Cultural evolution theory has long been inspired by evolutionary biology. Conceptual analogies between biological and cultural evolution have led to the adoption of a range of formal theoretical approaches from population dynamics and genetics. However, this has resulted in a research programme with a strong focus on cultural transmission. Here, we contrast biological with cultural evolution, and highlight aspects of cultural evolution that have not received sufficient attention previously. We outline possible implications for evolutionary dynamics and argue that not taking them into account will limit our understanding of cultural systems. We propose 12 key questions for future research, among which are calls to improve our understanding of the combinatorial properties of cultural innovation, and the role of development and life history in cultural dynamics. Finally, we discuss how this vibrant research field can make progress by embracing its multidisciplinary nature. This article is part of the theme issue 'Foundations of cultural evolution'.

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