Notes on relevance theory

Edited by by Kate Scott, Billy Clark, and Robyn Carston, Relevance, Pragmatics and Interpretation (Cambridge UP 2019), is both a collection of outstanding essays* exemplifying current directions of research inspired by relevance theory and a tribute to Deirdre Wilson. Asked to contribute a chapter, I wrote a short and rather personal piece, which, I thought, would make for a appropriate blog post.  Here it is.

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‘It’s like you disappear’ – Fleabag’s Attentional Conflicts

In his book Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age that has been extensively discussed on these pages, Alberto Acerbi asks how the diffusion of digital media might influence the dissemination and success of cultural traits, and how this in turn affects cultural transmission. The quality and modes of human attention might be considered a case in point. How we allocate attention, and what modes of attention we have at our disposal, are under transformation under the influence of changes in the media we use, and this in turn is reflected by cultural objects. In this blog, distraction-conflict theory helps explain how an acclaimed television series dramatizes attentional conflict and probes the implications of a contemporary phenomenon that many of us are afflicted by: being constantly suspended between two places.

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Public Relations Failures by Russian State Officials: A Botched Cultural Transmission?

In 2018, during a public meeting, Olga Glatskikh, head of the Sverdlovsk Region Youth Politics Department, gave the following response to a question about the lack of state funding for youth

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“Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age” Book Club General Discussion

Join the discussion of our Book Club here!

You will find on the Book Club page: the précis of the book by Alberto Acerbi, commentaries by Alex Mesoudi, Hugo Mercier, Mathieu Charbonneau, Olivier Morin, Pascal Boyer, Sacha Altay and Tiffany Morisseau, and finally Alberto's response to the commentaries. The general discussion starts today and will continue until July 12th. Everyone is welcome to join.

To post a comment, you should be registered and logged in. Please provide a short title for your comment. If it responds to another commentator, you might use “@Xxx” in your title. New comments appear at the bottom.

Comments are moderated and may only appear after a short delay. For any practical question, send an email to: tiffany@cognitionandculture.net.

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Alberto Acerbi’s response: There is much work to do

It was a great pleasure having a book club dedicated to Cultural evolution in the digital age. Writing a book feels like a long and solitary experience and it is comforting that, when done, it may result in such productive exchanges. Thus, first of all, I want to thank the organisers, Tiffany Morisseau and Dan Sperber, and all the participants for their commentaries: kind, sometimes even flattering, but always perceptive and stimulating. I organised my reply around three macro-themes that emerged in the book club: the role of producers of cultural traits, the features of specifically digital cultural transmission, and a discussion on some more foundational issues in cultural evolution, namely the importance of faithful transmission for cumulative culture and our reliance on social information.

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Truth is not always the point

Thank you, Alberto, for writing this book! In addition to being a captivating reading, it shed light on some thoughts I had on how people share information on social media, and what truth has to do

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Cultural evolution – The mystery of production

Alberto Acerbi’s book is not just an impressive and timely summary of our knowledge of cultural transmission in the digital world (that in itself would be a good reason to read it). It also

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The Participatory Age

Of central interest to Alberto, and to cultural evolutionists in general, are the impacts of the transmission of cultural information from one person to the next—what is transmitted to whom, where

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Consuming vs. sharing information online

In his brilliant book, Alberto notes a series of significant differences between information sharing in oral cultures and online (to take two extremes). Oral cultures are dependent on memorization

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Cultural transmission, reinvention, and progress

I sometimes wonder why some of the cleverest things about the digital age seem to date from before the digital age really started. Few philosophical analyses beat thought experiments like Turing's

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What’s the recipe?

In his book, Alberto pointed out that information can now be passed on, and ultimately become cultural, without being memorized or even understood. But online information can also become cultural

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Are humans ‘wary learners’?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alberto Acerbi’s Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age (Acerbi, 2019). It provides not only a much-needed corrective to overblown claims about the power of social

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