Evolutionary Sociology

Authored by: W. G. Runciman

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339

10.4324/9781315634203.ch11

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Abstract

Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory has been increasingly brought to bear on the agenda of comparative sociology since the last quarter of the twentieth century. The protracted controversies provoked by the publication of E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology in 1975 have given way to a recognition that sociology is not reducible to biology, but the fundamental Darwinian process of heritable variation and competitive selection applies at the cultural and social no less than at the biological level. Topics central to sociologists' traditional concerns, including the origin of the state, the continuing reproduction and diffusion of religious beliefs and practices, and the maintenance of cooperative social relationships within large populations of unrelated strangers, have been incorporated within the neo-Darwinian paradigm. At the same time, evolutionary game theory has proved increasingly successful in addressing the topic of collective action through field studies, laboratory experiments, and computer simulations. More broadly, teleological explanations of how the human societies in the historical, ethnographic, and archaeological record have evolved into being the kinds of societies that they are are being superseded by explanations in terms of open-ended but path-dependent sequences of interaction between the forces of natural, cultural, and social selection.

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