Categories Anthropology I

6.(f) Neo- evolutionism- Marshall David Sahlins

He divided the evolution of societies into “general” and “specific”.

General evolution is the tendency of cultural and social systems to increase in complexity, organization and adaptiveness to environment. However, as the various cultures are not isolated, there is interaction and a diffusion of their qualities (like technological inventions). This leads cultures to develop in different ways (specific evolution), as various elements are introduced to them in different combinations and on different stages of evolution.

Specific evolution/progress  consists of new forms differentiating themselves from old, while the and general evolution/progress consists of progress to higher forms which arise from and surpass lower forms. Sahlins found the Parallelism and Convergence

Specific and general evolution are not two separate , distinct realities but different aspect of same total process. The study of specific evolution employs phylogenetic classification. In the general evolutionary process, emphasis shits to character of progress itself. Here forms are classed in stages or levels of development without phylogenetic reference.

Sahlins offers three criteria of progress:

  • 1) the ratio between the amount of energy controlled by an organism and that organism’s gross size;
  • 2) “level of integration,”
  • 3) freedom from environmental control


  1. Evolution and Culture (1960) – cultural evolution and neoevolutionism.
  2. Moala, – monograph, neoevolutionism
  3. The Use and Abuse of Biology
  4. What Kinship Is—And Is Not

Leave a Reply