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Causes, effects, and . . .

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Materialism sans Marx

William Ogburn saw three processes of social change: innovation, discovery and diffusion.

He saw the main driver of social change as the technology of a culture but, unlike Marx, did not see it necessarily as a result of relations of production.

In our description of the six dimensions of culture, we have put the technological dimension at the bottom as a foundation.

New technology tends to be less threatening as might be innovations or introductions in the other five dimensions.

It is easier to introduce a transistor radio to an isolated community than to introduce a new language, a new belief system, a new way of distributing wealth, or new values.

That introduction of a transistor radio, however, will have considerable repercussions in all six dimensions of culture, thus social change.

Was agriculture invented or discovered?

Perhaps the most important discovery or invention in the history of homo sapiens, was the process of controlling food production, by the domestication of herd animals and planting of seeds or shoots to reproduce food bearing plants.

Domestication of dogs took place much earlier, and the dog became another tool for hunters, along with spears and other hunting weapons.

Dogs perhaps started by hanging around hunting camps, and a symbiosis developed to their mutual benefit.

The herding of cattle, including cows sheep and goats, other animals in Asia and the Americas, was a big jump.

This involved the protection of the herd animals from predators, which humans could do with their hunting tools.

Humans had binocular vision, perhaps developed when their primate ancestors lived in trees, so were better at judging distance, which cattle could not.  This helped them to protect cattle from predators. Cattle that associated with humans were more likely to survive and reproduce.

Domestication also involved the controlling of mating and reproduction, and therefore selective breeding, to emphasise physical traits that the humans wanted among the cattle.

Perhaps men rather than women first domesticated herd animals, but the jury is still out.

The planting of seeds and shoots to control the timing and location of food bearing plants, and subsequent elaboration, adding water and/or fertiliser, removing weeds, inventing means of storage, all these contributed to mankind’s biggest revolution, the agrarian surplus.

Was this invented or discovered?

Prior to plant domestication, many plants reproduced by seeds, which were distributed by wind, water and animals.

A berry would be eaten, its seeds passed unchanged through the digestive system of the animal, then being planted and fertilised in the same operation.  Hunters were very observant of the residual food in faeces (spoor) of animals they tracked.

It is likely that humans observed this process and thought to control the planting.

This was most likely done by women, who were already gathering plant products, while the men were away hunting or herding animals.

There can be a fine line between two of Ogburn’s processes, innovation and discovery.

When different communities contact each other, they usually begin sharing or copying each other’s technology. See The Incest Taboo.

This is the basis of diffusion.

Sometimes a technique was jealously guarded by one community, and that often stimulated much curiosity and coveting in the other community, and its members would go to great lengths to uncover that technique.

The result was that any innovation or discovery, if useful, would be passed along from community to community, thus diffusion.

Once a change in technology is introduced in a community, then adaptations take place in all six cultural dimensions of that community.

Any change that falls behind in adapting to the first change, in Ogburn’s terms, was cultural lag.

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Last update: 2013.04.16

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