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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2009

14 - Perspectives on technological evolution

Summary

Introduction

Scholars of cultural change are explicitly putting forth the argument that the elements of culture they are analysing are subject to evolutionary processes. By ‘culture’, I mean to include both customary ways of doing things and ways of understanding and explaining what the right thing to do is, and why. In most of the arenas I have in mind these two aspects go together: that is, a body of practice is supported by a body of argument rationalizing that practice.

By an ‘evolutionary process’ I mean one in which the processes of change involve mechanisms that ‘select on’ an extant variety; there are forces that sustain the character of what is selected, but there also are mechanisms that introduce new departures to the evolutionary system in question. To argue that change occurs through an evolutionary process in the sense above does not deny or even play down the importance of human purposes, thinking – and even calculating – in guiding action. Indeed, later in this chapter I will stress the importance of human reasoning, understandings and rhetoric in determining what people do. However, the argument that change is evolutionary does deny the capability of humans to foresee fully the consequences of the actions they take, and does highlight that learning is, to a considerable extent, the result of processes that involve trials and feedback from the results of those trials.

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