Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reviving the Organismic Analogy in Sociology: Human Society as an Organism

  • Author(s): Dunn, Matthew Bjorn
  • Advisor(s): Turner, Jonathan H
  • et al.
Abstract

Comparing the operation of human societies to the operation of organisms was a common theme in the theories of sociology’s classical era. Despite this early prominence, the organismic analogy has received little attention from sociologists during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The present dissertation is an attempt to revive the organismic analogy in sociological theory. In so doing, the present dissertation will first outline the organismic analogy as it appeared in the sociological theories of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer and Émile Durkheim. After providing that historical foundation, this dissertation will then use contemporary evolutionary theory to define an organism as a collective entity featuring a high level of cooperation and a low level of conflict among its component parts. Featuring a high level of cooperation and a low level of conflict among its component parts allows an organism to adaptively modify flows of energy in its environment, which in turn, enables its persistence. Also, organisms emerge through a three-part evolutionary process involving social group formation, social group maintenance, and social group transformation. After providing that background, this dissertation will then argue that a human society is a collective entity that exhibits a high level of cooperation and a low level of conflict among the individuals that compose the society. This arrangement allows the society to adaptively modify flows of energy in its environment, which in turn, enables the society’s persistence. Furthermore, human societies emerged through a three-part evolutionary process involving social group formation, social group maintenance, and social group transformation. Following from these arguments, human societies can be considered organisms. After arguing that human societies can be considered organisms, this dissertation will then argue that the organismic character of human societies has, in general, increased over time as societal evolution has unfolded.

Main Content
Current View