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Social Evolution. The earliest ancestors of humans ( hominids ) diverged from apes about 8 million years ago. Between 3 and 2 million years ago, they learned to walk erect . Between 2 and 1.5 million years ago, hominids began to migrate from Africa to other lands.

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The earliest ancestors of humans (hominids) diverged from apes about 8 million years ago

Between 3 and 2 million years ago, they learned to walk erect.

About 100,000 years ago, those early humans went almost completely extinct as a result of a global ecological catastrophe
  • It is possible that as few as 10,000 survived…

It was from those few survivors that man (homo sapiens) emerged in Africa

Read this interview with Prof. Steven Pinker of MIT on the evolution of the human mind: Evolution: Library: Steven Pinker: Evolution of the Mind


As their numbers grew, homo sapiens began to move across the continents in search of food, water, land, and security

Human history can be described as a process of social evolution
  • Just as biological evolution is development of simpler forms of life into more complex and highly organized forms of life,
  • social evolution (or social development)is a process of
  • growth of complexity and differentiation of social organization (cooperation between human beings,
  • coordination of human activities)
  • In other words,
  • It is a process of creation and development of new, more complex, and more effective forms of social organization.
  • It takes place under the influence of ecological, demographic, technological and economic factors.
  • *See Stephen Sanderson, Social Transformations. Blackwell, 1995, Ch. 1 - and
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Norton, 1997, 1999
  • For an interesting discussion of theories of social evolution, go to:
  • Science and Society: OVERVIEW PAGE
Band– a small community bound by blood ties
    • Not centralized, egalitarian(low inequality), low division of labour (mostly gender-based),
    • Decisions are made collectively.
    • Unity is based on customs and traditions
  • Hunter and gatherer societies
Tribe – a group of bands united for a common purpose
    • In order to survive, humans tend to form bigger groups.
    • Also egalitarian: power is dispersed throughout the tribe.
    • Leaders are first among equals, they don’t have the means to compel tribesmen to obey. Custom, tradition, ritual, religious belief are the main tools to maintain social order.
  • Agricultural societies (farming, animal husbandry)
Chiefdom – a transitional form on the way from tribe to state.
    • A larger society with more developed division of labour, higher productivity, which means that there is surplus product to use beyond mere subsistence.
    • Private property appears, inequality grows, people are more and more divided by class. Power emerges as something separate from society.
    • Authority is formalized (institutionalized) in the office of the chief, which can be filled by different people. The chief has means of compelling members of society (military force)
  • Develops in agricultural societies, which increasingly rely on slave labour
  • Appears about 10,000 years ago
State – a highly structured organization of power over a more developed, more complex, class-divided society.
    • The state is capable of performing massive tasks:
      • suppressingsocialrevolts,

waging wars,

organizing construction of fortresses, dams and canals,

minting money.

    • It has the power to tax and to punish those who break the law
    • The cityis the seat of state power
  • First states appear in Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Persia (Iran), beginning around 5,000years ago.
  • The beginning of recorded history

God Horus – symbol of Pharaoh’s supreme power

The Pharaoh

The Pharaoh’s enemy

Tax collector

Enemy soldiers killed

From Band to State: Summing Up
  • -- As societies become more complex, differentiated, populous, and technologically advanced, their political organizations become more centralized and separate from society
  • -- As societies develop from band to state, they become less egalitarian and less democratic
  • -- As societies become more complex, the role of community decreases and the role of the state grows.

From Antiquity to Modern Age


Antiquity: 3000 B.C.E. (Before Common Era*) – 400 C.E. (Common Era**). Classical (European) Antiquity: 400 B.C.E.- 400 C.E. (from the rise of Ancient Greece to the fall of Rome)

Middle Ages: 400 – 1400 C.E. (from the fall of Rome to the beginning of Renaissance)

Modern Age: 1400 – now(or, are we in a post-modern age already?)

