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Podcast S7 E7 | 30 min

Chatter That Matters

12 Jun 2024
Three anthropologists sit to talk about the evolutionary purposes of gossip.

What role does gossip play in human societies? In this episode, Bridget Alex and Emily Sekine, editors at SAPIENS magazine, chat with host Eshe Lewis to explore gossip as a fundamental human activity.

They discuss gossip’s evolutionary roots, suggesting it may have developed as a form of “vocal grooming” to maintain social bonds in groups. It also helps enforce social norms, they argue, offering a way to share information about people’s reputations and control free riders. Their conversation also touches on how gossip can aid in navigating uncertainties and expressing care.

Bridget Alex earned her Ph.D. in archaeology and human evolutionary biology from Harvard University. Supported by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and other awards, her research focused on the spread of Homo sapiens and extinction of other humans, such as Neanderthals, over the past 200,000 years. Prior to joining SAPIENS, Bridget taught anthropology and science communication at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena City College, and Harvard University. Her pop-science stories have appeared in outlets such as Discover, Science, Archaeology, Atlas Obscura, and Smithsonian Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @bannelia.

Emily Sekine is an editor and a writer with a Ph.D. in anthropology from The New School for Social Research. Prior to joining the team at SAPIENS, she worked with academic authors to craft journal articles and book manuscripts as the founder of Bird’s-Eye View Scholarly Editing. Her anthropological research and writing explore the relationships between people and nature, especially in the context of the seismic and volcanic landscapes of Japan. Emily’s work has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Society of Environmental Journalists, among others, and her essays have appeared in publications such as Orion magazine, the Anthropocene Curriculum, and Anthropology News.

Eshe Lewis is the project director for the SAPIENS Public Scholars Training Program. She holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Florida and has spent the past 10 years working with Afro-descendant peoples in Peru on issues of social movements, women’s issues, Black feminism, and gender violence. Eshe is based in Toronto, Canada.

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SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is produced by House of Pod. The executive producers were Cat Jaffee and Chip Colwell. This season’s host was Eshe Lewis, who is the director of the SAPIENS Public Scholars Training Fellowship program. Dennis Funk was the audio editor and sound designer. Christine Weeber was the copy editor.

SAPIENS is an editorially independent magazine of the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the University of Chicago Press. SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

This episode is part of the SAPIENS Public Scholars Training Fellowship program, which provides in-depth training for anthropologists in the craft of science communication and public scholarship, funded with the support of a three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation.


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