Sociocultural evolutionism in this article relates to a diverse group of related approaches in anthropology, sociology, and other social sciences that arose in the 1930is and that focus on the social and cultural evolution of humans. What separates these evolutionary theories from those developed in the 19th century is the rejection of racism and the biological concept of race, and the adoption of the view that the cognitive and rational abilities of humans are the same in all human societies and cultures. This new wave of evolutionary thought come about after a few decades of the waning influence of evolutionary thought in the social sciences, especially under the influence of the Boasian approach which directly rejected evolutionism.
Sociocultural Evolutionism in the American Anthropology
American anthropologists Julian Steward and Leslie White were some of the first to start this new line of evolutionary theory. Their theories were influenced by the early evolutionary ideas of Herbert Spencer, Henry L. Morgan, and Edward Tylor, but also by the historical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Julian Steward is best known for his advocacy of multilineal evolution and for the creation of his approach he named „cultural ecology“. His approach is best presented in his book Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution (1955). Steward sees culture as a connected whole consisting of parts that predetermine, condition, and limit each other. He analyzed culture from the perspective of the objective usefulness of institutions, and he attached less importance to how members of a certain culture value and explain their own cultural institutions. Any cultural system can vary only within certain limits, otherwise, it will not survive. So the behavior of individuals that sometimes seems purely traditional can actually be very practical. Culture is subject to spontaneous and subjective variation, but once a change occurs, if it comes into conflict with a subsistence system, it will either adapt or not survive.
Steward's theory of multilinear evolution differs both from the classical theories of evolution, but also from the universal evolution of Leslie White and Gordon Vera Child. Older unilinear evolutionists failed to notice many local trends of development, and by studying a limited number of trends they tried to discover universal stages of evolution. On the other hand, universal evolution was not concerned with specific cultures, but with the culture of the entire humanity, ignoring specific ethnographic and historical data. Multilineal evolution is essentially a methodology that studies regularities in cultural change and seeks to establish cultural laws. It advocates historical reconstruction, but it does not try to classify these data into universal stages, it has no a priori schemes and laws.
The basic unit of analysis is the cultural type. A cultural type is characterized by a certain number of elements, not their totality. Those elements form specific constellations of causally interrelated characteristics found in two or more cultures, and the selection of those elements is determined by the framework of the study. Finally, it is assumed that the selected features have the same functional interrelationships with others in each case. Examples of cultural types are: oriental absolute society, patrilineal group, feudal society, etc. The hunter-gatherer way of life in Steward's scheme has several cultural types, which do not have to be any evolutionary stages, and even some cases can be isolated products of specific ecological circumstances.
While in biology ecology represents mutual relations between organisms and their environment, the key meaning of ecology for Steward is the adaptation of culture to its environment. Steward opposes the then-orthodox view that the history of an individual culture explains its peculiarities, but believes that they are more the result of an ecological adaptive process. The cultural-historical approach has as the main unit of analysis the cultural area or cultural patterns, which take into account only the particularizing aspects of culture. For Steward cultural ecology is both a problem and a method.
He solves this problem by introducing the cultural core as an analytical category – a constellation of characteristics most closely related to activities important for subsistence and economic organization. The core includes social, political, and religious patterns that have been empirically proven to be closely related to subsistence and economic survival. Features that are not directly related to the cultural core are secondary features, subject to frequent changes, and to a greater extent determined by purely cultural and historical factors. There are three formal methodological procedures in cultural ecology: the first is that the interrelationships between exploitative or productive technology and the environment must be analyzed; the second is that the patterns of exploitation of a certain area with a certain technology must be analyzed; and the third is to determine to what degree behavioral patterns associated with the exploitation of the environment affect other aspects of culture.
Levels of sociocultural integration are an analytical tool that serves to place different societies at different quantitative and qualitative levels of complexity and integration, although they (levels) do not necessarily represent evolutionary stages. The levels of sociocultural integration can be: family, group, tribe, or nation. Some pre-civilization societies functioned at the family level as politically, economically, and religiously self-sufficient groups, while others functioned as highly integrated tribal societies. As the biggest distinction between the tribal and national levels of integration, Steward puts the existence of the state, class groups, and subcultural groups.
