimate challenge to the foundational status of evolutionary reasoning, insofar it
calls into question the relevance of evolutionary reasoning for explaining social life
or resolving its problems.

5. EvoS at the University of Lisbon and The Inquisition against Evolution
In Chapter Five, I offer additional ethnographic details on the first Seminar
Series events at SUNY New Paltz, where the Tiger Incident resulted in some rather
surprising new resources for promoting EvoS. There, I proposed that participants
had recreated the in-house ideologies and first principle of the Binghamton EvoS
Program, as well as the foregrounding-contextualization patterns of its lectures and
the modes of defense employed in its question and answer sessions. Organizers of
that program additionally reframed their critics and criticisms as new resources,
which they used to challenge academic rejections of evolutionary reasoning and
further promote this movement.
Here, I discuss another EvoS Program, focusing on the Social Event which
followed its end-of-semester symposium. Like EvoS at SUNY New Paltz, this
program recreates many of the ideologies and first principle of the original EvoS at
Binghamton. While this Social Event does not include the kinds of drama that


transpired at New Paltz, its participants utilize the safe space of this event in ways
quite similar to those I describe in this chapter.
In 2009, David Sloan Wilson announced the formation of the first EvoS
Program outside North American, at the University of Lisbon (UL), and the program
held its first classes and symposium in 2011. That spring, two EvoS courses (one
undergraduate and one graduate-level) were offered at the universitys Faculty of
Science (Faculdade de Cincias) in Campo Grande, a northern municipality of Lisbon.
Like the introductory EvoS course at Binghamton and New Paltz, Wilsons Evolution
for Everyone is the central textbook for both.46 The UL EvoS website offers a
description of the programs goals directed more at affirming the foundational
status of evolutionary reasoning:
Like all other species on Earth, we evolved through natural selection:
evolution should thus enable us to learn more about ourselves and
our societies by providing a framework that helps us understand how
we learn, how we interact, how we negotiate, how our brains function,
etc. Because of this potential explanatory power evolutions
importance extends from biology to other fields, including economics,
linguistics, history, political science, education, or psychology. With
the exception of biology and closely related areas (medicine,
agriculture), the theory of evolution has not been used to its full
interdisciplinary potential. Sadly, in instances where it has been used,
results have been poor or controversial, due to misunderstandings of
what evolution is or of what it tells us about ourselves.47

Clearly, the Lisbon website echoes its predecessors by quite explicitly affirming
evolutionary reasonings status as a foundational explanation for social life. Further,
this description indexes the in-house ideologies of the EvoS Program by praising the


A Evoluco para Todos, the Portuguese translation of Wilsons (2007) general-audience book was
released in 2009 by the Lisbon publishing house, Gradiva.

http://evos.fc.ul.pt/index.php, English in original


great potential for academic and public enlightenment that can be found through
evolutionary reasoning, while lamenting that it has been dismissed for its
controversial nature.

At the end of the Spring 2011 semester, the UL EvoS founders organized a

symposium, which (like the EvoS Seminar Series at Binghamton and SUNY New
Paltz) students were required to attend. The keynote speaker at this event was
David Sloan Wilson, resulting in his online essay titled Evolution Comes Out of
Hiding in Lisbon (2011a). The six-hour symposium included a reception and
welcoming words from the UL EvoS organizers, a coffee break, and an hour-long,
general discussion at its close. The visiting lecturers were professors of biology,
economics, and social psychology at universities in the U.S., Spain, and Holland.
According to Wilson,
the room filled to overflowing with people eager to hear what
evolutionary science might have to say about our capacity to decide
our own future []. [F]or the people who overflowed the lecture hall
for the symposium, it was obvious that disciplines such as social
psychology and economics cry out for an evolutionary perspective.
[D.S. Wilson 2011a]

