It is the contention of this thesis that the field of adaptation studies is struggling to emerge from a restrictive, outdated and static paradigmatic framework. It proposes that the field would benefit from widening its current frame of reference to include more input and perspectives from the evolutionary biological sciences. This thesis considers the implications for the study of culture of the Darwinian theory of evolution – how it might become a more integral part of how we understand culture generally, and of how we read specific texts. It attempts to re-contextualise adaptation studies within an ongoing, conceptual paradigm shift in Western culture, initiated by Darwin’s publication of his theory of evolution by natural selection. It contends that the Darwinian Revolution is far from complete within the humanities and that the time is ripe for greater consilience and exchange between the bio-sciences and humanities disciplines.
This thesis explores the current state of adaptation studies as a discipline, referring in particular to recent work by adaptation theorists such as Robert Stam, Linda Hutcheon, Thomas Leitch and Julie Sanders and their efforts to reinvigorate and redirect adaptation studies. It considers how deeply ingrained, evaluative modes of thought could be holding back these efforts, and if an updated, mutable Darwinian paradigm could aid them. This thesis also speculates on the viability of an evolutionary unit of culture, the meme, and its possible relevance to adaptation studies and the wider study of culture. Finally, it applies a Darwinian perspective, on various levels, to an extensive, detailed textual analysis of the non-fiction book The Orchid Thief and the film Adaptation.