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Journal Article

Review: CONSTRUCTING A SELECTIONIST PARADIGM: The Theory of Cultural and Social Selection by W. G. Runciman

Reviewed Work: The Theory of Cultural and Social Selection by W. G. Runciman
Review by: Martin Stuart-Fox
History and Theory
Vol. 50, No. 2 (May 2011), pp. 229-242
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41300081
Page Count: 14
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CONSTRUCTING A SELECTIONIST PARADIGM
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Abstract

In his latest contribution to the application of Darwinian evolutionary thinking to the social sciences, W. G. Runciman conceives of human behavior as resulting from three levels of selection—biological, cultural, and social. These give rise, respectively, to evoked, acquired, and imposed patterns of behavior. The biological level is hardly controversial, but to draw a distinction between separate cultural and social selective processes is more problematic. Runciman takes memes to be the variants competitively selected at the cultural level and the practices constituting rule-governed roles to be the variants competitively selected at the social level—thus preserving separate spheres of research for anthropology and sociology. It is not clear, however, what drives cultural and social evolution. Nor are the three levels theoretically well integrated. The book's strength lies in the numerous examples provided of how the application of selectionist theory illuminates and enriches sociological and historical explanations and contributes to the construction of historical narrative.

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