The UL EvoS Symposium obviously proceeded without the kinds of controversy of
the first Seminar Series event at New Paltz. However, David Sloan Wilson recounts
the following Social Event with a strongly worded description of the academic
rejection of evolutionary reasoning that he and his fellow participants.
For dinner, Wilsons hosts served him Farinheira, a beef sausage invented
during the Spanish Inquisition by Jews who fooled their persecutors into believing
they were breaking tradition by eating pork. Learning the historical significance of
this sausage, Wilson poses a comparison:


I couldn't help noticing a similarity between Jews hiding their faith
during the Inquisition and the way that evolution has been hiding for
the study of humanity during the last half-century or so. How else can
the sheer novelty of an EvoS program and the symposium that took
place earlier in the day be explained? [D.S. Wilson 2011a]

Admittedly, Wilsons analogy is something of a logical leap. But his (very) creative
index of an EvoS in-house ideology is clear the novelty of EvoS and the
symposium suggests to him that scientists must be hiding their evolutionary
reasoning from critics who fear and attempt to marginalize it (like the Jews hid their
traditions from the Inquisition).
Continuing his discussion of this Social Event, Wilson explains that one
speaker from the UL EvoS Symposium offered his hosts a personal testimony about
witnessing some of the mid-1970s debates over sociobiology at Harvard (which I
discuss in Chapter Two). This speaker recalled how he attended an early gathering
of the Sociobiology Study Group,
just after the publication of Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology. The
story of how Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould organized a
Marxist attack against Wilson for the final chapter of Sociobiology on
humans is well known, but Michael actually witnessed one of the first
meetings during his visit. He was shocked, describing it during our
dinner in Lisbon as like the thought control that took place in Maoist
China. [D.S. Wilson 2011a]

Wilsons dinner companion became a full professor in biology, but since his
graduate education became profoundly interested in an evolutionary explanations
for free will. Wilson writes that this UL EvoS speaker
has been developing his ideas ever since, but always hidden, based on
his experience at Harvard, which convinced him that going public
might ruin his career. His talk at Lisbon was one of the first times that
he has come out of hiding. [D.S. Wilson 2011a]


As Wilson relates this story, it functions similarly to his sausage analogy as an
elongated and intensifying index of the academic rejection of evolutionary
reasoning, and testimonial evidence of its impact upon the intellectual freedoms of
professional scientists.

Finally, after documenting his dinner guests struggles, Wilson offers his own

testimony as an up-and-coming professor during the 1990s. At this time, he

[t]hose who did openly think about human sociobiology and its
successor, evolutionary psychology, describe it as a battle with their
careers very much in the balance. When I organized the annual
meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) at
Binghamton University in 1993, I brashly invited Gould to be the
keynote speaker. He accepted but the founding members of HBES
were so aghast that they forced me to retract my invitation. One of
them actually said that it would be like inviting Hitler to a Jewish
convention. I admire Gould's and Lewontin's positive contributions to
evolutionary science, but their role in stigmatizing the study of
evolution in relation to human affairs is nothing to be proud of. [D.S.
Wilson 2011a]

It is unclear how much of this story is hyperbole (or what exactly a Jewish
convention might be), but Wilson is unsubtly carrying this metaphor of persecution
into his own professional experience. His colleagues feelings of persecution in 1993
(the residual effects of the sociobiology debates) caused them to blanch at the
invitation Wilson extended to Stephen Jay Gould, leading one of them (assumedly
half-seriously) to compare Goulds antagonism toward them to Hitlers persecution
of European Jews. Wilsons testimony is sympathetic to their complaints, and thus
allows his comparison between the persecution of evolutionary reasoning with a
third oppressive historic epoch.


Given that Wilsons essay is likely the sole English language report on the UL
EvoS Symposium (and certainly the most easily accessed), it is curious that he
includes such esoteric details about evolutionary reasoning in U.S. higher education.
Moreover, considering that he spent two years excitedly promoting this new Evo
Program, it is remarkable that Wilson uses this essay to compare the academic
critics of evolutionary reasoning to (respectively) the Spanish Inquisition, Maoist
China, and Hitlers Germany. Even with these dire comparisons, Wilsons
commentary ends on a positive note, quipping, let's hope that the inquisition
against evolution is over, and what better way to celebrate than over good food,
good wine, and good company in Lisbon (D.S. Wilson 2011a).

