evolutionary sociologyAny form of sociology which emphasizes continuities between biological evolution and sociocultural evolution. Notwithstanding the many excesses and oversimplifications of much previous EVOLUTIONARY THEORY in sociology, Runciman (1989), for example, suggests ‘that there is no escape from the recognition that any substantive social theory is and cannot but be evolutionary.’ What Runciman means by this is that:
- while in major part ‘extra organic’ (see also SUPERORGANIC, EMERGENT EVOLUTION), human social capacities are biologically based;
- though no simple pattern of UNILINEAR social development has occurred and prediction is out of the question (as is it also in relation to biological evolution), it remains possible to discuss social evolution in terms of a historical sequence of development (compare EVOLUTIONARY UNIVERSALS) in which later developments depend on those earlier; (c) in these circumstances, it makes sense to employ the concept of social 'S election’ (while at the same time specifying what the ‘advantage’ is) to explain why certain social practices have become established.
Not all sociologists would agree with Runciman's assessment, although many would (see also NEOEVOLUTIONISM, SOCIOCULTURAL EVOLUTION). If few would quarrel with (a) and (b) of Runciman's three points, the main source of disagreement is whether terms such as 'S election’ and ‘adaptation’, imported from biology can have any very precise content compared with their use in biology (see also FUNCTIONAL(IST) EXPLANATION). Some sociologists, notably GIDDENS and MANN recently, have also rejected any conception of ‘serial history’, proposing instead a purely EPISODIC CHARACTERIZATION of social change, presenting this as thus also a rejection of evolutionary (and functionalist) thinking. Yet, in practice, they too appear to find it difficult to escape evolutionary thinking in something like Runciman's broad terms (see Wright, 1983, Jary, 1991).
Issues often arise especially in the more particular claims for ‘adaptation’, functionally effective SOCIAL DIFFERENTIATION, etc, actually made by modern evolutionary sociologists (e.g. see MODERNIZATION). A further general issue is whether evaluative conceptions such as PROGRESS, have any place in modern evolutionary thinking. Evolutionary theorists are also divided on the issue of whether the general principle of‘evolution’ has any implications for the choice between ‘unplanned’ and gradual evolution (‘social mutations’) or planned development (see HISTORICISM sense 2 , RATIONALIZATION). Evolutionary sociology in its modern forms has moved a long way from the crude notions of SOCIAL DARWINISM (misapplied biological ANALOGIES, racist theories, and sweeping applications of such notions as the ‘survival of the fittest’) advanced in the 19th century, but it remains controversial. See also SPENCER, PARSONS, HABERMAS.