(Note: all dates are approximate, based on certain pivotal events, while in real life, the transitions from one age to another were usually slow and gradual)

*Old term: B.C. (before Christ)

**Old term: A.D. (Anno Domini)


Modernization: 3 basic points

1. M. is the development of industrial, urban, capitalist (with important exceptions) societies, organized in nation-states, guided by belief in reason, science, and progress, and undergoing constant change

2. M. has led to Western dominance over the rest of the world through global development of capitalism. The rest of the world has been forced to modernize, too. In the 20th century, important countries tried alternative paths of modernization (socialist experiments in Russia, China, India, Cuba, several other less developed countries)

3. The West and the Rest: can the Western model be implemented in the rest of the world? If not, what will happen to the West and the Rest?


Rise of productivity of human labour

Per capita income in Europe, for 1,000 years before 1700 –

Grew at 0.11% a year, doubling every 630 years.*

1820-1990 (in 170 years):

Grew by 10times in Britain, by 15 times in Germany, by 18 times in USA, and by 25 times in Japan.**

*William J.Baumol, Sue Ann Batey Blackman, and Edward N.Wolff, Productivity and American Leadership: The Long View (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), p.12

**Angus Maddison, Dynamic Forces in Capitalist Development

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp.6-7


The Population Explosion*

--10,000 years ago – 5-6 million peoplelived on Planet Earth

--1,000 BCE – 150 million (grew by 30 times in 9,000 years, result of the agricultural revolution)

--1700 CE – 500 million (grew by 3.3 times in 2,700 years

--Today – 6,723 billion (grew by 13.5 times in 300 years, result of the industrial revolution)

Follow this link to the current count:

*See Krishan Kumar, The Rise of Modern Society, Basil Blackwell, 1988, p.13



The city appears in history 5,000 ago – as a product of the Agricultural Revolution.

1500: 75 cities with total population of 7.5 million (est.)

1800: 3% of the world’s population lived in cities

2000: 47% of the world lived in cities (411 cities with population of 1 million or more, 41 megacities with population of 5 million or more)

2030 (forecast): 60% will live in cities


Growth of population, the past 3,500 years

Growth of agricultural production, the past 3,500 years


The 20th century

Modernization was testedand challenged.


Humanity has survived

It has grown in numbers, as never before

It has accumulated vast knowledge

Its labour has become vastly more productive

    • The endless war,the threat oftotal annihilationof mankind;
    • Massive misuse of science and technology (creation of weapons of mass destruction, above all);
    • The ecological crisis;
    • Growth of inequality and tensions within and between societies (rich vs. poor, North vs. South);
    • Etc.
  • Result: basic ideas of modernity are no longer taken for granted

Are we entering a new age (post-modern, post-industrial)?

Arguments in favour:

1.The information technology revolution: production and processing of information becomes the most important element of the production process. Continuous innovation. Decoding and reprogramming of living matter

2 The rise of the network society: networks of capital, labour, information, and markets linked up globally through technology. Society becomes ever more complex,more fluid, more difficult to manage.

3. The economic crisis of both socialism and capitalism

4. The nation-state is retreating before global forces

5. The rise of new social movements (feminism, environmentalism, human rights, antiglobalism, pacifism, etc.)

See, for example, Manuel Castells. End of Millennium. Blackwell Publishers, 1998, pp.335-360


Cooperation and Conflict

Both cooperation and conflict are easily observed in society. But different observers see different things

Some people emphasize that the natural condition of humans is constant strugglewith each other.

If people are free to do what they want, they will likely fight each other.

Those who hold this view are more skeptical of freedom and stress the need for order which needs to be imposed.

For instance, great English political thinker Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1660 in his book Leviathan:

“So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.
  • The first, maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation.
  • The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men's persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.
  • Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man, against every man.
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p.621
Others tend to assume that humans are naturally inclined to live together in peace and act together for common good.
  • If people are free, they will likely cooperate with each other.
  • From this view of human nature, it follows that society should be organized in such a way as to allow maximum individual freedom.
  • The writings of classic liberal thinkers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill reflect this approach

Adam Smith


“Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty, in the attempting to perform which he must always be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for the proper performance of which no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interest of the society.”
    • Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, p.651

NOTE: Both views proceed from the assumption that cooperation is the essential condition of human life.