The interactions that Wilson describes taking place in Lisbon parallel those

of the EvoS Binghamton Social Events. Participants in this gathering utilize an

assumedly safe space to pose rather cutting complaints about academic rejections
of evolutionary reasoning, going so far as to compare their experiences to life under
various historical, persecuting regimes.

6. EvoS Social Events and the Recruitment of New Participants

The details of my research suggest that EvoS organizers put a good deal of

energy and money into attracting students to the program. The Social Events are the
most conspicuous example of these efforts. Students are given free food and
beverages, in an often-celebratory atmosphere. They are encouraged to practice
their understanding of evolutionary reasoning (with the guidance of experts). They
can be entertained with ribald or unrestrained narratives by their elders, and on


occasion treated to unabashed disclosure of the lives of professional academics. In
addition to all of this, they are earning course credits and grades for their
attendance and participation in the Seminar Series. These activities and incentives
require the EvoS Program to organize spaces for its events, advertise across campus
with paper and electronic promotions, and pay for graduate student labor, lecturers
travel and speaking fees, as well as food and beer for participants. Moreover,
organizers and lecturers must commit their time and energy to coaxing students to
participate, dealing with those who break various rules, and maintaining general
order in these activities.
The sum total is an extraordinary investment in maintaining and spreading
this programs ideologies, while simultaneously satisfying the requirements of an
institution that EvoS (somewhat ironically) aims to criticize and transform.
Considering such investment of resources, the question emerges of whether or not
the program successfully persuades students toward its way of thinking about
higher education and (ultimately) human social life in general. That is, do the
contextualizations of new meanings stick in students perspectives of their
education and, more broadly, their explanations of human existence?
To consider if (and how) students are persuaded to think about higher
education, I would like to first assess the fate of the EvoS Programs in-house
ideologies. As I have shown, the in-house ideologies show a good deal of consistency
across settings and over time. Following my arguments in Chapter Three (and after),
they may be understood as rather commonplace within the broader evolutionary
science community. Professional proponents of evolutionary reasoning consider the


dismissal and rejection of their perspectives to be a matter of dire importance in U.S.
society. They end to perceive this as doubt about the authority of scientific
knowledge, as well as an affront to their professions, disciplines, and research.

However, for student participants in the EvoS Program, the in-house

ideologies do not seem especially resonating. In both my interviews and their

contributions to Social Event discussions, students did not typically concern
themselves with the challenges that are of primary concern to David Sloan Wilson,
his graduate students, and the programs visiting lecturers. In interviews, the topic
actually seemed to make some students confused and uncomfortable, although
others expressed worries that their training in evolutionary science might expose
them to criticisms in their graduate education or professional lives. Many knew of
feminist criticisms of evolutionary reasoning, for example, and most were
conversant with the history of eugenics and Social Darwinism.

But, to these student participants, the academic (and also non-academic)

legitimacy of evolutionary reasoning is more important than the solidarity or

momentum of this social movement. These students are not necessarily involved or
invested in the kinds of professional tensions that evolutionary science has inspired
in U.S. higher education. While they certainly hear the kinds of harrowing
testimonies offered by Wilson and others in EvoS, they have not experienced these
situations themselves, and so programs the in-house ideologies bear little relevance
to their own lives.
Yet, it might be suggested that the students general disinterest in these
ideologies actually benefit of this movement. That is, the in-house ideologies do not


