The Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics
The 2021 Samuel I. Hayakawa Book Prize to
Carolyn Wiebe and Susan Maushart (Eds.)
The Genes of Culture:
Towards a Theory of Symbols, Meaning and Media
Volumes One and Two
By Christine L. Nystrom
Christine L. Nystrom’s provocative work offers up a fresh approach to ongoing—and increasingly urgent—questions about the role of symbols and technology in shaping human experience. In lucid, lively, and always-accessible prose, she examines an eclectic range of topics—from Hopi grammar to the etiquette of beach-going to the primal allure of the horror film—to uncover the principles that structure the way we make meaning of our world. A cross-disciplinary tour de force, The Genes of Culture integrates insights from philosophy, the physical sciences, social psychology, and cultural criticism to pose challenging questions for today’s students of media. This book is an exemplary foundation reader for graduates or undergraduates in communication and media studies.
Volume 2 of The Genes of Culture continues Christine Nystrom’s exploration into the ecology of symbol systems and the evolution of media, mind and culture. Part One, Human Symbolic Evolution, delivers nothing less than a grand unified theory of humankind. For Nystrom, the prehistoric creative explosion that gave rise to language—a metaphorical Big Bang—explains our species’ survival. A felicitous if somewhat ignoble story, it begins with "The Incompetent Ape" who would never have made the evolutionary cut without developing the social capabilities made possible through symbolic language. And human communication, an inevitable source of problems, is the driving force behind this most peculiar of adventures: the birth of self-consciousness, tools and technologies, pratfalls of memory, awareness of our own mortality, art, knowledge, civilization, discontent, and so on. And so on, that is, if we don’t bring our story to an end. In Part Two, a series of astute and provokingly prescient lectures, Tales, Tools, Technopoly, Nystrom addresses our social and moral responsibility in cultivating the narrative of our future. Straightforward and ruthlessly critical of contemporary notions of "growth" and "progress," it concludes this volume with an alternative that is also a challenge -- an appeal to our better nature to do right by our species and the planet. A seminal text for students of media and communication, The Genes of Culture, Vol. 2 is at once readable and profound, comprehensive in its erudition and bold in its conclusions. In the spirit of Media Ecology, it invites argument, and merits acclaim.
First given in 2009, the Institute of General Semantics awards the S. I. Hayakawa Book Prize to the most outstanding work published in the past five years on topics of direct relevance to the discipline of general semantics. The prize includes a cash award of $1,000.
For a list of past winners of the Hayakawa Prize, click here.