After long neglect, evolutionary thinking is receiving new emphasis in the social sciences. Although evolutionary theories in biology are complex, changing, and often controversial, the basic concepts of variation, selection, and transmission potentially have powerful applications in sociology. In such uses, a crucial distinction must be made between developmental processes and evolutionary processes. Two main approaches characterize current evolutionary thinking in sociology: sociobiological explanations, and coevolutionary accounts of the interaction of genes and culture. Evolution through natural selection can occur with genes, cultural elements, and any other self-replicating codes. Although social learning is the cultural analogue of genetic transmission, cultural evolution does not necessarily maximize genetic fitness. Newly emerging sociological theories of evolution hold promise of integrating micro- and macroprocesses, providing explanations of complexity and diversity in social change, reconciling ideas of agency and structure, and linking sociology to biology without misleading reductionism.
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Dietz, T., Burns, T.R. & Buttel, F.H. Evolutionary theory in sociology: An examination of current thinking. Sociol Forum 5, 155–171 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01112590
- evolutionary theory
- cultural transmission