greatly concern them, because the foundational status of evolutionary reasoning is,
for them, largely presupposed. They understood the real threat to evolutionary
theory to be the various challenges of creationism and Intelligent Design, which they
knew from the news, popular science readings, and even arguments with their
friends and families.
In this sense, the maintenance and spread of this social movement is a
process in which the in-house ideologies simply lose their utility. But this is hardly
surprising. The EvoS events I detail in this research complement (in an academic
setting) students presuppositions that evolutionary reasoning is superior to
counter-arguments in the non-academic realm. The interactions in these academic
settings rely upon such presuppositions, but they are information not statable
before the interaction begins, or independently of it (Auer 1996:20). In plainer
terms, the organizers and visiting speakers in EvoS cannot simply ask We all believe
in evolution, right? Instead, the belief in evolution that participants presumably
share must be oriented toward a less obvious goal using evolutionary science to
restructure higher education and (ultimately) other social institutions. Their
continued participation in the EvoS is thus re-conceptualized as something more
directly political than their simple conviction that evolution is true. This conviction
becomes charged with new significance, such that the students become (knowingly
or not) ambassadors of the movements conviction that evolution is not only true,
but should be employed as an explanation for all social life.
Of course, student participants are required to attend and participate in the
EvoS Seminar Series. To this end, something quite mundane is being argued by EvoS


promoters as driven by the students commitment to the programs goals. The
movements reconceptualization of student participation is reinforced by various
other means: They appear in promotional photos. Their evaluations of the
programs activities are used in popular publications and grant proposals. EvoS
organizers weigh their performances in other courses against those of non-EvoS
students. Most simply, students must register as members of EvoS to enroll in the
Seminar Series course, adding to the programs ranks through their interest in
taking a 2-credit class.
As I suggest in Chapter One, such actions are much in keeping with a social
movements modus operandi. As the arguments of the movement extend to more
and more settings, the mundane routines and obligations of peoples everyday lives
become representations of the movements spread and endurance. As Benford and
Snow comment,
social movements are not viewed merely as carriers of extant ideas
and meanings that grow automatically out of structural arrangements
[]. Rather, movement actors are viewed as signifying agents actively
engaged in the production and maintenance of meaning for
constituents, antagonists, and bystanders or observers. [2000:613]

For the EvoS Program, extensive student participation signals their commitment to
the aims of EvoS and spreading acceptance of evolutionary reasoning in higher

Certainly the organizers of EvoS put great effort into persuading students of

the superiority of evolutionary reasoning, as well as promoting the their growing

group of student supporters. However, my own interviews with undergraduate
participants in the Seminar Series suggest that EvoS organizers frequently


overestimate their successes. Many graduate students and faculty have abandoned
the series, some of who voiced their displeasure at the programs rather flippant
way of dealing with their critiques. Some undergraduate participants felt a similar
dissatisfaction. They explained to me that they found the Seminar Series events
condescending, redundant, and occasionally downright strange. Like others, they
described EvoS in religious terms, sometimes complaining that it felt more like a
cult than an education program. Some were also disappointed by the programs
very broad application of evolutionary science, methods that they saw as contrary to
the basic principles of Darwinism. Likely the most common complaint that I heard
was that the Seminar Series was just too simple unstimulating and lacking in
meaningful challenges.


Chapter Seven: Contextualization, Socialization and the Fate of EvoS

In this research, I gather together the driving linguistic and ideological
components within the EvoS Programs activities and relationships those
interpersonal elements of the program that seem necessary for its endurance and
spread. I have shown that these are numerous and often complexly intertwined. In
any of the interactions that I analyze here, the presuppositions are potentially
infinite. They include dozens of typically un-remarked-upon assumptions, ranging
from students conduct in a classroom to the socio-cultural authority of science.
However, as I suggest from the outset, countless presuppositions could be cataloged
for any social interaction. The most relevant presuppositions are uncovered when
some instance of foregrounding takes place. In this way, socio-linguistic life can be
understood as a continuous interplay of relatively presupposed and creative
indexicals, and such an approach will offer useful insights whether examining the
mundane or the very contentious moments of social life.

