The classic thinkers in sociology and anthropology concocted many two stage

The classic thinkers in sociology and anthropology

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The classic thinkers in sociology and anthropology concocted many two-stage theories of change, which are essentially like “before-and-after” snapshots of large-scale change in society. Examples include Redfield’s theory about the transition from “folk” to “urban” societies, Durkheim’s theory of the transition from “mechanical” to “organic” solidarity, and Tonnies’ theory of change from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft. HARPMC02_0131884980.QXD 11/7/06 12:01 AM Page 24
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The Causes and Patterns of Change 25 These theories differ in the factors that they emphasize, but all view the broad historical pattern of change in human societies as involving the transition from small, undifferentiated societies with a homogeneous culture to large societies with a high degree of structural differentiation and a heterogeneous culture. Each, in some sense, depicts the evolution from preliterate to modern societies. This is what social scientists used to refer to as social evolution from the assumption that some sort of master change processes were at work in all societies through time. But recent developments in the concept of social evolution empha- size the accumulation of complex contingencies (for example, the generation of novel forms and their transmission and selection over time) that is closer to the biological meaning of the term evolution (Burns and Dietz, 1992; Sztompka, 1993). Our purpose here is more elementary: to summarize the major historical and developmental changes in human societies. We will discuss Lenski’s macro- stage theory that connects several—rather than two—stages in a historical- developmental sequence. The Historical Development of Human Societies. Lenski (Lenski and Lenski, 1982) developed a broad developmental theory of different types of societies (hunting and gathering, pastoral and horticultural, agricultural, industrial) where the transitions from one form to the next were caused by innovations in the technology of economic production that produced an ever larger and more certain surplus of food and material resources. At each stage, societies could support a larger population and grew in complexity and internal differentiation. Hunting and gathering societies are the oldest type of human societies and still exist in a few scattered places. These were small nomadic groups whose daily life was occupied by the hunting of animals and the search for edible foods. They were essentially subsistence economies that produce no significant economic surplus. The plains Indians of North America, the polar Eskimos, and the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa are near-contemporary hunters and gatherers. They traveled in bands of about fifty people, following wild game and carrying vir- tually all their possessions with them. Society was coterminous with the family and kinship unit, though hunters and gatherers were aware of related bands and people with whom they shared language, culture, and territory. There were few larger-scale social units or statuses not defined by age, sex, or kinship. The division of labor was
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