The Shoshone and the Eskimo are an example of socio-cultural integration at the family level. The Shoshone live in an area of the US called the Great Basin. This area consists of mountains with steppes and deserts in between. The Shoshone are engaged in hunting and gathering. Their societies are made up of individual families, or at most two or three families, and nuclear families, not extended ones. Other relatives become part of the family only if they do not have their own. Even religious life takes place in isolation. The cause of this Shoshone socio-cultural organization is extremely poor natural resources. In more fertile areas, the population density is one person per 15 square kilometers, and in deserts one person per three hundred square kilometers. There are few edible plants, and the most important animals for hunting are rabbits and antelope. Since the conditions of gathering and hunting do not allow safe survival for a larger group of people, the only possible adaptation was to divide society into the smallest possible unit that could be reproductive and sustainable - the family. Similar living conditions, only in polar conditions, apply to the Eskimos. Steward believes that the family as a level of socio-cultural integration was not dominant in human evolution, therefore it does not represent the lowest evolutionary stage of the human species, but a specific adaptation to specific conditions.
The „band“ is a level of socio-cultural integration made up of several families living together. They have over 15 members and a maximum of several hundred. The bands probably represent the original evolutionary stage of the human species, because similar societies are also found in the closest apes to humans. Bands can be patrilineal, matrilineal, or mixed.
Patrilineal bands are found on many continents, and they all show great similarities. They have from 15 to 100 members. Several factors influence the formation of a patrilineal band. The first condition is that the population density is low, less than one person per five square kilometers, in a territory with weak natural resources. Another condition is that the main species being hunted are non-migratory and scattered. This circumstance has the effect that men (who in all hunter-gatherers hunt) live in the territory where they grew up because they know the terrain better. The third condition is that no animals are used to transport the load. The last condition, and it is cultural, is that the incest taboo should be extended from the biological family to all members of the band. Patrilineal bands have no leaders, and ownership of the land is shared. The only form of central authority is the shaman.
A mixed band is made up of several families that are not connected by real or attributed kinship. A mixed band, in contrast to a patrilineal one, is larger, usually several hundred members, and there are no rules of endogamy, patrilocal residence in marriage, or patrilineality. These bands usually have a chief. The mixed band is a product of specific ecological circumstances, the areas they inhabit have a low population density, and they primarily hunt animals that live in herds and migrate. Such animals are hunted by a larger band of people seasonally, and the fact that they live in herds allows a larger number of people to be fed. Factors that can influence the existence of a mixed band in areas where there is normally a patrilineal band are: the adoption of children between bands, endogamy caused by the legitimization of cross-relative marriages, and matrilocal housing due to the lack of men.
All those societies that have only one line of kinship constitute one level of socio-cultural integration despite belonging to different cultural types. As society grows larger, one line of kinship splits into multiple lines, and people begin to lose track of their common origins. Therefore, instead of genealogical origin, people introduce belief in a common totemic ancestor, common residence, and common ceremonies. When this calculation of descent and community is introduced and the rules of exogamy are introduced in a society that has several lines of kinship, a localized clan is formed. The basic prerequisite for the formation of a clan - an increase in the size of the population - is associated with a higher population density. This allows multiple bands to live together in larger communities. Often some external circumstances, such as war or the mixing of genealogically unrelated bands, influence the formation of a clan. But the most important feature of the clan, and at the same time its prerequisite is a strong common identity maintained by a common totem, ceremonies, and name.
American anthropologist Leslie White is best known for his commitment to the development of the science of culture, i.e. culturology. Culturology, according to his view, should encompass most of what anthropology and sociology deal with. Apart from social psychology, everything that the theoretical sciences of society dealt with would thus fall under culturology. This point of view is a consequence of White's expansion of the concept of culture, so he includes, in addition to the symbolic aspects of social life, also economic and political aspects, as well as everything that Durkheim calls society and social. This leaves only social psychology in the purview of sociology, while any further theoretical work should fall under the field of cultural studies. White's culturology can be divided into two main sections: cultural determinism and the utilitarian nature of culture.