The EvoS Program demonstrates the quite exaggerated ways that this

interplay of presupposed and creative indexicals can unfold within a social

movement. Social movements generate controversies that are a worthwhile focus
for studying socio-linguistic life in general. The ideologies indexed by movement
participants will probably provoke significant reactions (both positive and
negative), as will the introduction of these ideologies into new settings. For socio-


cultural research, controversy has the benefit of drawing out those core values that
people find worth advocating or defending. In a sense, controversy makes people
shout the values that they normally do not find worth mentioning. Further,
controversy may show the processes by which these values (and their associated
practices, relationships, identities, and symbols) undergo change. Insofar as social
movements are determined to transform what they see as an unacceptable status
quo, their activities and relationships give unsubtle demonstrations of the broader
dynamics of socio-linguistic life.

The introduction and spread of new, possibly contentious meanings is a

repetitive and self-reinforcing process. In this case study of EvoS, I identify several
component parts of this process: New meanings must be contextualized as the
dominant and resonating message through a variety of settings and over time. While
these meanings are necessarily novel, the settings in which they are introduced
must include a variety of normal or unsurprising elements. These might include the
identities and roles of the people who participate, rules for participation,
expectations for interactions and good conduct, and deference to authority. These
elements normalize the introduction of new meanings for participants, suggesting to
participants (and outsiders) that it is enduring, spreading, and gaining broader
The introduction and promotion of new meanings will undoubtedly be
challenged as they enter wider, more diverse settings. Proponents of these
meanings are obliged to defend them, and EvoS provides many examples of how this
might be done: Critics may be dismissed or ridiculed as unreasonable, conservative,


or reactionary. In the face of criticism, proponents of new meanings may reiterate
them in increasingly egregious ways, thus underscoring the radical or innovative
nature of their own positions to the stogy ways of their critics. Conversely, new
meanings may be analogically linked to other, less disputable ideologies those
dealing with freedom, democracy, public health, or the protection of children. New,
often-contentious meanings are thus argued as intertwined with indispensible
social values, forcing critics into less-defensible positions.
Finally, EvoS shows us that the successful contextualization of new meanings
requires not just their repetition and defense, but the socialization of new
proponents. Previously un-persuaded individuals must be taught new ways of
interpreting their relationships and experiences. They need to practice making their
own arguments, be praised or corrected, and shown how to defend their positions
against doubters. Those instructing them must present compelling connections
between these new meanings and the most valued ideologies of the society, thus
interweaving them with more taken-for-granted truths. The initiates must be
rewarded for their efforts, given meaningful responsibilities, and encouraged to
apply new ways of thinking to their daily lives. In short, these newly recruited
individuals need to see themselves (and be seen by spectators) as a growing group
of people who think differently. From this, I conclude that the introduction,
endurance, and spread of new ideas are facilitated by their continual
contextualizations, which should ultimately understand as a process of socialization.

To explain this point more thoroughly, I would like to return to the three

types of contextualization that I have documented in this research: abstraction,


analogical extension, and reflexive recursion. Doing so, I want to take my evidence
in this research as a whole, drawing broader conclusions about the ways that
people might be socialized toward new, controversial ways of thinking. As is surely
apparent, this will directly address my central research question on the introduction
and spread of new meanings.

1. Abstraction

Contextualizations of the EvoS Programs first principle rarely take place

without the simultaneous representation of the program and its critics as relatively
autonomous socio-cultural forms. This involves strategically juxtaposing the pre-
existing, largely presupposed activities, ideologies, and identities of the university as
belonging to the movement or (conversely) those that the program challenges. This
is an absolutely essential component of social movement activities. Movement
interactions necessarily exclude or include certain facts of the material and social
surroundings (Auer 1996:20) as they are contextualized in participant interactions.
Both insiders and outsiders are represented as unified, homogeneous
communities, despite the diversity of opinions and identities that doubtlessly exist
there. More or less definitive boundaries are drawn around and between groups. In
my analysis, I call this process abstraction, precisely because its actors abstract
useful and juxtaposable units from an obviously more complicated and diverse
socio-cultural landscape.

