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Willem Church

Associate researcher

Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

e-mail: willem_church@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de

I am an anthropologist with a cross-disciplinary focus on socio-cultural anthropology, cultural evolution, and the philosophy of social science. My principal research interest lies in exploring the relationships between the reproduction, structure, and constitution of social groups, on the one hand, and categories of cultural identity, and collective action, on the other.

Utilising a blend of qualitative research and computational modelling, my work examines the interplay of individual behaviour at the micro-level, social organisation at the meso-level, and their population-level consequences. Much my interests are motivated by long term ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, my regional speciality.

I currently have two, interconnected research projects. The first employs ethnographies—primarily from Melanesia—to develop causal, mechanistic accounts of the reproduction and constitution of social groups. The long term goal of the project is to develop generative models that illuminate the possible effects of different social structures on demographic, cultural, and linguistic profiles, ultimately to be tested against real life data. The second research project concerns incorporating insights from the growing field of social ontology into formal cultural evolutionary theory, with the aim of developing precise ways of modelling group structure and intergroup dependencies. 

In my doctoral research, I examined political and legal competition between indigenous groups seeking recognition as customary landowners of a prospective copper-gold mine in Papua New Guinea, and focused on how factional rivalry catalyses socio-political transformation.

Presently, I am a guest researcher with the BirthRites independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. I am always open for collaboration or conversation, so feel free to contact me.