Evolutionary Theory: Introduction for Competitive Exams

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Evolutionary Theory: Introduction - Typology of Cultural Evolution (Anthropology)


  • Evolution may be defined as a process in which different forms are produced or developed orderly in a system. It is concerned with the continuous progress in a system that brings complexity in simplicity, heterogeneity in homogeneity and certainty in uncertainty.
  • In other words, evolution reveals changes in a system in course of time, which can be shown stage after stage or period after period in continuous sequence from past to present.
  • Evolutionist have used evolution as a method to reconstruct the history of mankind from past to present. Thus, it can also be defined as methodology or approach which compares the present to past and establishes sequences of development.
Hebert Spencer
  • Hebert Spencer, a British sociologist defined evolution as follows:
  • ″ Evolution is integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion during which matter passes from an indefinite incoherent homogeneity to definite coherent heterogeneity. ″
  • The principle of evolution is applicable to both biological and cultural spheres.
  • Cultural Evolution may be defined as a process by which different successive forms in socio-cultural institutions or culture of mankind as a whole are developed and accumulated to constitute the growth of culture over different periods of time, but in a continuity.
  • Methodology of cultural evolution contains two vitally important assumptions:
    • It postulates that genuine cultural parallels or cultural similarities, developed independently in all cultures in historical sequences.
    • It assumes that parallels or similarities developed independently due to psychic unity of mankind.
  • In biological evolution, all forms are genetically related and their development is essentially divergent or convergent.
  • In cultural evolution, on the other hand, is assumed that cultural patterns in unrelated yet pass through parallel sequences. The divergent trends, which do not follow the postulated universal sequences.
  • According to Kroeber, an American anthropologist, the process of cultural evolution is an additive and therefore, accumulative one, whereas the process of organic evolution is a substitutive one.

Typology of Cultural Evolution

Typology of Cultural Evolution

Marshal D. Sahlins and Elman Service, students and colleagues of Julian Steward and White, have developed the concept of specific and general evolution to reconcile White՚s and Steward՚s view, by presenting evolutionary schemes in two broad categories:

According to them, evolution in both biological and cultural spheres moves simultaneously in two directions.

  • it creates diversity through modifications as a result new forms differentiate from old.
  • evolution generates progress, because of which higher forms arise and surpass lower ones.
  • General Evolution:
    • A theory which states that all living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.
  • Specific Evolution:
    • A theory which states that many living animals can be observed over the course of time to undergo changes so that new species are formed, these can be demonstrated in certain cases by experiments.
  • General Evolution
    • study of successive forms such as hunting and gathering bands, agriculturists, industrial revolution, atomic age, etc.
    • Diversities emerged in to larger patterns that unfold in progressive fashion.
  • Specific Evolution
    • development of local cultures or groups of cultures through relatively short period of time.
    • brought about by localized factors such environment, diffusion, invention and similar.


Q1. Name the sociologist who termed evolution as process from ′ indefinite incoherent homogeneity to definite coherent heterogeneity ″ .

  1. Hebert Spencer
  2. E. B. Tylor
  3. Alfred Kroeber
  4. Marshal D. Sahlins

Answer: (a) Hebert Spencer

Q2. Which anthropologist consider cultural evolution as an additive process:

  1. Hebert Spencer
  2. Alfred Krober
  3. E. B. Tylor
  4. Marshal D. Sahlins

Answer: (b) Alfred Kroeber

Q3. Which of the following cultural evolution postulates that development of culture is not influenced by local factors:

  1. Unilinear cultural evolution
  2. Universal cultural evolution
  3. Multilinear cultural evolution
  4. Circular cultural evolution

Answer: (b) Universal Cultural evolution

Q4. Who categorized the theory of evolution as general and specific?

  1. Julian Steward
  2. Marshal D. Sahlins
  3. Elman Services
  4. Both B & C

Answer: (d) Both B & C

#Evolutionary School: Introduction


#Cultural Evolution

#Typology of Cultural Evolution

#General Vs Specific Evolution

#Anthropological theories

#Socio-Cultural Anthropology


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