For the EvoS Program, such abstractions juxtapose the proponents of

evolutionary reasoning against a larger, un-persuaded, academic majority.

Resistance to the broad embrace of evolutionary reasoning is the central function of


the in-house ideologies. The non-evolutionary status quo of academic disciplines
and inquiries has marginalized (or outright rejected) evolutionary reasoning,
privileging instead a variety of political and professional convictions. The programs
deliveries of such dichotomous representations are not simply a matter of telling
event participants that such institutional divisions exist. Rather, critics are invited to
these events and encouraged to voice their dissatisfaction with the programs
arguments. These living representations of the movements opponents are then (in
one way or another) dispensed with, through humor, distraction, or outright
dismissal. Of course, to invite such critical interactions is a risky maneuver. Critics
could show speakers or organizers to hold untenable convictions about evolution,
science, or other institutions that audiences likely hold in high regard. This said,
critics at the programs events are consistently outnumbered, constrained, or simply

The examples I present in this research offer themselves to broader

suggestions about the introduction, spread, and endurance of controversial ideas

and practices. To contextualize new meanings to broad audiences, proponents may
draw broad abstractions about the sides of the controversy. Proponents and critics
may be represented as (again) homogenous communities, whose focus on
championing or defeating new meanings are their defining traits. A diversity of
perspectives is unlikely to be a significant concern in such representations. In this
sense, on all sides of a controversy, particular individuals and groups are
understood as personifying one side or the other. Differences within these sides are
deprioritized, and the diverse arguments of different individuals who are


understood as belonging to one side or the other will likely be presupposed to index
a particular ideology of that side. As Theo Van Dijk argues of the problem of
contextualization in general,
If a recipient, based on previous experiences, defines a speaker as a
male chauvinist, then much of what he says will be heard as an
expression of male chauvinism whether or not there are
contextualization cues that warrant such an interpretation []. That
is, the mental models recipients build when interpreting discourse
may also be construed on the basis of inferences about ideological
intentions of speakers as inferred from previous experiences, hearsay
or other reliable information about a speaker. [2006:130]

Importantly, what controversy shows us is that such presupposed knowledge must
come from somewhere. A significant source of such presuppositions will likely be
the abstractions of individuals (and groups of individuals) into juxtaposed
representations of belonging and opposition.

Abstraction plays a significant role in the socialization of recently joined

members. Just as this contextualization process represents critics of a movement as

a unified, coherent unit, it also situates movement participants as constituent parts
of a coherent, ideological community. For the EvoS Program, the most visible
attempts to socialize new members take place in the Seminar Series Lectures and
Social Events, when students are encouraged to recognize that evolutionary
reasoning is marginalized and threatened in higher education. For example, EvoS
promoters consistently celebrate this programs status as the preferred academic
home for its student participants, who do not find similar thinking among their
peers and teachers in other disciplines. More thorough socialization occurs as
student participants are encouraged to practice constructing their own
contextualizations of the programs first principle within the programs Social


Events. These events unfold in a space that is separate from the other academic
settings, where organizers and visiting lecturers offer extensive criticisms of higher
education while coaching students to understand their own university as divided
into evolutionary thinkers and their critics.

Considering abstraction to be a process of socialization, it is useful to return

to the fate of the in-house ideologies indexed throughout the Seminar Series. As I
explain in Chapter Six, the programs in-house ideologies do not seem to particularly
resonate with many student participants. This is unsurprising, because these
students are not professionally threatened by the (argued) challenges and
discrimination faced by evolutionary thinkers in higher education. Though some
were persuaded of the importance such tensions, these complaints were largely
background noise for many others, some of whom considered them irritating
digressions. Students who found importance in the complaints of EvoS speakers and
organizers typically understood this division of the university in non-academic
terms. In this sense, they equated doubts about evolutionary reasoning in the Social
Sciences and Humanities with the broader rejection of evolutionary science in the
United States. They were often incredulous toward the non-academic challenges of
evolutionary science posed by Intelligent Design and creationism, and were
confused or exasperated why such doubts would exist in higher education.

