Explaining Human Culture

The importance of the eHRAF database ultimately lies in what it can tell us about patterns of cultural variation. But we already know a great deal. The purpose of Explaining Human Culture is to briefly summarize what we have learned from cross-cultural research, or more precisely, what we think we know, and to point out some of the things we do not yet know. These summaries are only a starting point and I encourage you to use the references to delve into the theories, the measures, and the samples used in the actual research. Research usually gives rise to more questions or more research directions to pursue. We have barely begun to scratch the surface.

Thousands of cross-cultural studies have been published. We plan to put out a new topical summary regularly, with references to the original studies, links to some examples in eHRAF, and some examples of what we do not know. The first module in the series is on hunter-gatherers or foragers.

We are collecting cross-cultural studies and working on summarizing hypothesis-tests from these studies. Ultimately, these summaries will be integrated into Explaining Human Culture. The literature on cross-cultural studies comparing two or more cultures is vast. To limit our purview here, we concentrate on research that systematically examined at least 10 or more societies.

We invite you to send us comments and tell us what we might have missed. Send comments to help@ehraf.org and put Explaining Human Culture in the subject line. — Carol Ember

Topical Summaries

Hunter-Gatherers (Foragers)

Most cross-cultural research aims to understand shared traits among hunter-gatherers and how and why they vary. Here we look at the conclusions of cross-cultural studies that ask: What are recent hunter-gatherers generally like? How do they differ from food producers? How and why do hunter-gatherers vary?

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