Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2009

14 - Perspectives on technological evolution



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.

Abrahamson, E. (1996), ‘Management fashion’, Academy of Management Review 21(1): 254–85
Basalla, G. (1988), The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Bijker, W. (1995), Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Towards a Theory of Sociotechnical Change, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Boyd, R., and P. J. Richerson (1985), Culture and the Evolutionary Process, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Campbell, D. T. (1960), ‘Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes’, Psychological Review 67: 380–400. [Reprinted in G. Radnitzky and W. W. Bartley Ⅲ (eds.) (1987), Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge, La Salle, IL: Open Court, 91–114]
Campbell, D. T. (1974), ‘“Downward causation” in hierarchically organized biological systems’, in F. J. Ayala and T. Dobzhansky (eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of Biology, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 179–86
Cavalli-Sforza, L. L., and M. W. Feldman (1981), Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Chandler, A. D. (1962), Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Chandler, A. D. (1990), Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Demsetz, H. (1967), ‘Toward a theory of property rights’, American Economic Review 57(2): 347–59
Durham, W. H. (1991), Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
Hull, D. (1988), Science as a Process, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Kuhn, T. S. (1970), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Landes, W. M., and R. A. Posner (1987), The Economic Structure of Tort Law, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Lumsden, C. J., and E. O. Wilson (1981), Genes, Mind, and Culture, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Nelson, R. R. (1962), ‘The link between science and technology: the case of the transistor’, in R. R. Nelson (ed.), The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Nelson, R. R., and S. G. Winter (1982), An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Nelson, R. R., and Winter, S. G. (1995), ‘Recent evolutionary theorizing about economic change’, Journal of Economic Literature 33: 48–90
Plotkin, H. C. (1982), Learning, Development, and Culture: Essays in Evolutionary Epistemology, New York: Wiley
Popper, K. R. (1968), Conjectures and Refutation: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, New York: Harper Torchbooks
Vincenti, W. (1990), What Engineers Know and How They Know It, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
Vincenti, W. (1994), ‘The retractable airplane landing gear and the Northrop anomaly: variation-selection and the shaping of technology’, Technology and Culture 35: 1–33