2. Analogical Extension
In my first chapter, I suggest that a social movements maintenance and
spread largely depend on challenging an institution in (more or less) normative
fashions. The contextualizations of social movement activities are thus likely to


point to other ideologies. Further, these ideologies most probably possess greater
scope than those of the movement, and would more-or-less ground the
movements legitimacy. That is, the movement (an agitating force in the social
landscape) is aligned with more unquestionable ideologies and unshakable
institutions. The contextualizations of these ideologies can in this way be expected
to include information not statable before the interaction begins, or independently
of it (Auer 1996:20). I term these kinds of contextualizations analogical extensions,
insofar as they incorporate external ideologies as the shared meanings of
participant interactions.
Given the rather ambitious arguments and goals of the EvoS Program, I was
unsurprised to find an abundance of analogical extensions (of various kinds)
present in the programs events, publications, and promotions. The ideologies that
make up the programs evolutionary reasoning possess great strength within the
EvoS community, but (as I explain in Chapter Two) are significantly less known or
accepted across the breadth of evolutionary science. For the yet-uninformed
outsider, the programs take on evolution requires some quite specific positions on
the human condition. One must be willing to entertain adaptationist explanations
for human behaviors, the similarity of cultural change to genetic evolution,
comparisons between human institutions and (among others) insect colonies, and a
conviction that evolutionary science should inform law, education, government, and
other socio-political policies. On the local level of university education, EvoS
participants entertain a related position that academic disciplines, research, and
teaching should be re-conceptualized, restructured, and thus unified by


evolutionary reasoning. These are obviously strong arguments, and I found their
contextualizations continuously linked to other, less controversial ideologies.
In many instances, participants and organizers drew analogical extensions
between the programs first principle and the (argued) purposes and values of
higher education. The most persistent linkages were drawn between the spread of
evolutionary reasoning and the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration, student-
centered learning, and the unification of academic knowledge. Through such
combinations, EvoS participants and proponents attempted to bridge two not-
necessarily obvious sets of ideologies those that were (again, arguably)
unquestionably valued across the university community and the evolutionary
explanations for all facets of social life. Of course, EvoS is an academically situated
program, so the appearance of such combined contextualizations is predictable. Not
all participants understood how the ultimate goals of higher education could be best
achieved through evolutionary reasoning. But the mechanics of such
transformations are not the point of such contextualizations. They primarily
function to index the convictions that the EvoS Program shares with the academic
community. However one feels about EvoS and evolutionary reasoning, the invoked
values of higher education are less likely to be in question.
Predictably, the events, publications, and promotions of EvoS often drew
analogical extensions between the programs first principle and the value of
scientific knowledge. The majority of attendees at Seminar Series events were
students and faculty in the Social or Biological Sciences at Binghamton University.
Their commitment to testable inquiries and empirical research could not only be


presupposed, but these commitments to science were also invariably indexed by the
EvoS speakers and promoters. Visiting speakers who wished to make evolutionary
arguments about topics in the Humanities (theatre, literature, visual arts, etc.) were
often careful to index their respect for the authority of scientific knowledge. It
should also be noted that drawing such connections between EvoS and authoritative
science was a necessary (sometimes preemptory) defense of the unconventional
ideologies of the programs evolutionary reasoning. The localized strength of the
programs (often controversial) ideologies about human evolution was thus paired
with a consistently-indexed deference to the ability of scientific inquiries to produce
objective knowledge.
Other analogical extensions were less commonly drawn between the EvoS
first principle and other academic and non-academic ideologies and institutions,
though I want to briefly underscore their importance. As I showed in Chapter Two,
EvoS promotions and special events on Binghamton campus frequently include the
programs commitments to multiculturalism in the university. Further, the diversity
of student and faculty participants is attributed to the wide acceptability of
evolutionary thinking. For example, discussing the programs introductory
Evolution for Everyone course, David Sloan Wilson reports:
Freshman English majors got the message just as strongly as senior
biology majors []. The course succeeded across the entire range of
political and religious beliefs, from feminists to young Republicans
and from atheists to believers. [2007:9]

