British Archaeology, no 12, March 1996: Obituary


Ben Cullen

by Michael Shanks

Ben Cullen died without warning and without apparent cause in December last year. He was 31 years of age. In a sparkling doctoral thesis on Darwinian and evolutionary theory, at conferences, in book chapters and in several journal papers (Cambridge Archaeological Journal Vol 3 1993, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol 61 1995, among others), he outlined a remarkably original approach to biological and, above all, material cultural change. In December 1994, he sketched out his approach for a more popular audience in British Archaeological News.

He termed this Cultural Virus Theory, a careful and systematic body of principles according to which natural and cultural phenomena may share the same vital characteristics. Close relations are to be found with the `memes' of Richard Dawkins, and at his death, he was exploring the sociology of technology of John Law, Michael Callon and Bruno Latour, scholars associated with the Ecole des Mines in Paris, and whose independent work lends strong support to his.

Ben Cullen's was a grand and multi-disciplinary vision whose sophistication is rare even in academia and whose brilliance would have taken him on to a distinguished university career. He had an intense passion for intellectual enquiry - those who knew him will miss his acuity combined with a warm interest in others. It is this humanity which is the sharp edge of his loss.

Ben Richard Sandford Cullen: born 10 February 1964; BA Sydney University 1987, PHD 1994; Hon Fellow, University of Wales, Lampeter, from 1994; Research Fellow, Queen's University Belfast 1995; died 29 December 1995.

Michael Shanks is Reader in Archaeology at the University of Wales, Lampeter


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