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Theory and Society

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 203–237 | Cite as

Have human societies evolved? Evidence from history and pre-history

  • Michael Mann
Article

Abstract

I ask whether social evolutionary theories found in sociology, archaeology, and anthropology are useful in explaining human development from the Stone Age to the present-day. My data are partly derived from the four volumes of The Sources of Social Power, but I add statistical data on the growth of complexity and power in human groups. I distinguish three levels of evolutionary theory. The first level offers a minimalist definition of evolution in terms of social groups responding and adapting to changes in their social and natural environment. This is acceptable but trivial. The hard part is to elucidate what kinds of response are drawn from what changes, and all sociology shares in this difficulty. This model also tends to over-emphasize external pressures and neglect human inventiveness. The second level of theory is “multilineal” evolution in which various paths of endogenous development, aided by diffusion of practices between societies, dominate the historical and pre-historical record. This is acceptable as a model applied to some times, places, and practices, but when applied more generally it slides into a multi-causal analysis that is also conventional in the social sciences. The third level is a theory of general evolution for the entire human experience. Here materialist theories are dominant but they are stymied by their neglect of ideological, military, and political power relations. There is no acceptable theory of general social evolution. Thus the contribution of social evolutionary theory to the social sciences has been limited.

Keywords

Historical sociology Power Differentiation War State Ideology 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUCLALos AngelesUSA

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