Evolutionary Sociology

by Frank W. Elwell
Rogers State University

This page is devoted to indexing social theorists whose works have great importance for understanding sociocultural evolution. Most of the theorists referenced on this page are materialist in emphasis, that is they see the driving force behind sociocultural evolution as some combination and/or interaction of the natural environment, population growth, production technology, and contact with other societies.  Others are primarily concerned with with the evolution of economic systems, particularly capitalism, either within nation-states or as a world-system (or, as some would have it, a world system). Still others are focused on rationalization and bureaucracy (though they often root the bureaucratization process in material conditions).

Contemporary Evolutionary Oriented Social Theorists:       
Population, Production, Environment: Economic Systems: Rationalization & Bureaucracy:
Leslie A. White Harry Braverman C. Wright Mills
Marvin Harris Andre Gunder Frank Krishan Kumar
Gerhard E. Lenski Immanuel Wallerstein Samir Amin
Stephen K. Sanderson Janet Abu-Lughod George Ritzer
Robert Carneiro John Bellamy Foster Randall Collins
Ester Boserup Modern Social Theorists Classical Social Theorists

Alfred North Whitehead said that "a science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost." In this respect the teaching of social theory, particularly macro social theory, is too often focused on the founders. Undergraduate texts give ample discussion of the canonical works of Marx, Weber and Durkheim but little when it comes to the theories of contemporary practitioners. My book, Macrosociology: Four Modern Theorists (Paradigm, 2006) seeks to remedy this with a focus on the work of four modern theorists who have taken on the larger themes of classical social theory. C. Wright Mills, Marvin Harris, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Gerhard Lenski have examined such phenomena and processes as the rise and impact of capitalism, the centralization and enlargement of authority, inequality, and the intensification of production and population. Borrowing what is useful from the classics as well as relying on contemporary practitioners and empirical evidence, each theorist adds his own insights and interpretations in constructing a comprehensive perspective of sociocultural stability and change. This book fully summarizes and documents each perspective using language and examples that resonate with the general reader. A short biography on each theorist is also provided. 

I am currently working on Sociocultural Systems: Contemporary Expression of Classical Theory for the Edwin Mellen Press. This book is intended to introduce students to the classical social theory of T. Robert Malthus, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber as well as the modern expressions of these perspectives. It does this through two mechanisms. First, it provides an overview and critique of four major classical traditions in sociology. Rather than discussing these theories as history, the book will focus upon elements of the perspectives that have proved useful in understanding sociocultural systems. Then, the book will provide an overview and critique of the perspective and analysis of two contemporary social scientists writing within each of these traditions. As modern representatives of  Malthusian theory, the book will examine the theories of Gerhard Lenski and Stephen K. Sanderson. For contemporary followers of Marx the theories of Harry Braverman and John Bellamy Foster will be examined. Representing the Durkheimian worldview will be Stjepan Mestrovic, Robert K. Merton, and Neil Postman. Finally, modern day Weberians are represented by Norbert Elias and George Ritzer. The overarching goal of the book is to provide students with an in-depth understanding of each of the classical sociological traditions and their usefulness in understanding contemporary societies. Through study of contemporary social scientists such as Lenski, Braverman, Mestrovic, and Elias students will truly come to appreciate the breadth and depth of classical social theory as well as its usefulness in understanding contemporary and historical sociocultural systems. The book's concluding chapter demonstrates how the various perspectives detailed in the book are compatible with a comprehensive sociological worldview.

The Industrial Revolution continues. Recently, we have entered a "hyperindustrial" phase in which massive industrial and population changes begun in the 17th century are disrupting the remaining vestiges of  traditional institutions as well as the norms and values of western societies. Drawing on the work of classical and neo-classical theorists,  Industrializing America: Understanding  Contemporary Society through Classical Sociological Analysis  (Praeger, 1999) is an attempt to integrate and synthesize these insight into a comprehensive world view.

©2002 & ©2007 Frank Elwell, Send comments to felwell at rsu.edu
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