The Empirical and Theoretical Landscape
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Since the dawn of social science, theorists have debated how and why societies appear to change, develop and evolve. Today, this question is pursued by scholars across many different disciplines and our understanding of these dynamics has grown markedly. Yet, there remain important areas of disagreement and debate: what is the difference between societal change, development and evolution? What specific aspects of cultures change, develop or evolve and why? Do societies change, develop or evolve in particular ways, perhaps according to cycles, or stages or in response to survival necessities? How do different disciplines—from sociology to anthropology to psychology and economics—approach these questions?
This book provides complex and nuanced answers to these, and many other, questions. First, the book invites readers to consider the broad landscape of societal dynamics across human history, beginning with humanity’s origins in small nomadic bands of hunter gatherers through to the emergence of post-industrial democracies. Then, the book provides a tour of several prominent existing theories of cultural change, development and evolution. Approaches to explaining cultural dynamics will be discussed across disciplines and schools of thought, from "meme" theories to established cumulative cultural evolutionary theories to newly emerging theories on cultural tightness-looseness. The book concludes with a call for theoretical integration and a frank discussion of some of the most unexamined structures that drive cultural dynamics across schools of thought.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The Social Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness
Chapter 2. "Cultural Evolution," Descriptively
Chapter 3. Evolutionary Sociology
Chapter 4. Cyclic Theories
Chapter 5. Cumulative Cultural Evolution
Chapter 6. Memetics
Chapter 7. The Evolution of Norms, Values and Identities
Chapter 8. Toward an Integration and Theoretical Extension
Kevin McCaffree is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. He is the author or co-author of five books, co-editor of Theoretical Sociology: The Future of a Disciplinary Foundation and series co-editor (with Jonathan H. Turner) of Evolutionary Analysis in the Social Sciences. In addition to these works, he has authored or co-authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and handbook chapters on a variety of topics ranging from cultural evolution to criminology to the sociology of empathy.