Cultural determinism has two distinct meanings. The first meaning refers to the determinism of human behavior, that is, the actions of a human individual are completely conditioned by culture. In accordance with this notion is his denial of the free will of individuals, because, for individuals, who are not limited by their biology, the culture created by symbolic communication appears as an overdeterminant of individual behavior. Another meaning of cultural determinism is reflected in the observation of culture as an independent and self-determined system. The individual is not able to change his culture, but only responds to its stimuli; so even inventive and creative behavior is nothing more than the manifestation of cultural tendencies. He denies the existence of geniuses and great men, they are only there to fulfill the inherent cultural logic. Neither Newton nor Ikhnaton, when they created their theories and new religions, did not create culture, culture created them.
The utilitarian nature of culture is reflected in the principle of usefulness. "The purpose and function of culture are to make life secure and enduring for the human species" (White, 1959: 8). The utilitarian principles of culture are mostly beyond the consciousness of the people themselves. When a new cultural form emerges that is more useful for society, it replaces previous cultural forms.
White's evolutionism is close to the evolutionism of Henry Morgan, in that White never considers the evolution of individual sociocultural systems, but the evolution of the entire culture of mankind, i. e. universal evolution. Unlike Morgan, White notes the importance of the diffusion of cultural patterns, which means that not every single culture has to go through all the stages, because, due to the process of diffusion, some stages may be skipped. White takes into consideration the last million years of the development of the human species, where a million years before the present appears as a crucial period when man's power to symbolize, to use and create symbols, arose. He takes that date as the beginning of cultural evolution because without symbols there is no culture. In his consideration of cultural evolution, he deals little with concrete historical data, because, for him, history is a particularizing process, while evolution is a generalizing process.
In the book, The Evolution of Culture (1959) White distinguishes four separate components of cultural systems: technological, sociological, ideological, and sentimental (attitudinal). The technological sector is most directly involved in the adaptation process, and the determining feature of technology development is the amount and type of energy used to meet human needs. While animals use only the power of their muscles, primitive people use tools and the energy of fire, to later tame the energy of the sun, through the domestication of plants and animals, then fossil fuels, and finally the power of atoms. Energy and technology appear as dominating over other sectors of culture. The evolution towards larger political units is fundamentally a technological matter. Society, philosophy, and sentiments are, in fact, non-technological forms of expression of the basic technological process. When a technological system comes into conflict with other cultural elements, then depending on the strength of the technological system it wins or submits. But if the technology is strong enough then it creates a new social system. White's theory of universal evolution is, because of the importance of technology for the development of culture, based on technological determinism.
White believes that every social system is determined by three determinants (subfactors): securing subsistence (nutrition and other means of living), protection from the elements, and defense. These subfactors are always present, but they do not always have the same importance or influence, so culture and its direction of development largely depend on the relationship between the environment and these determinants. Livelihoods include clothing, tools, and even magic; protection is focused on battling weather and other elements of nature; and defense concerns confrontation with both internal and external enemies.
White believes that man's anthropoid ancestors lived in societies in which dominant males appropriated females for themselves, and the weaker ones were left without a partner. But with the advent of symbolization, weaker men could band together through communication to overthrow dominant men and take women for themselves. Thus came the period of monogamy in human evolution. The family was the basic social unit, and the rules of exogamy, i.e. the prohibition of incest, were adopted in order to extend cooperation to a wider group, and this was followed by kinship classification systems. The prohibition of incest is applied more strictly in primitive societies because, for them, integration and cooperation in society are more important for survival. The rules of exogamy are always followed by the rules of endogamy because it is necessary to find a partner who is socially neither too close nor too far so that the highest possible degree of social integration is achieved.
Structure, the types of parts that make up the whole, and function, the relationships between the parts and between the parts and the whole, are just two ways of looking at the same system. Human societies consist of segments, classes, and special mechanisms. Segments are an indefinite number of parts that make up a whole, where each part is similar to the other in composition, structure, and function. These are families, kinship lines, clans, and moeites. Class is one of an indefinite number of parts into which society, as a whole, is divided, and they differ in composition, structure, and function. All societies consist of both segments and classes.
Special mechanisms are structures that differ from the system as a whole, but they are not classes into which the whole society can be divided. A chief, a shaman, or a secret society are such special mechanisms. Some societies do not have special mechanisms - Tasmanians, Eskimos, and Pygmies don’t have them. At the beginning of human evolution, families were segments, and classes were formed based on gender, age, and marital status. The process of segmentation increases the size of the system, but it also has the function of maintaining cohesion and solidarity. Systems at one level can be integrated as segments at a higher level of cultural development.
The development of agriculture is the most significant change in human evolution because it enabled a much larger number of people to live in one territory, farming led to a sedentary lifestyle, and animal husbandry provided a constant source of food. In addition to the increase in population density, there was also an increase in the size of society and the complexity of society, because a part of the population could devote itself to crafts and other occupations. Thus, there was a need to develop an economic system, and with it came the creation of a special political mechanism that White calls „the state-church“, and the end result was the division of society into a ruling class and a subordinate class. Thus there was a transformation from a society based on kinship to a society based on property.
The third American anthropologist who is responsible for the revival of evolutionary thought is George Peter Murdock (1897–1985). Murdock paid much more attention to methodology and collecting comparative data than to developing theory. He headed large project known as Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) that had a goal to identify and catalog the most important traits of all the cultures of the world. In the end, Murdock and his team assembled data for more than 2,500 codified cultures and every one of them had about one hundred variables collected.
Next generation of American anthropologists like Elman Service, Marshal Sahlins, Marvin Harris, Eleanor Leacock, Sidney Mintz, Robert Carneiro, Fried Morton, and Wolf Eric used theoretical approaches of both Steward and White, to create their own approaches to sociocultural evolution.
Austrian-American anthropologist Eric Wolf came under the influence of Marxist anthropologist Julian Steward and his approach of cultural ecology. His theoretical orientation relied on the tradition of Marxist anthropology, which was focused on the study of political economy. Wolf's main contribution to anthropology is a departure from the classical view of traditional societies as static and isolated systems. Small traditional societies are part of broader political relations of power and economic relations of exploitation. In addition, the political economy of the wider society influences changes in the economic and cultural aspects of these communities, so it is wrong to view them as static societies.
Although evolutionary theories have influenced Wolf's paradigm, he rejects their schematic and emphasizes the dynamics of interconnected and dependent subsystems of society. His theory emphasizes the importance of power relations in all societies but also studies the resistance to power relations and domination. He made great contributions to various fields of social science: political anthropology, historical sociology, rural sociology, state formation and capitalism, colonialism, revolutions, etc. In his book Sons of Shaking Earth (1959), Wolf synthesized ethnological, historical, and archaeological data on Mesoamerican civilizations in the context of class-oriented theory.
In the mid-1960s, Wolf became known for his study of peasant societies, and the results of this research are presented in two books: Peasants (1966) and Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (1969). He believes that peasants are populations that function, politically and economically, between isolated tribes and industrial society. The peasants are, for the most part, economically self-sustaining, that is, they produce almost everything they need and make only a part of their agricultural or handicraft products for the market. In some situations, the peasants sell their products themselves, while in others, these products represent a form of tax or rent in kind received by landowners or feudal lords. However, the political and economic relations of the peasants with the wider society always have some form of domination and coercion. As a result, conservative attitudes and resistance have emerged. These resistances can take many forms, from resistance to taxation to the tendency to resist being pushed into the proletariat.
In the book Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century, Wolf examines how peasant resistance contributed to the revolutionary transformations of the regime in Mexico, Russia, China, Vietnam, Algeria, and Cuba. He concludes that peasant resistance, most often, results in the return to the previous state, and doesn’t lead to complete changes in the society.
In Europe and People Without History (1982), Wolf introduces a historical classification of societies according to the basic mode of production they used. These three types are: kinship, tributary, and capitalist. In the kinship system, the organization of work, production, and distribution are organized on the kinship relations of people. In the tributary system, direct producers have the means to produce, but the elite in these societies appropriate surplus labor by political or other non-economic means. The Asian mode of production is an example of a centralized, and European feudalism of a decentralized tributary production system. In Europe, in the period from the 16th to the 18th century, there was a mercantilist tributary system. The capitalist system did not appear until the end of the eighteenth century in England. The unique combination of historical and geographical circumstances led to the liberal political revolution, the industrial revolution, and the development of the free market in England at the same time, all of which were necessary preconditions for the emergence of capitalism.
Great Britain contributed to the division of the world into zones of interest of European powers through its colonial expansion. All those societies that anthropologists view as ahistorical, due to the spread of capitalism through colonial imperialism, form part of global capitalism. Both European colonial societies and "societies without history" are, in fact, interconnected and equally dynamic. Processes that took place at the local level played a major role in the events in the wider world system. Wolf combines Marx's approach to "modes of production" with the cultural ecology of Julian Steward to explain how different modes of production adapt to specific environmental circumstances. The three forms of production singled out by Wolf, and their specific ways of functioning in specific historical and ecological relations, are an analytical tool for understanding the interaction and causality between different societies, and thus a means for understanding the functioning of the wider world economic system and its historical change.
Wolf pays more attention to culture and political ideologies in his book Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis (1999). Power relations are always present, but these relations depend not only on political and economic but also on cultural patterns. Ideology serves as a means of justifying power relations and domination, but the nature of that ideology will also depend on broader cultural patterns, as well as on the unique historical sequence of events in a society. Wolff examines, in detail, what kind of ideologies of domination emerged in different societies: among the Kwakiutl people on the northwestern Pacific coast of the United States; the Aztecs; and the Nazi Party of Germany. Each of these ideologies was adapted to the specific cultural, historical, ecological, and economic uniqueness of these societies, and functioned to justify and organize relations of domination and social organization of labor.
Sociocultural Evolutionism beyond American Anthropology
Danish economist and gender theorist Ester Boserup studied the Neolithic agricultural revolution in the book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: the Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure (1965). In it, she developed the theory of agricultural intensification, also known as „Boserup's theory“, which states that population changes are what drives the intensification of agricultural production. Boserup concluded that increasing population density led to the transformation of the environment and the introduction of new technologies, especially in agriculture, by switching from a "slash and burn" type of agriculture to plow and irrigation-based agriculture. By analyzing different agricultural systems, she found that, although the gender division of economic roles exists in every society, those roles, as well as the social importance attached to them, are very different in different types of agriculture. Gender roles are always a product of culture, but in societies where women's work has more economic weight, men's and women's gender roles are less unequal.
Czech-British philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist Ernest Gellner believed that it was not possible to create a theory that would explain all historical changes. He believed that there are two types of historical periods, periods of relative stability, when functionalist explanations give better results, while, on the other hand, there are periods of great transformations of society for which specific theories for each individual type of transformation should be applied. The Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions are two types of great transformations. From the specific theories that explain the Neolithic and industrial revolutions, it is not possible to derive a general theory that would explain all kinds of social change.
Although it is not possible to create a general theory of social transformations, it is possible to determine a specific series of successive stages that societies go through. Examples are three levels of societies determined by the dominant type of economy: 1) hunter-gatherer societies, 2) agricultural societies, and 3) industrial societies. What is specific to these levels is that the hunter-gatherer society cannot spontaneously transform into an industrial society, it is necessary to go through the agricultural period. On the other hand, society at a higher stage rarely regresses to a lower level. The transformation from the agricultural to the industrial stage is very complicated, so that transformation, once it happens, is transmitted to all other societies through imitation.
In Plough, Sword and the Book (1988), Gellner points out that to understand the functioning of society at every level, as well as the transformations between levels, it is important to study three social spheres: technology (plough), power and coercion (sword), and cognition (the world of ideas with which we understand and explain the world, which is represented by a book). Gellner pays the most attention to the cognitive aspects of every economic stage of society.
From the mid-1960s until his death, American sociologist Gerhard Lenski devoted himself to developing his macro-theoretical perspective, which he called "ecological-evolutionary theory." The first book in which this theory was presented was Power and Privilege (1966), then he further elaborated his position in the book Human Societies (1970) which has undergone many revised editions, to finally give a detailed account of his theory in the book Ecological-Evolutionary Theory (2006). Lenski attaches great importance to the genetic basis of human behavior. He believes that biological needs in all human societies are, in essence, always the same, and to meet those needs all societies create and maintain the same cultural subsystems: language, morality, ideology, kinship systems, technology, political organization, and religion. In his opinion, population pressures were one of the strongest sources of human creativity and social change.
Since the biological foundations of all societies are the same, differences in cultural patterns (in all the subsystems listed earlier), as well as the potential for social development, are a consequence of differences in the biophysical environment. In addition to the biophysical environment, most societies have a socio-cultural environment, that is, other societies and cultures. The sociocultural environment acts in two ways: as a threat (military, political or economic), but also as a resource. The most important resources that surrounding societies give to society are technological and other innovations, which are obtained through cultural diffusion. Lenski believes that cultural diffusion has been a much greater source of useful information (in all cultural subsystems), than independent discoveries and inventions.
The most important cultural subsystem is technology, because technology is the meeting place of the biophysical environment and all other components of socio-cultural systems, and thus affects almost all aspects of human life. Technology, genetics, and the biophysical environment have a decisive influence on the choices made by individuals and societies. The need to save energy is the biggest motive and pressure for technological innovation. Although Lenski attaches the greatest importance to the study of all types of technology, he believes that ideology can have a reciprocal impact on the development of technology. During the evolution of societies, there was a change of periods in which ideology was prone to change, and thus technological change was happening, and periods in which ideology sought to keep society at the same technological levels, so there was resistance to new technologies. The ideological subsystem, in order to survive, strives to maintain the status quo and therefore opposes technological change. Technological stagnation is possible until economic pressures become large enough that the development of new technology becomes inevitable.
For Lenski, political economy is less important than ideology, which is viewed autonomously. Since Lenski sees technology as a key cultural subsystem, he based his evolutionary taxonomy of societies on the dominant technology in the economy. Thus, the types of societies that he singles out are: 1) hunting and gathering societies, 2) simple horticultural societies, 3) advanced horticultural societies, 4) simple agrarian societies, 5) advanced agrarian societies, 6) fishing societies, 7) maritime societies, 8) simple herding societies, 9) advanced herding societies, and 10) industrial societies.
These ten types of societies are not in direct evolutionary order. Hunting and gathering societies can adopt new technologies and become either fishing, horticultural, or livestock societies. These three types of society can be transformed into agrarian societies. Agrarian societies, in the technological sense, are characterized by the use of plows that pull draft animals, such as oxen or horses. Eventually, some agrarian societies grow into industrial societies by adopting new technologies. The speed of evolutionary change depends on many factors: the size of the population, the physical and social environment, as well as ideology. However, societies do not necessarily have to go through evolutionary development, because they can remain in a static state if there is no change in the physical and social environment, or they can fail if they do not adapt to changes in the environment.
With each transformation from one type of society to another with better technology, there comes a greater possibility for creating economic surpluses. Increasing the possibilities for creating these surpluses also enables stratification in society in terms of political power and social prestige. There is no hierarchy among hunter-gatherers in terms of political power, but only in terms of social prestige. The situation is similar with horticultural societies with a smaller population. But, as soon as large amounts of economic surpluses are created, there comes population increases and higher population density, and that necessarily leads to the creation of stratification in society.
