Evolutionary Theories of Social Change

Unit 2 Module 3 - Poverty & Social Development



Evolutionary Theories of Social Change
Social Darwinism
Herbert Spencer adapted Darwinian ideas to his own ethical theories to create
a theory known as Social Darwinism.The major assumptions:

1. Natural selection; it is natural,normal, and proper for the strong to thrive
 at the expense of the weak.

2. Survival of the fittest is natural, and morally correct

3. The fittest are the rich/powerful/elite groups of society - since they,
found the best solutions to surviving by securing sustenance by accumalating
surplus, as well as acquired power to retain control over these resources.

Application to Social Development

4. Social Darwinism was used to justify exploitation eg. Colonialism
through Social Darwinian ethics - colonizers viewed indigenous peoples as being uncivilized, weaker, more unfit to survive. This rationalization served to justify the taking of land and resources, without the approval of the indigenous.
   * Slavery  and Warfare were also justified by Social Darwinism
 5. It provided a justification for the more exploitative forms of capitalism
in which workers were paid low wages for long hours of hard labor.

6. At its most extreme form, Social Darwinism has been used to justify
eugenics programs aimed at removing "undesirable" genes from the population; such programs were sometimes accompanied by sterilization laws directedagainst "unfit" individuals. (Wikipedia.org)

Unilineal Evolutionary Theory

This school of thought suggests that society developed in a single line of
continuation. Progressing from primitive to complex.

"Social evolutionism represented an attempt to formalize social thinking along scientific lines, later influenced by the biological theory of evolution. If  organisms could develop over time according to discernible, deterministic laws, then it seemed reasonable that societies could as well". (Wikipedia.org)

Spencer and Comte view the society as a kind of organism subject to the process of growth - from simplicity to complexity, from chaos to order, from generalisation to specialisation, from flexibility to organisation. They asserted that growth is social progress. Each newer, more evolved society is better. Thus progressivism became one of the basic ideas underlying the theory of social evolutionism.

Their analysis of cross-cultural data was based on three assumptions:

   1. contemporary societies may be classified and ranked as more "primitive" or more "civilized;"
   2. There are a determinate number of stages between "primitive" and "civilized" (e.g. band, tribe, chiefdom, and state),
   3. All societies progress through these stages in the same sequence, but at different rates.

Criticisms:
   1. The theory is ethnocentric--it makes heavy value judgements on different societies; assuming that Western civilization is the most valuable.
   2. It assumes all cultures follow the same path or progression and have the same goals.
   3. It equated civilization with material culture (technology, cities, etc.)
   4. It equated evolution with progress or fitness, based on deep misunderstandings of evolutionary theory.
   5. It is greatly contradicted by evidence. Some (but not all) supposedly primitive societies are arguably more peaceful and equitable / democratic than many modern societies.

Multilinear Theory of Development

Emerged during the early twentieth century to challenge the ethnocentric
assuptions of unilinaer theories of social development. This school of thought
was developed by a German-born anthropologist Franz Boas.These are the basic assumptions:
Different societies developed in different ways.
 
1. All cultures are unique in time and place.

2. There is no specific evolutionary change/s that is/are experienced by all
cultures universally.

3. All human societies evolve or progress - however these changes are influenced
by a variety of socio-econmic and political factors.

4. The primary mechanism for progress involved technological innovations
that help to make societies more adaptable to and dominant over the environment.
 egs. of such technological innovations includes,transportation (as from pedestrian to equestrian to motorized
forms),and food production (as from hunting and gathering to agriculture).The
general socio-economic transitions range from the Stone, Bronze, and
Iron ages and later the IndustrialRevolution).
 
References:
Encyclopedia Britannica
Thinkquestlibrary.org
Wikipedia.org