+1 Recommend
1 collections
      • Record: found
      • Abstract: found
      • Article: found

      Mode and tempo in the evolution of socio-political organization: reconciling ‘Darwinian’ and ‘Spencerian’ evolutionary approaches in anthropology

      Read this article at

          There is no author summary for this article yet. Authors can add summaries to their articles on ScienceOpen to make them more accessible to a non-specialist audience.


          Traditional investigations of the evolution of human social and political institutions trace their ancestry back to nineteenth century social scientists such as Herbert Spencer, and have concentrated on the increase in socio-political complexity over time. More recent studies of cultural evolution have been explicitly informed by Darwinian evolutionary theory and focus on the transmission of cultural traits between individuals. These two approaches to investigating cultural change are often seen as incompatible. However, we argue that many of the defining features and assumptions of ‘Spencerian’ cultural evolutionary theory represent testable hypotheses that can and should be tackled within a broader ‘Darwinian’ framework. In this paper we apply phylogenetic comparative techniques to data from Austronesian-speaking societies of Island South-East Asia and the Pacific to test hypotheses about the mode and tempo of human socio-political evolution. We find support for three ideas often associated with Spencerian cultural evolutionary theory: (i) political organization has evolved through a regular sequence of forms, (ii) increases in hierarchical political complexity have been more common than decreases, and (iii) political organization has co-evolved with the wider presence of hereditary social stratification.

          Related collections

          Most cited references44

          • Record: found
          • Abstract: found
          • Article: not found

          Inferring the historical patterns of biological evolution.

          M. Pagel (1999)
          Phylogenetic trees describe the pattern of descent amongst a group of species. With the rapid accumulation of DNA sequence data, more and more phylogenies are being constructed based upon sequence comparisons. The combination of these phylogenies with powerful new statistical approaches for the analysis of biological evolution is challenging widely held beliefs about the history and evolution of life on Earth.
            • Record: found
            • Abstract: not found
            • Article: not found

            Nothing in Biology Makes Sense except in the Light of Evolution

              • Record: found
              • Abstract: found
              • Article: not found

              Towards a unified science of cultural evolution.

              We suggest that human culture exhibits key Darwinian evolutionary properties, and argue that the structure of a science of cultural evolution should share fundamental features with the structure of the science of biological evolution. This latter claim is tested by outlining the methods and approaches employed by the principal subdisciplines of evolutionary biology and assessing whether there is an existing or potential corresponding approach to the study of cultural evolution. Existing approaches within anthropology and archaeology demonstrate a good match with the macroevolutionary methods of systematics, paleobiology, and biogeography, whereas mathematical models derived from population genetics have been successfully developed to study cultural microevolution. Much potential exists for experimental simulations and field studies of cultural microevolution, where there are opportunities to borrow further methods and hypotheses from biology. Potential also exists for the cultural equivalent of molecular genetics in "social cognitive neuroscience," although many fundamental issues have yet to be resolved. It is argued that studying culture within a unifying evolutionary framework has the potential to integrate a number of separate disciplines within the social sciences.

                Author and article information

                Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                April 12 2011
                April 12 2011
                April 12 2011
                : 366
                : 1567
                : 1108-1117
                [1 ]Evolutionary Cognitive Science Research Centre, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
                [2 ]Human Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK
                © 2011




                Comment on this article