Joseph Carroll (born 1949) is a scholar in the field of literature and evolution. He is a Curators’ Distinguished Professor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where he has taught since 1985.
Carroll's Evolution and Literary Theory (1995) was one of the first works of literary theory to assimilate ideas from evolutionary psychology, evolutionary anthropology, and sociobiology. He integrated those ideas with ideas from traditional humanism and presented the synthesis as an alternative to poststructuralism. He rejected poststructuralism's textualism (the notion that words make the world) and its indeterminancy (the notion that words are self-subverting).
In the essays collected in Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature and Literature, Carroll explored the emerging field of literary Darwinism, worked toward building a comprehensive model of human nature, critiqued poststructuralism, traditional humanism, ecocriticism, cognitive rhetoric, and narrow-school evolutionary psychology, and offered examples of practical Darwinist criticism.
In the essays collected in Reading Human Nature, Carroll examined the adaptive function of literature and the other arts, offered Darwinist interpretations of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, and Hamlet, gave examples of quantitative literary analysis, and reflected on the course of intellectual history from Darwin to the present.
In the research described in Graphing Jane Austen, Carroll and colleagues conducted an Internet survey of reader responses to characters in British novels of the nineteenth century. The survey used categories from a model of human nature that included basic motives, emotions, personality characteristics, and criteria for selecting mates. The focus of the study was "agonistic structure," that is, the organization of characters into protagonists, antagonists, and minor characters.
Carroll has a chapter on "Evolutionary Approaches to Literature and Drama" in the Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, edited by R.I.M. Dunbar & L. Barrett (Oxford University Press, 2007): 637-48; a chapter on "Evolutionary Literary Study" in the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, edited by David M. Buss (2nd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2016): 1103-19; and a chapter on "Evolved Human Sociality and Literature” in Handbook on Evolution and Society: Toward an Evolutionary Social Science, edited by Jonathan H. Turner, Richard Machalek, and Alexandra Maryanski (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2015): 572-608.
Carroll is editor-in-chief of the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture.