Evolving Communities

Evolutionary Analysis in Classical and Neoclassical Human Ecology

Authored by: Michael D. Irwin

Handbook on Evolution and Society

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

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


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Evolutionary analysis in human ecology incorporated theoretical traditions in sociology with perspectives developed in biology Specifically early human ecology blended elements of natural selection and the web of life, from Darwin to holistic paradigms emerging in early community ecology and to systemic macro-level approaches in sociology This synthesis sometimes used biological concepts as a heuristic to apply sociological concepts to the study of human communities. When using a bioecological heuristic, human ecologists treated human communities as an organic whole and focused on emergent macro-level processes. This was in the tradition of Spencer and Durkheim, but also drew on early bioecologists' treatment of the web of life as an emergent property. On the other hand, early human ecologists often applied patterns observed in biotic communities directly to human communities, treating both human and biotic communities as shaped by general ecological processes. When engaging in this general ecology, human ecologists incorporated micro-level processes, especially individual competition drawn from Darwinian thought. However, they also incorporated the role of culture as a macro-level feature of human communities. Both lines of thought, the metaphorical and the actual general ecology, run through classical human ecology. Evolutionary analysis in early human ecology might best be thought of as an uneasy marriage between biological and social approaches. This changed in the neoclassical reformation of human ecology. Micro-level processes were excised, as was the role of culture in constraining competition. At the same time, neoclassical human ecologists distanced themselves from early bioecological approaches and developed their theory as a distinctly sociological approach. In the process, human ecology's emphasis shifted from evolutionary analysis to the analysis of growth and expansion of social systems.

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