The Dance of Innovation : Infrastructure, Social Oscillation, and the Evolution of Societies book cover
1st Edition

The Dance of Innovation
Infrastructure, Social Oscillation, and the Evolution of Societies

ISBN 9781032209395
Published June 20, 2022 by Routledge
300 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Few of us, amidst our daily chores and responsibilities, consider how mundane infrastructures—from electrical grids to sewage systems—have developed over millennia in ways that enable everything we cherish, from democracy to technological innovation to individual liberty. But what drives the evolution of this infrastructure? And why is infrastructure so critical to human flourishing? In this book, the most innovative and interdisciplinary study of cultural evolution ever produced, new concepts are explored, new histories are brought into contact and new ground-breaking insights are defended. What makes creativity unique in human societies is not only our capacity to generate and modify our diverse individual intuitions about the social and physical world, but also our capacity to form and leave groups fluidly in a dancing rhythm of oscillation across the expanse of history. This book walks the reader carefully through these processes, with clear concepts and an approachable writing style.

Table of Contents

1. Humans’ Genetic Unity and Ape Ancestry
2. Fission-Fusion Oscillation as the Central Sustaining Mechanism of Organismality, Part 1
3. Fission-Fusion Oscillation as the Central Sustaining Mechanism of Organismality, Part 2
4. Intuitive Information Processing
5. On the Important Distinction Between “Tools” and “Infrastructure”
6. The Tools and Infrastructure of Fossil Fuel Societies
7. Cities Drive the Metabolism of Societies
8. An “Oscillation-Infrastructural” Theory of Cultural Evolution

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Kevin McCaffree is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. He is the author or co-author of three books, co-editor of Theoretical Sociology: The Future of a Disciplinary Foundation and series editor (with Jonathan H. Turner) of Evolutionary Analysis in the Social Sciences. In addition to these works, he has authored or co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed journal articles and handbook chapters published on a variety of topics ranging from cultural evolution to criminology to the sociology of empathy.


"The Dance of Innovation: Infrastructure, Social Oscillation, and the Evolution of Societies is a very impressive work. The fusion-fission dynamic integrates a lot of complex processes into a workable model. I don’t think I’ve seen an analysis of social change with this kind of scope, integrating the evolution of material and cultural infrastructures along with the evolution of humans both physically and mentally. The continuities in mechanisms from infrahuman life-forms are striking. The book reminds me somewhat of the work of [classical sociologists], but with 150 more years of scientific knowledge accumulated, and a superior theoretical arsenal. "

Randall Collins, Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, is a world-renowned sociologist

"The Dance of Innovation: Infrastructure, Social Oscillation, and the Evolution of Societies is unlike any book written in recent history in sociology. It advances a critical idea that is often lost in sociology – the central force of infrastructures. Human institutional systems and, indeed, all dimensions of the social and economic world do not exist nor function without viable infrastructures. Everything that humans do in building up societies is linked to technologies or knowledge about how to build infrastructures, that is, the sustaining foundations of human societies that allow their dynamic processes to operate and evolve. Another central idea is an old one but stated in a novel new way – the notion of oscillations around patterns of fission and fusion. Societies and, indeed, all social systems at all levels of human organization, are built up only to disintegrate at some point in time as nothing lasts forever. Such has always been true for human social evolution but has been particularly the case over the last 10,000 years where infrastructures have allowed humans to build large, complex societies filled with disintegrative tendencies, thus accelerating oscillation of patterns of social organization on a much more rapid and grand scale. This book is one of the most original contributions to sociological analysis in many decades; and even though it is highly theoretical, it is written in such an informal style that it is a pleasure to read."

Alexandra Maryanski, Research Professor of the Graduate Division in Sociology, University of California, Riverside

"Sociologists need to incorporate an evolved human actor into their models of emergent social processes, and McCaffree does so here, admirably so. He notes that it is the distinctly human evolved capabilities for cooperation and symbolic communication that enable humans to create social groups of a size not seen in the animal world. At the same time the constant dissolution and recombination of those social groups is an important source of knowledge innovation and cultural change. McCaffree particularly highlights the important role of the development of both the knowledge and structures of physical infrastructure (the infrastructure that supplies vital functions such as the supply of clean water) in making the mass societies of the modern world possible."

Rosemary Hopcroft, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina