The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.


'The Emerging Evolutionary Paradigm in the Social Sciences'

Thursday 3 May 2012
4.00m – 5.30pm
CCCS seminar room
Level 4, Forgan Smith Building
Borrowing both ways between the biological and social sciences goes back beyond the time of Charles Darwin. Both Comte and Marx attempted to apply scientific method to human societies, and Darwin himself borrowed his concept that a struggle for existence occurs when increasing populations compete for limited resources from Thomas Malthus. Publication of The Origin of Species stimulated attempts by a number of scholars to apply natural selection to human societies, an endeavor that led to the error and failure of 'Social Darwinism'. The discovery of genetics and its inclusion in the so-called 'synthetic theory of evolution' provided the proximate mechanism required to explain how Darwin's ultimate cause (natural selection) functioned at the level of individual organisms, and provided a more comprehensive model for analogous social scientific theorising.
During the second half of the twentieth century Darwinian evolutionary theory continued to evolve, as a result of both empirical research and theoretical development - some of it, as in the case of 'punctuated equilibrium', adopted from the social sciences. The discovery that Darwinian evolutionary processes were not confined to biological organisms, but applied to such diverse systems as the immune system and the spread of computer viruses, led to the formulation of the algorithm known as 'Universal Darwinism', which states that evolution occurs in any system in which replicable variation is subject to differential selection. This algorithm could be applied on several levels, including cognition, individual behaviour, and the interaction of social groups (notably organised groups like firms and associations, as in evolutionary economics). At the same it was recognised that biological evolution was a process whose history was preserved into the present (in cognition as well as anatomy) - which laid the basis for evolutionary psychology. Over the past twenty years evolutionary concepts have increasingly been applied across the social sciences, from psychology to anthropology and sociology, to economics, and even history, backed by mathematical modelling drawn from game theory and population genetics - to the point where, it can be argued, an evolutionary paradigm is emerging with the potential to unify the social sciences in the way that Darwinian evolutionary theory does for the biological sciences.
This presentation will trace the developments outlined, and conclude by sketching the essential theoretical mechanisms of the emerging paradigm.
Martin Stuart-Fox is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Queensland. After completing a BSc in evolutionary biology, he worked in PNG, Hong Kong and Laos before joining United Press International as a foreign correspondent covering the Second Indochina War. On returning to Australia he tutored and lectured in Asian history at UQ while undertaking an MA (on the rationale for an evolutionary theory of history) and PhD (developing an evolutionary theory of history). As Head of History at UQ, Professor Stuart-Fox taught courses on History, Time and Meaning, and Theory of History at the Honours level. He is currently pursuing research on evolutionary theory of history.

On this site

Go to top