Having guest blogged on an incredibly exciting blog filled with many colleagues Culture, Cognition, and Action, writing entries on the the sociology of emotions, why the sociology of suicide has to change, and how it should change, I’ve decided to take the leap and build a blog of my own. At this point, the blog will vacillate between the work I think that many are more familiar with, medical sociology, mental health, and suicide, and the work that is as much a passion of mine as anything else I do: evolutionary sociology, sociological theory, and assorted topics. For now, the first slew of entries, I think, will be focused on the evolution and social change. Why?
In another lifetime, one spent figuring out what I wanted to do in terms of earning a PhD and in terms of getting a job, I was a macro-historical evolutionary sociologist consumed with playing in the sandboxes of anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and historical sociologists. Sociology was (and still is) the science of societies to me. Recently, after several major changes, the underlying interest in sociocultural evolution bubbled back up. Reading a former professor’s life’s work on Durkheim and his Elementary Forms thesis (Alexandra Maryanski) sparked a renewed interest that had waned for practical reasons (I formed a great friendship and working relationship with Anna, and consumed with theoretical, methodological, and humanistic issues surrounding the sociology of suicide) and personal reasons (moving to another city and country for a new job is far more complicated than one might imagine, even if it is Canada and not a nation far more distant socially, culturally, politically, and economically than the US). Thus, evolutionary sociology it is (though, I will also speak on the subject of suicide too!).
In short, evolutionary theory holds so much potential for the social sciences. Practically, it offers a discipline which prides itself on theory’s centrality to its research agenda, a clear example of what scientific theory is and how it works. This is meaningful given the variety of uses of “theory,” including critique. Because biological evolution is one of the best supported theories in human history, it also provides a window into the variety of innovative ways scientists have gone about testing it. As future posts will illustrate, it also shows both the promise of synthesizing other disciplines, like biology but also archaeology, into sociology as well as the limits that remind us why sociology is a distinct discipline with distinct contributions. Further, it offers a framework for thinking about historical-comparative sociology in new ways. To be sure, it is not the only or most important way of studying historical or cultural or structural change, but it should be a fundamental tool in all of our toolboxes. Finally, there is nothing more humbling than reading about the behavioral propensities we share with Chimps and Bonobos, as well as gorillas. There is solid evidence of who our ancestors were, where we came from, and what has or has not changed. We have the type of data Durkheim, Spencer, Marx, and others could only dream of, and we are also far beyond the simplistic developmentalism that nineteenth century sociology paraded as evolution.