Advanced horticultural and herding societies, in general, have three basic social classes: chiefs, lower chiefs, and ordinary people. Agrarian societies have the highest stratification and have a larger number of social classes. The ruling class in agrarian societies controls almost all the wealth of those societies, and the basis of economic exploitation can be agricultural rent, which is taken from subordinate classes, or exploitation can be done through the unpaid labor of slaves. The transformation of agrarian societies into industrial societies has led to a partial reduction in the hierarchical structure of societies.:
In the book Societies: An Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives (1966) American sociologist Talcott Parsons singles out three main evolutionary stages of development of society: primitive, transitional, and modern. The primitive stage is characterized by two phases: 1) the most primitive phase (Australian Aborigines are at that level) and 2) the advanced primitive phase (the Nupe, Shiluk, and Zulu societies are given as examples of societies at this level). The transitional evolutionary stage also has two separate evolutionary phases: 1) the archaic phase (ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia) and 2) the advanced phase (the Chinese and Roman empires).
Parson also introduces the concept of "evolutionary universals" which he defines as: “a complex of structures and associated processes the development of which so increases the long-run adaptive capacity of living systems in a given class that only systems that develop the complex can attain certain higher levels of general adaptive capacity”(Parsons, 1967). Evolutionary universals refer to the ability of societies to adapt to their own specific circumstances. When there is a significant increase in adaptability, then what Parsons calls "adaptive upgrading" takes place. From the most primitive to the most advanced societies, they are all structured around several ubiquitous universals: kinship, linguistic communication, religion, and technology. When society enters a transitional stage, then two more universals become functionally necessary: a system of social stratification and a “system of cultural legitimation” that regulates emerging institutions.
These institutions have increasing autonomy, so they are more prone to disorganization. With the transition to a modern industrial society, four more types of universals are formed: 1) bureaucratic organization, 2) legal system of generalized universalic norms applicable to the whole society, 3) money and markets based on property and contract, 4) democratic association - universal suffrage, parliamentary assemblies, secret ballot, free elections, political associations and the concept of citizenship. With the evolution of society, cultural and social subsystems become more autonomous and independent of state control.
American sociologist Stephen Sanderson developed his theoretical paradigm the Darwinian conflict theory, and it is a theoretical synthesis of several approaches: cultural materialism developed by anthropologist Marvin Harris; rational choice theory; the Weberian conflict approach; Gerhard Lenski's ecological-evolutionary theory; Immanuel Wallerstein's world systems theory; and the sociobiology. Sanderson believes that a comprehensive evolutionary theory must have the potential to explain both standard patterns of social evolution and unique ones. He strives to develop just such a theoretical paradigm, capable of explaining the general directions of social transformation, that is, periods of development, stagnation, and decline of society. Sanderson agrees with the sociobiological assumption that many aspects of human behavior are instinctive, that is, that they are a consequence of genetic adaptation that served to increase the reproductive success of individuals. Sanderson singles out several of these, as he calls them, innate instincts, or behavioral predispositions: selfish behavior for himself or his closest relatives; high sexuality, parental instinct (stronger in women), the pursuit of economic success and high status in society, as well as the instinct to achieve goals with the least possible effort. These behavioral predispositions are not rigid and how they will manifest depends on the physical and sociocultural environment.
The ecological, technological, demographic, and economic circumstances, in which different societies have developed over the last ten thousand years, have been crucial in creating different paths of social evolution. Sanderson believes that social evolution has no teleological purpose and that it represents the accumulation of individual behavior that occurred in response to the specific challenges of the environment in which these individuals lived. Social evolution is an adaptive process, and the only one who can experience adaptation is a specific human person because that person is the only one who has needs and desires. Although social evolution takes place at all levels, from individual families to global society, macroevolutionary processes are always a consequence of evolution at the micro level. This kind of evolution can sometimes lead to unintended consequences for the social structure. Social evolution is always dynamic because it is the product of a complex interplay of external factors (environmental, other societies), internal factors (social structure), and individual creative behavior (agency).
In all societies, there are relations of cooperation and conflict. When it is more convenient for individuals to cooperate, then cooperation prevails, while otherwise, conflicts develop. There are egalitarian relations and great cooperation in the societies of hunter-gatherers because such relations give the greatest chance to each individual to survive. With the development of agriculture and the increase of the population in societies, the selfish struggle to realize the benefit for oneself and one's relatives came to the fore, so it led to the formation of a relationship of superiority and subordination and economic exploitation. The most common forms of the relationship between superiority and subordination are based on divisions by gender, class, and ethnicity.