As Wilson contends, the broad acceptability of evolutionary reasoning across
diverse groups is understandable: The perspective offers foundational explanations


for social life that can explain the diversity in (among other phenomena) human
ethnicity, religion, sexuality, government, and law.
Very much following from such extensions of the first principle, we have also
seen that participants offer evolutionary reasoning as means to positively change
social life. Such a conviction is underwritten by the final ideological component of
evolutionary reasoning that I discuss in Chapter Two an understanding that the
findings of evolutionary science must inform public policy in order to prevent
human suffering and extinction. Analogical extensions between evolutionary
reasoning and social activism speak to the progressive political leanings of the
university community. In particular, they are intended to inspire students to see
themselves as the active agents of positive change, legitimating their continued (and
hopefully intensifying) participation in the program.
Considering analogical extension as part of a process of socialization, EvoS
demonstrates that this may be the most powerful method for contextualizing a
social movements ideologies. As I propose in Chapter One, social movements
strategically deliver their challenge in ways that strike a responsive chord in that it
rings true with existing cultural narrations (Snow and Benford 1988:210). The
EvoS Programs challenge to restructure higher education is, quite plainly, a deeply
ambitious vision. Further, its founder and organizers positions on social change
through evolutionary science would likely seem strange, if not alarming to many
people. Analogical extensions offer persuasive, normalizing messages for audiences,
linking a contentious argument against some status quo with the presupposed


ideologies that many in the audience are likely to share. As dAnjou and Van Male
the interpretive packages they put forward represent views that are
by definition against the grain, as they concern the cause of the
socially marginalized []. At the same time, these interpretive
packages have to sound natural and familiar to the people addressed.

Insofar as a social movement seems invested in such ideals as democracy,
multiculturalism, justice, and education, its participants may argue as EvoS does
that such socio-political goals could be achieved better through the
transformations that they demand. Expanding the ideological reach of a
movements first principle can thus engage (and so socialize) a broader swath of
potential recruits. Their most deeply held convictions are, after all, the same as
those of the movement.

From this, I suggest that the introduction and dissemination of new meanings

rely upon an intricate web of less novel interpretations. One might be socialized into
new meanings by their repeated contextualization in association with more
normal, uncontroversial assumptions. A Marxist challenge to consumer capitalism,
for example, may be framed in terms of human rights or workplace safety. Or a
movement forwarding womens reproductive freedoms might draw connections to
gender equality and the need to alleviate poverty. In this sense, people may be
socialized into new ways of interpreting their world by recognizing their own values
within them. These values can be seen as inextricably tied to ideologies that
otherwise might seem strange or dangerous.

3. Reflexive Recursion


A third type of social movement contextualization urges its participants
toward a transformed self-identification and perhaps reevaluation of their
subjective experiences as personal evidence of the groups ideologies. For new
members, this will be an experience that is likely shared with long-term
participants. Contextualizations of this kind may inspire a kind of collective-
identification or self-realization through the ideological lens of the movement itself.
I call this reflexive recursion. Profoundly persuaded of a movements central
ideologies, participants might discover themselves not only as proponents of the
movement, but also living embodiments of it.
As in the Seminar Series Lectures and Social Events, participants in the EvoS
Program recognized evolutionary reasoning as potentially explaining various
complexities and uncertainties in their lives. For the speakers in the series, it offered
ways of proceeding through their educations and professional lives. In more
surprising instances, I observed speakers offering up quite intimate directions of