C R I S   K N I G H T 

Professor of Anthropology (retired) (Last updated September 2016)

C U R R I C U L U M    V I T A E

 

Chris_Knight_in_2016

Leader of the:

T H E   R A D I C A L   A N T H R O P O L O G Y   G R O U P 

 

The English anthropologist Chris Knight has been exploring the idea that human language and culture emerged in our species not purely through gradual Darwinian evolution but in a cumulative process culminating in sudden revolutionary change.

 

 

The details of his ‘sex strike’ theory, presented ion his extensive work:Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture. 1995, remain controversial, but the general idea that the transition to language was a ‘major transition’ or ‘revolution’ (often termed the human revolution) has been current for many years and is now widely agreed. Read more about that here:

 

 

 

 

 

The Human revolution

 

Dominance and resistance

If we go back far enough in time, our ancestors are likely to have lived under social arrangements not radically different from those of today’s monkeys and apes. chimps-societyThere is now a vast literature on such topics, but for me the classic texts remain Franz de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics (Allen & Unwin 1982), Jane Goodall’s The Chimpanzees of Gombe (Harvard University Press, 1986) and Robin Dunbar’s Primate Social Systems(Croom Helm, 1988). Despite much variation, primate social systems share one feature in common. They are based on what is called ‘dominance’, defined as the ability to use or threaten violence to displace others from a contested position or from access to a valued resource. Life in ape society will typically be hierarchical and politically unstable, with alliances mostly opportunistic and rivals struggling for dominance at one another’s expense. And wherever dominance is momentarily enforced, those suffering the effects are likely to band together in order to fight back.

 

Superficially at least, these features of non-human primate society equally characterize ourselves as we struggle for power and resources in today’s politically divided world. But while the parallels may seem real enough, the differences are no less profound. However resigned we may be to unprincipled behaviour from our rulers on the political level, in our face-to-face interactions we still expect morality and accountability. From childhood on, we encourage one another to strive for approval and corresponding status by aspiring to principles the reverse of those appropriate either in a nonhuman primate context or in a Machiavellian contemporary political one. Esteem is gained less by threatening or deceiving those around us than by striving to act appropriately in the eyes of our peers, demonstrating our good faith and commitment to shared goals. (For the distinction between primate-style ‘dominance’ and merit-based human ‘prestige’, see Henrich, J. & Gil-White, F. J., ‘The evolution of prestige. Freely conferred deference as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission’. Evolution and Human Behaviour 22 [2001]: 165-196).

Read the continuation of the page here»

With the headings:

Hunter-gatherers as revolutionaries

African origins

Darwinism’s greatest challenge?

Did language suddenly emerge?

Language and public trust

A theory of everything?If this perspective is accepted, it follows that there can be no such thing as ‘a theory of the origins of language’. Instead, what we need is a ‘theory of everything’ – a theory capable of explaining human cognition, communication and social co-operation taken as a whole. That is why my work focuses on topics that other specialists in human origins tend to ignore – topics such as sex and kinship, laughter and play, myth and ritual, dance and trance. To study such topics is to investigate how our hunter gatherer ancestors succeeded in managing and transcending conflict, forging relationships of egalitarianism, reciprocity and trust. It is to discover how our ancestors succeeded in liberating human potential – and began speaking to one another for the first time.

 

The Science of Solidarity

by Chris Knight

Universityof East London

In 1844, following a four-year voyage around the world, Charles Darwin confided to a close friend that he had come to a dangerous conclusion. For seven years, he wrote, he had been ‘engaged in a very presumptuous work’, perhaps ‘a very foolish one’. He had noticed that on each of the Galapagos Islands , the local finches ate slightly different foods, and had correspondingly modified beaks. In South America , he had examined many extraordinary fossils of extinct animals. Pondering the significance of all this, he had felt forced to change his mind about the origin of species. To his friend, Darwin wrote: ‘I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable’.

More on The science of solidarity »

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Chris Knight also do political street theatre. and hopes you’ll respect the science, but please not taking his theatrical pronouncements too seriously or literally. A sense of humour is presupposed!

See The Laughing Professor video here »
The Government of the Dead video here »
See the Guardian’s report of the Alternative Summit here »

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Quoted from Wikipedia about prof. Chris Knight:

Chris Knight has a long record of political activism. Knight defines himself intellectually as a Marxist.

During the build-up to the 2009 G-20 Summit in London, he was involved in a street theatre group known as The Government of the Dead. Statements he made at this time in an interview for the London Evening Standard (and the PM programme) led the Corporate Management Team at the University of East London to charge him with 'gross professional misconduct', 'insubordination' and 'bringing the university into disrepute'. He was suspended on 26 March 2009 and, despite a petition signed by 600 academics and others, was 'summarily dismissed' on 22 July 2009.

Quoted from Wikipedia about prof. Chris Knight:

Chris Knight has a long record of political activism. Knight defines himself intellectually as a Marxist.

During the build-up to the 2009 G-20 Summit in London, he was involved in a street theatre group known as The Government of the Dead. Statements he made at this time in an interview for the London Evening Standard (and the PM programme) led the Corporate Management Team at the University of East London to charge him with 'gross professional misconduct', 'insubordination' and 'bringing the university into disrepute'. He was suspended on 26 March 2009 and, despite a petition signed by 600 academics and others, was 'summarily dismissed' on 22 July 2009.

On 28 April 2011, Knight was one of three people arrested "on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and breach of the peace". The three were planning a mock execution of the Duke of York in Central London the following day, to coincide with the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.On 30 November 2011, he was one of 21 'Occupy London' activists arrested and later charged with public order offences for occupying the Haymarket(Central London) offices of the mining company Xstrata. On 8 August 2012, Knight and his co-defendants were all found not guilty.

He supported Ken Livingstone in the controversy over allegdely anti-Semitic remarks made in 2016.