Toward a Sociological Understanding of Evolutionary Time in Human Development

Monday, July 14, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Osmo KIVINEN , Research Unit for the Sociology of Education, RUSE, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Tero PIIROINEN , University of Turku, Turku, Finland
There is no doubt that social sciences would benefit from opening up more toward Darwinian ideas; most crucially, it would enable a more accurate grasp of the vast time periods involved in the development of our humanity and social life. As known, sociologists have had a complicated relationship with Darwinism – perhaps haunted by the specters of "Social Darwinism", the threat of "sociobiological reductionism", or other traumatic past experiences. This presentation seeks steps toward evolutionary sociology by examining, (1) the lessons taught by the currently popular "evolutionary psychology" (Tooby and Cosmides, Pinker) regarding the human nature; (2) the "Homo economicus criticisms" of evolutionary economists in the spirit of A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (Bowles and Gintis); (3) Geoffrey Hodgson's version of "Generalized Darwinism"; and (4) "niche-construction" approach to human "gene–culture coevolution" (Deacon, Dennett, Laland, Odling-Smee), with its evolution-historical studies on social learning and language evolution.

While evolutionary psychology offers insights into humanity in a long enough timeframe, it unfortunately involves a leap from the face-to-face groups of Pleistocene era straight to modern societies, over all sociologically interesting institutional developments. Bowles and Gintis discuss the evolution of altruism against the idea of selfish individual, providing solutions to "the problem of social order" – timely in economics but familiar to sociologists already since Talcott Parsons. Hodgson's model in turn utilizes pragmatist conceptual tools well, but its level-ontology and abstractions of generalized principles of evolution remain less convincing. This paper seeks to pick out the best lessons of these three approaches and synthesize them with the fourth, niche-construction approach. The resulting organism–environment transaction model opens the brain–consciousness–language–society continuum "outside–in" rather than "inside–out" and allows understanding time periods in terms of localized organism–environment transactions by means of which evolution can in fact only be understood.