• Dr. Timothy X. Merritt

Social Change Tool Kit - Part 4

Evolutionary Theory

Evolutionary Theory is the first to place the environment as the locus of social change

Evolution Theory Assumptions:

  1. Differenced among the individuals in the evolving entity (variation).

  2. A higher probability that some individuals will produce offspring based on their fitness in the environment (selection).

  3. The ability to pass traits from one generation to the next (replication). (Bishop, 2012, p.141).

Critical assumption: “Compared to all other theories so far, evolution identifies the central role of the environment.” (Bishop, 2012, p.145). “In culture, it is the transmission of more fit ideas (memes) from one person to another. (Bishop, 2012, p.145).

Evolutionary Theory is considered in the Universal Category because it underlies many other social theories: “It explains Progress and Development when the environment is stable, and Cycle Theory is oscillating. It explains how technology and culture are adopted and disseminated throughout society. It explains how conflicts appear, and who prevails in the markets and the halls of power” (Bishop, 2012, p. 144)

Development theory and Evolutionary Theory are so similar that they are often used interchangeably. However, Evolutionary Theory doesn’t assume a direction or “Shape” as Development does. Evolutionary Theory also relies on the external environment as a mechanism for change.

Critique: “Does the environment select the social changes that go forward? … But (there are) those who believe that people or technology or ideas can produce change despite the environment…” (Bishop, 2012, p.146).

Emergence Theory

Compared to all other theories considered so far, Emergence is the first “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” approach.

Emergence Theory Assumptions:

  1. Social change ‘bubbles up’ from the bottom rather than ‘top-down.’

  2. Systems consist of a multiplicity of agents, each operating to achieve goals in an environment of other agents. (Bishop, 2012, p.146).

Critical assumption: “That systems consist of a multiplicity of agents, each operating to achieve goals in an environment of other agents... Most so

Finding fictional novels that describe social change in terms of Emergence is much more difficult than finding non-fiction books that describe the complex science of Emergence in layman’s terms. Yet, the field of complexity “is forming the basis of everything from the understanding of networks to the prediction of markets” (Bishop, 2012, p. 146).

In this sense, it seems to answer the question posed by Progress theory: “Is there a universal standard?”

Critique: “The problem with that assumption as an explanation for social change, however, is that no one knows how emergent patterns arise. There is no science of Emergence that can tell which conditions will produce which patterns.” (Bishop, 2012, p.147).

The fact that no one knows how emergent patterns arise may also provide a tremendous opportunity for fiction writers to introduce supernatural elements that have previously laid outside the realm of “Science” fiction.

Now that we have explored all of the tools in the tool kit separately, we can begin to get an idea of the “big picture” and see how all of these tools work together to create the massive social changes we are all observing.

But what is the practical application of these theories?

How can we use our newfound understanding to create the kind of social change we desire (or to prevent the kind of social change we do not desire? As I mentioned previously, the fiction author is in a remarkable position to create an imaginary world to explore the future using any single theory or combination of theories. Understanding their different dimensions and relationships opens up worlds of possibility.

As promised, here is my library of fiction books that contain imaginary worlds so you can get an idea about how these patterns of social change are described. (Click the links in the references below for individual book reviews):


Asimov, I. (1950). I Robot. New York, Gnome. Retrieved Online: https://www.candlesbook.com/wp-content/uploads/book-cover-art-print-i-robbot-issaac-asimov.jpg

Asimov, I. (1951). The Foundation. New York, Gnome. Retrieved Online: https://www.amazon.com/Foundation-Isaac-Asimov/dp/0553293354

Bishop, P., & Hines, A. (2012). Social Change. In Teaching about the future. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Barham, M. (2020) The Dispossessed By Ursula K. Le Guin: An Embodiment of Postmodern Anarchism? Curious. Retrieved online: https://medium.com/curious/the-dispossessed-by-ursula-k-le-guin-an-embodiment-of-postmodern-anarchism-edf830c88ee9

Brown, D. (2000) Angels and Demons. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Retrieved Online: https://danbrown.com/angels-demons/

Hosseini, K. (2007). The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books. Retrieved Online: https://www.amazon.com/Kite-Runner-Khaled-Hosseini/dp/159463193X

Merwin, S. & Webster, H. (1901). Calumet K. New York, NY: Crow Press. Retrieved Online: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1575567.Calumet_K_

Niven, L. & Pournelle, J. (1981) Oath of Fealty. Huntington Woods, MI. Phantasia Press. Retrieved Online: https://www.amazon.com/Oath-Fealty-Larry-Niven/dp/1416555161

Orwell, G. (1946). Animal Farm: A fairy story. New York: The New American Library. Retrieved Online: https://www.amazon.com/Animal-Farm-George-Orwell/dp/0451526341

Rand, A. (1957). Atlas Shrugged. New York: New American Library. Retrieved Online: http://booklust-lisa.blogspot.com/2011/01/atlas-shrugged-novel.html

Sinclair, U. (1906). The Jungle. New York: New American Library. Retrieved Online: https://www.amazon.com/Jungle-Upton-Sinclair/dp/1503331865

Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1998). The Fourth Turning: An American prophecy. New York: Broadway Books.

Return to the Emergentism Curated Library

Go back to Social Change Tool Kit - Part 3

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