Applied Working Group

‘Culture’ as a Tool Working Group

Applied Working Group team

Andrew Buskell, Principal Investigator
Azita Chellappoo, Co-Investigator
Robin Nelson, Co-Investigator
Natália Dutra, Co-Investigator
Solène Boisard, Co-Investigator

Key information

Full title: Culture as a Tool: Reckoning with Past and Future Use
Workshop: Summer 2023, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA
Get involved: Please check back in early 2023 for information on how you can contribute to this Applied Working Group.

Applied Working Group overview 

Culture is a tool. It is used by scientific disciplines to categorize, study, and intervene on human diversity. At the same time, it is used by policymakers, state administrators and activists who leverage it for political aims. Used for all these purposes and projects, ‘culture’ evades definition. Efforts to nail it down lead to another problem: defining culture often aligns it with racial or ethnic classifications of human diversity—and feeds into larger structures of oppression and stigmatization.

Tools have history, and ‘culture’ as a tool is no different. Looking at how culture has been used is important for understanding its role in contemporary scientific and policy-oriented work, and the risks involved in defining and operationalizing it. Looking at the history of how the culture concept has been used reveals multiple instances where it has led to unintended and harmful downstream consequences. Reckoning with these histories is important if we wish to keep using culture as a tool in the present.

Photo by Johnson Cameraface on Flickr

This project is organized around three focal domains where culture has been used: in economic development, state administration, and biocultural diversity. Examining historical case studies in these areas, the project will address three core aims: (i) to establish a historically- and philosophically-informed collaborative network of researchers and policymakers; (ii) to reckon with the histories where culture has been used as a tool, and (iii) to develop ethical and impactful Cultural-Evolution-informed policies and methods, calibrating these through examination of relevant histories and best practices of other fields.


The workshop took place in-person and hybrid in September 2023. The grant team attended online and were treated to an array of talks. Read an account of the workshop here:

AWG Contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at

Andrew Buskell: Twitter