It is possible to imagine a human community without conflict.

It is by definition impossible to imagine it without cooperation.

The essence of social evolution, progress is development of more effective forms of social cooperation.

Yet, conflict (competition) is also a natural feature of human life. Conflicts arise, for example:
  • between individuals who compete for scarce resources
  • between classes, social groupsover distribution of wealth and power
  • between businesses over market control
  • between political parties over who will rule
  • between citizens and the state over the use of state authority
  • between nation-states over territory, resources, markets, security

Competition and cooperation are interlocked in many ways.

For instance:

Individuals tend to compete with each other –

but they also form groups (associations) in which they cooperate to make themselves stronger through their groups

So, groups compete with each other –

but they are compelled to cooperate to allow society to exist, and because together they can better achieve their common national goals

So, nations compete with each other –

but they cannot allow their competition to endanger the existence of the human species, so they must learn to cooperate internationally – or perish


So, why do people compete?

Scarcity of resources (land, water, oil, money, etc.).

Cuts both ways…

Distribution of wealth and power, access to them

Who gets what, when and how…*

Strongly held conflicting beliefs, ideas

I am right, you are wrong… I am good, you are evil

*Harold Lasswell’s famous definition of politics


Should differences always lead to conflict?

Obviously not.

Each individual is unique – and needs maximum freedom to actualize (realize) her or his potential.

In this sense, we are all individualists


But this self-actualization can only be developed throughsociety – through relationships with other individuals. (John Donne: “No man is an island”).

In this sense, we are all collectivists.

We depend on others to survive and grow.

We are interdependent – and more so each passing day – and, paradoxically, it is this growing interdependence that increases the individual power of each one of us.

See The Social Animal, by David Brooks, in the New York Times:


Conflict is contained, and cooperation is enhanced, in a society which:

---has achieved a high level of economic development,

---where inequality is not extreme, and rules of competition are fair, and upward social mobility is open to many,

---and where people are tolerant of differences between them.


Socioeconomic factors of conflict

Individuals belong to many groups: occupational, community, ethnic, religious, etc.

They belong to different classes. Classes are defined by:

levels of income

ownership of the means of production

role in the management of the economy and the state

class consciousness

Classes depend on each other. Together, they form the fabric of society

And yet, class relations are often characterized bytensionand conflict

At the core of class divisions is the issue of private property

Class conflict can polarize and even destroy society


Since mid-19th century, critics of capitalism predicted that acute class conflicts generated by capitalist modernization would destroy capitalism. But the Western model has turned out to be more adaptive than many thought possible.

Where did the critics go wrong?

One of the possible answers:

They overestimated the role of class conflict -

and underestimated the role of the state.


Society can function and grow despite the existence of class divisions and conflicts – unless they reach explosive levels:

Classes are not the only forms of social division - and class conflict can be superceded by other social conflicts (gender, racial/ethnic, regional, state-society conflicts, etc.). This prevents total class polarization.

Class interests rarely find direct and immediate expression in politics – they are molded by many influences and structures.

One’s individual interests and class interests can be at odds.

Classes don’t always fight – despite their differences, they are integrated in a social whole. Appeals to national unity can be more powerful than calls for class struggle.


A major cause of the success of the Western model has been its ability to contain class conflict. How:

Economic growth through global expansion of capitalism

Political democracy which helps resolve class conflicts by allowing workers to organize and struggle for their interests and influence governmental policies

Social mobility – chances to move upwards on the social ladder

Changes in the class structure as a result of industrialization – classes become more fragmented, diffused

Promotion of ideas, beliefs and habits which discourage people from thinking in terms of class (us vs. them)