Department of
Sociology

Center for
Innovation

A Post-Modern Theory of Social Evolution

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Causes of Innovation,
the Consequences of Knowledge Growth and Problems in Adaptation

Why should a Center for Innovation be concerned with what might considered to be grand theory and especially feel the need to integrate previous theoretical works? Two reasons require us to consider the issues involved in social evolution. The first and most obvious is that innovation, whether in the form of new products or new services or especially new technologies, represents a disruptive force as well as a sign of progress. Innovation is both good and bad and frequently Centers of Innovation focus on the former and not the latter. The second and much less obvious, is that contemporary developed societies have failed to adapt to the growth of knowledge that is changing the world and creating many of the problems that are so evident. Too often, the culprit is assumed to be globalization, which itself is largely a consequence of knowledge growth. But this is glib and misleading. Therefore, to understand better how the “times are a changing” requires a more complex theory about social evolution and a post-modern one at that.

This post-modern theory (hereafter PMT) of social evolution starts with a conceptualization of what is a post-modern man and woman, their abilities and their values. Post-modern individuals have a complex cognitive structure and the capacity for emotional empathy, solving the problem of how to understand the subjective meanings of others. But contemporary societies also produce individuals with quite opposite value sets in gemeinshaft and gesellschaft communities. These distinctions lay at the heart of the many political antagonisms existing today.

In addition, this theory focuses on a number of major structural changes currently visible in society:

  1. the evolution of a stratification system with a diversity of capitalist classes and new kinds of lumpen proletariat or individuals who are left out.
  2. the evolution of organizational forms and their appropriate contexts including post-modern organizations concerned with the maximization of the potential of their workers.
  3. the evolution of networks including the destructuration of supply, service, and innovation networks and the creation of intense emotional links between individuals.

These three problems allow the theory to incorporate what is best in the theories of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, explaining under what contingencies some of their arguments remain relevant today. Within this perspective, the theory can explain the new forces creating alienation, powerlessness, and anomie or social isolation.

This theory of social evolution avoids the following errors found in other attempts at describing evolution. Rather than just focus on the macro level as in Lenski and Lenski (1974) or in some cases the micro as in the work of Habermas and before him Mead, all three levels--individual, organization, and societal as well as subdivisions of these such as the mind, the group, the sector, etc.--are included. Biological metaphors are excluded. Two common errors in discussions of evolution are to perceive a specific society as the model for all the others and to fail to recognize when old patterns, traditions, organizational forms, etc. represent useful models.

Rather than describe a process of ever onward and upward, much more focus is placed on the failure to adapt. Signs of alienation, powerlessness, and social isolation represent failures. Indeed, a whole book Restoring the Innovative Edge describing the failure of the U.S. to develop needed new kinds of innovation processes, was published in 2011. Besides the U.S. Considerable attention focuses on the distinctive pathways of various developed societies, most specially Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

To highlight the importance of the failure to adapt, the term problems in adaptation is used in the subtitle. Three special areas of failure are considered in this book; Experimenting with post-modern educational systems, creating a New Economy, and constructing New Forms of Democracy. In these chapters, proposals for reducing alienation, powerlessness, and social isolation are considered.

Relevant Publications include

  • Hage, Jerald. 2011. Restoring the Innovative Edge: Driving the Evolution of Science and Technology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Hage, J. and M. Meeus (eds). 2009. Innovation, Science, and Institutional Change: A Handbook of Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Paperback Edition)

Presentations at Universities and National Research Laboratories on a New Theory of Social Change...

  • Mote, Jonathon, Aleia Clark and Wilbur Hadden. Panel Session: Understanding Knowledge Production Systems: Ecology, Context and Complexity in the National Laboratories. American Evaluation Association. Minneapolis. November 2012.
  • Jerald Hage. Major invited address: A New Socio-Economic Paradigm: The Evolution of Complex Adaptive Societies, Sociology Department, University of Pennsylvania, January 2012.
  • Jerald Hage. Invited lecture: "New Policy for Agricultural Research", Agricultural Research Center, U.S.D.A., Beltsville, MD, January 5th, 2012
  • Jerald Hage. Major invited address: “Solving Communication Gaps in Diverse Research Teams” Department of Speech and Hearing, George Washington University, George Washington, D.C., 1 December, 2011.
  • Jerald Hage, “On a New Socio-Economic Paradigm”, Sociology Department, Emory University, 28 April, 2010

Updated 12 December 2016