Marvin Harris elaborated on Marx's division of social reality into base and superstructure, and this division was taken over and further reworked by Sanderson. Sanderson introduces four levels of social reality: biostructure (human biology), ecostructure (basic type of economy and related technology), structure (economic-political base), and superstructure (patterns of mental life - beliefs, values, norms, cultural preferences). The course of causality and determination goes, in most cases, from the first to the later level. This means that the biostructure influences the formation of the ecostructure, which further influences the formation of the structure, which further shapes the superstructure. Once formed, structures and superstructures can achieve a certain level of autonomy in relation to the two previous levels.
Sanderson accepted the typology of stages of social evolution developed by Gerhard Lenski. Sanderson believes that the evolution of society has gone through several phases, that is, great social transformations, for which a fundamental change in the ecostructure was key. These phases are: hunter-gatherer societies, horticultural societies, agrarian societies (the emergence of states and civilizations), and finally, industrial societies. In each of these phases, as well as during the transformations between the phases, those deterministic forces that Sanderson singled out acted.
American sociologist Jonathan Turner has been developing his macro-sociological approach for over four decades, and in this endeavor, he works closely with his wife, sociologist Alexandra Maryanski, with whom he co-authored a large number of books. Turner's theoretical work aims to build a macro-sociological approach that would include all levels of a social system (macro, meso, and micro) and which would include the most significant contributions of earlier theoretical approaches, regardless of which level of the social system these approaches gave priority. The ultimate goal is to create sociological laws and analytical models that would apply to all levels of society, but also to all societies, historical and present. Turner's approach is also evolutionary because he pays attention, both to the study of the biological evolution of the human species and its importance for the shaping of human nature, and, on the other hand, to the research of the socio-cultural evolution of human societies.
In his book, Macrodynamics (1995), Turner presents, for the first time, the foundations of his sociological paradigm, which seeks to theoretically unite all three levels of social reality: macro, micro, and meso. He continues to further develop this paradigm in the books Human Institutions (2003) and presents it, in more detail, in the three-volume book Theoretical Principles of Sociology (2010-2012). The author deals with the macro level in the first volume, the micro level in the second volume, and the meso level in the third volume. These three levels are not just levels of analysis, but they constitute three levels of social reality. Each level has separate forces that shape and structure it.
At the macro level, there are institutional systems that are affected by several different determining factors, that is, forces: 1) population, 2) production, 3) distribution, 4) reproduction, and 5) regulation. The size, demographic trends, and distribution of the population have a very large influence on the analysis of macro levels. For the economic functioning of society, that is, for production, the most important factors that determine its character are: technological level, physical capital, human capital, ownership relations, as well as the character of entrepreneurship. In order to achieve the distribution of goods in society, it is necessary to build infrastructure systems for the transfer of goods, but also the rules governing the exchange of these goods. Societies must ensure their own biological, cultural and social reproduction. In societies with large populations, it is necessary to consolidate and centralize power relations in society. The macro, that is, the institutional level, is crucially determined through the "institutional core", which, in any society, consists of institutional arrangements in the areas of: economy, kinship, religion, law, and education.
The theoretical approach known as "Big History" is an attempt “to understand, in a unified and interdisciplinary way, the history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity”. Eurasian Center for Big History and System Forecasting was founded in 2011. Some of the most important representatives of the center and the approach, itself, are Russian scientists Leonid Grinin, Dmitri Bondarenko, Andrey Korotayev, and Peter Turchin. Big History strives to “develop a unified and interdisciplinary history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity. It also seeks to develop system forecasting of social, political, demographic, ethnic and cultural processes at regional and global levels. The aims of this approach and the center are: to develop forecasting systems for social, political, economical, and cultural processes at the global and regional level; to explore evolutionary processes, and their regularities, trends, and mechanisms; to examine the history of the interrelation of society and environment; to study world history and global processes...".
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