1st Edition

The First Institutional Spheres in Human Societies Evolution and Adaptations from Foraging to the Threshold of Modernity

By Seth Abrutyn, Jonathan Turner Copyright 2022
    482 Pages 23 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    482 Pages 23 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Few concepts are as central to sociology as institutions. Yet, like so many sociological concepts, institutions remain vaguely defined. This book expands a foundational definition of the institution, one which locates them as the basic building blocks of human societies—as structural and cultural machines for survival that make it possible to pass precious knowledge from one generation to the next, ensuring the survival of our species. The book extends this classic tradition by, first, applying advances in biological evolution, neuroscience, and primatology to explain the origins of human societies and, in particular, the first institutional sphere: kinship. The authors incorporate insights from natural sciences often marginalized in sociology, while highlighting the limitations of purely biogenetic, Darwinian explanations. Secondly, they build a vivid conceptual model of institutions and their central dynamics as the book charts the chronological evolution of kinship, polity, religion, law, and economy, discussing the biological evidence for the ubiquity of these institutions as evolutionary adaptations themselves.


    1. On the Origins of Human Capacities
    2. Selection as the Force Driving Institutional Evolution
    3. Building Human Institutions
    4. The Dynamics of Institutional Autonomy
    5. The First Human Institution: The Evolution of the Nuclear Family and Kinship

    6. The Elaboration of Kinship
    7. The Emergence of Polity in Human Societies
    8. The Increasing Autonomy of Polity
    9. The Emergence of Religion
    10. Religious Evolution and Religious Autonomy
    11. The Emergence of Economy
    12. The Emergence of Law
    13. Legal Autonomy and the Expanding Institutional Infrastructure
    14. Institutional Evolution To The Brink of Modernity
    15. Institutional Evolution and Stratification
    16. The Evolved Institutional Order and the West



    Seth Abrutyn is Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of British Columbia. His research straddles two primary streams: the evolution of human institutions, like religion or polity, and the role place and place-based culture play in shaping adolescent mental health and suicide. His work has won several national awards, and can be found in outlets like American Sociological Review, Sociological Theory, and American Journal of Public Health.

    Jonathan H. Turner was named the 38th University Professor in the history of the University of California system. He is primarily a general sociological theorist. He has authored or coauthored 43 books, and edited nine additional books. This book on the first human institutions is his fourth book on this topic, focusing on the origin of human institutional systems and their evolution to the structural and culture base necessary for modernity.

    A bold departure from the current fragmented vision of social organization that characterizes most of the field of sociology, The First Institutional Spheres in Human Societies' breadth and depth is rarely paralleled except for in the authors’ previous work. This book holds the potential to be a discipline-influencing book. Abrutyn and Turner tell the story of the emergence of institutions, in all of its complexity, to shed light on how this level of social organization emerged and how this level of social organization works. They detail how biology and social organization interact to generate the emergence of human institutions. Their historical approach to the phenomenon gives us a particular sort of insight that we could not get by only looking at current instantiations of institutions.

    Erika Summers-Effler, Notre Dame University