homepage Francisco Gil-White homepage
My work focuses primarily on -- but is not limited to -- the civil Wars in Yugoslavia, racism against black people, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. To read my historical and investigative work, please visit my new website:
Definition of self:
I am equal parts ethnographer, evolutionary anthropologist, and psychologist. I conduct fieldwork in Western Mongolia with Torguud Mongol and Kazakh nomadic pastoralists and villagers. Very nice guy.
Research and Interests:
I am interested broadly in the evolution of the psychological mechanisms that make social learning possible and which are involved in cultural transmission processes.
Why do we feel and think about ethnic groups the way we
do? Are some aspects of our cognition of ethnicity part of the innate architecture
of the human brain? Connection to
cultural transmission: Conformism in the acquisition of ideas leads
members of an ethnic group to share many important interactional norms. This
sets in motion emergent phenomena that can explain why human brains have
evolved to erroneously essentialize ethnic groups
as 'natural' categories. The imperative is better coordination.
2) Prestige: Why do human have social
asymmetries of freely-conferred deference? Why is this form of
hierarchy absent in other social animals, which have dominance but
never prestige? Connection to cultural transmission: The
uniquely human capacity for direct social learning has resulted in selection
pressures to choose models who are above-average in skills/knowledge
and to buy access to them through deference in order to learn better.
Prestige processes result from the operation of these biases.
3) Memes: What are the units of social
learning? What are the boundaries of the packets of information
that we acquire from each other? Connection
to cultural transmission: In order to understand specific
historical phenomena, we need to grasp how the brain parses information for
storage and retrieval. This may be different for different domains, but this
sort of knowledge is indispensable to seeing what is cultural transmission
'noise' and what isn't.
The lighter side
Papers on ethnicity
Gil-White, F. J. (1999) How thick is blood? The plot thickens...: If ethnic actors are primordialists, what remains of the circumstantialist/primordialist controversy? Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(5): 789-820.
Gil-White, F. J. (2001) Are ethnic groups biological 'species' to the human brain?: Essentialism in our cognition of some social categories. Current Anthropology 42(4): 515-554
Gil-White, F. J. (2001) Sorting is not categorization: A critique of the claim that Brazilians have fuzzy racial categories. Cognition and culture, 1(3):219-249
Gil-White, F. J. (2002) The cognition of ethnicity: Native category systems under the field-experimental microscope. Field methods 14(2):170-198.
Gil-White, F. J. (2003) "Ultimatum game with an ethnicity manipulation: Results from Khovdiin Bulgan Sum, Mongolia," in Foundations of Human Sociality: Ethnography and Experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Edited by J. Henrich, R. Boyd, S. Bowles, H. Gintis, E. Fehr, and C. Camerer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gil-White, F.J. (2004) Ultimatum Game with ethnicity manipulation: Problems faced doing field economic experiments, and their solutions. Field Methods 16:157-183.
Gil-White, F.J. (2005) Is ethnocentrism adaptive?: An ethnographic analysis. Unpublished manuscript
Gil-White, F.J. (2006) The Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism Needs Better Categories: Clearing up the Confusions that Result from Blurring Analytic and Lay Concepts. Journal of bioeconomics 7:239-270. Journal of bioeconomics 7:239-270.
Resurrecting Racism: The current attack on black people using phony science.
Historical and Investigative Research. 2004.
Henrich, J., & Gil-White, F. J. (2001) The evolution of prestige: Freely conferred status as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission. Evolution and human behavior 22:165-196.
Gil-White, F.J. How prestige hierarchies led to arbitrary reference, the first step in the evolution of language. Unpublished manuscript
Gil-White, F. J. (2001) L'evolution culturelle a-t-elle des règles? La rechérche Hors-Série No. 5(Avril): 92-97.
Gil-White, F.J. ( 2005) Common misunderstandings of memes (and genes): The promise and the limits of the genetic analogy to cultural transmission processes. in S. Hurley and N. Chater, Perspectives on Imitation: From Mirror Neurons to Memes, MIT Press.
Gil-White, F.J. ( 2008) Let the meme be (a meme): Insisting too much on the genetic analogy will turn it into a straightjacket. In Culture, Nature, Memes. Edited by T. Botz-Bornstein, pp. 158-190. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.
Gil-White, F. J., and P. J. Richerson (2003) "Large scale human cooperation and conflict," in Encyclopedia of cognitive science. Edited by L. Nadel. London: Nature Publishing/MacMillan.
Henrich, J., R. Boyd, S. Bowles, H. Gintis, E. Fehr, C. Camerer, R. McElreath, M. Gurven, K. Hill, A. Barr, J. Ensminger, D. Tracer, F. Marlow, J. Patton, M. Alvard, F. Gil-White and N. Henrich (2005) 'Economic Man' in Cross-cultural Perspective: Economic Experiments in 15 Small Scale Societes, Behavioral & Brain Sciences. 28:795-855
Gil-White, F.J. (2004). "The postmodern biologist (cum psychologist)." Review of Susan Oyama's "Evolution's Eye" Theory and psychology 14(1): 134-137