Rethinking music's status as adaptation versus technology: a niche construction perspective

Anton Killin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In this article I critique F. R. S. Lawson's evolutionary theorising about music that appeared in a recent issue of Ethnomusicology Forum. Moreover, I argue that asking whether music is an adaptation or technology, as Lawson does, artificially splits the interwoven, dynamic co-evolutionary forces at work. In my view, in cases of complex, dynamic co-evolution, the distinction between the ‘biological’ and the ‘cultural’ is undermined. I suggest that human musicality is one such example, calling into question the adaptation/technology distinction that frames Lawson's theorising about music. In place of that research framework, I offer a niche construction perspective, with reference to several brief ethnographic examples, and a ‘socio-cognitive niche’ picture of the evolution of music that takes seriously co-evolution and the project of developing empirically constrained, phylogenetically plausible scenarios for the evolution of music, in a general context of hominin evolution. I identify areas of research where ethnomusicology can weigh in on debates concerning the evolutionary career of music, including, importantly, data for phylogenetic modelling and analysis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)210-233pp.
    JournalEthnomusicology Forum
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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