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Dr. Nathan Nunn (PhD) is a professor in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia.

The Persistence Paradox: Critical Junctures and Our Shared Future

The 2023 Boving Lecture hosted by the Department of Economics


Date: Thursday, Nov. 23
4–5:30 pm
Arts Building Room 134, 9 Campus Dr., Saskatoon

Free and open to the public

About this event

A talk by Dr. Nathan Nunn (PhD), professor in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia

Now, more than ever, we live in a world of instability and change. We are facing multiple climate crises, environmental destruction, global inequality, and the rapid rise of populism. In recent years, it has become clear that these pressing problems require a change of the status quo. Despite this, there is a remarkable lack of action and change. Why do we continue to engage in behaviors that are harmful?

Although it is tempting to blame the challenges of coordinating the activities of billions of people – what is referred to as a “collective action” problem – this could explain the lack of action, but it does not explain the lack of support for change. It turns out that the explanation, at least the proximate explanation, is simple. People, groups, and societies are resistant to change. This reluctance to change is remarkably universal across space and throughout world history. However, even with this answer, we are then left with the question of why change is so infrequent and persistence so common. It is remarkable that a species as advanced as ours would have such a fundamental flaw. Why is adaptation so difficult for us?

In the lecture, I will tackle these questions, providing insights from recent research that sheds light on the nature of societal persistence and change. The literature has developed an understanding of the dynamic processes that answer these questions. It is grounded in the reality of human cognition and its consequences for social and cultural learning, which, in turn, have implications for the success and failure of civilizations and our collective ability to respond to novel challenges like those facing our world today.


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