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THEORIES OF SOCIAL CHANGE Ogburn’s Four Stage Theory Summary written by Eileen Bevis based on Ogburn, William. On culture and social change: selected papers . Edited and introd. by Otis Dudley Duncan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964. Ch. 2. Theories of social evolution seemed to have hit a dead end by 1922, but Ogburn’s own account of social evolution from that time contained seeds of promise [he thinks], so here, thirty years later, he presents a new, improved [read: explicit] theory of social, er, that is to say, cultural evolution based on four explanatory factors: invention, accumulation, diffusion, and adjustment. In short, people invent things (material and non-material), either independently or by imitation/acquisition (diffusion); these things accumulate, increasing the potential for more inventions; the appearance of a new invention causes reactions in other parts of culture and, as society attempts to reestablish equilibrium through adjustment, society also evolves. He begins by asking, “What is it that is evolving?” Though we are tempted to answer “society,” society can be thought of as containing two elements: “inherited biological behavior”, which hasn’t changed much of late, and “culture”, which has changed (22). “Social evolution becomes then cultural evolution, and the evolution of groups since glacial times is part of the evolution of culture” (22). Next Ogburn asks, “What then are the factors that explain cultural evolution?” and answers himself (23): 1. Invention : “a combination of existing and known elements of culture, material and /or non-material, or a modification of one to form a new one” (23) Inventions are the evidence on which we base our observations of social evolution; they are [also; hence?] the most crucial factor in cultural evolution. Inventions are made from a combination of mental ability 1 , demand [akin to utility, strongest form is that of necessity], and the “cultural base ”—the existence of other cultural elements out of which inventions are fashioned” (23). 2. Accumulation : “occurs when more new elements are added to the cultural base than are lost” (24). Presumably, inventions accumulate for the same reason they are made: utility (24). The accumulation process was speeded first by the development of speech and then by writing. By emphasizing accumulation as one facet of society (typical emphasis is on behavior), Ogburn claims to get a clearer distinction between constant biological behavior and varying, accumulative learned behavior in social change. In particular, it destroys the ethnocentric, egotistical myth that man created civilization and replaces it with the much truer idea that man inherited civilization (25). Thus, “different peoples are born into different accumulations of culture. Though they have the same inherited mental abilities, their operating mental abilities may vary enormously, according to the pile of culture into which they 1 Note:
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  • Fall '19
  • Sociology, Sociocultural evolution, Scot, Ogburn

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