A Framework for Societal Evolution


By David F. Ronfeldt, Senior Social Scientist of Rand Corporation

Power and influence appear to be migrating to actors who are skilled at developing multiorganizational networks, and at operating in environments where networks are an appropriate, spreading form of organization. In many realms of society, they are gaining strength relative to other, especially hierarchical forms. Indeed, another key proposition about the information revolution is that it erodes and makes life difficult for traditional hierarchies.

This trend — the rise of network forms of organization — is so strong that, projected into the future, it augurs major transformations in how societies are organized. What forms account for the organization of societies? How have people organized their societies across the ages? The answer may be reduced to four basic forms of organization: 1. the kinship-based tribe, as denoted by the structure of extended families, clans, and other lineage systems. 2. the hierarchical institution, as exemplified by the army, the (Catholic) church, and ultimately the bureaucratic state. 3. competitive-exchange market, as symbolized by merchants and traders responding to forces of supply and demand. 4. and the collaborative network, as found today in the web-like ties among some NGOs devoted to social advocacy.

Incipient versions of all four forms were present in ancient times. But as deliberate, formal organizational designs with philosophical portent, each has gained strength at a different rate and matured in a different historical epoch over the past 5000 years. Tribes developed first,hierarchical institutions next, and competitive markets later. Now collaborative networks appear to be on the rise as the next great form of organization to achieve maturity.

The rise of each form is briefly discussed below, as prelude to assembling the four in a framework—currently called the “TIMN framework”—about the long-range evolution of societies. The persistent argument is that these four forms—and evidently only these —underlie the organization of all societies, and that the historical evolution and increasing complexity of societies has been a function of the ability to use and combine these four forms of governance in what appears to be a natural progression.

While the tribal form initially ruled the overall organization of societies, over time it has come to define the cultural realm in particular, while the state has become the key realm of institutionist principles, and the economy of market principles. Civil society appears to be the realm most affected and strengthened by the rise of the network form, auguring a vast rebalancing of relations among state, market, and civil-society actors around the world.

Before elaborating on this, some definitional issues should be noted. The terms—tribes, institutions, markets, networks—beg for clarification:

Jay Rosen: Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over

Jay Rosen has written yet another brilliant essay:

Bloggers vs. journalists is over. I don't think anyone will mourn its passing. There were plenty who hated the debate in the first place, and openly ridiculed its pretentions or terms. But events are what did the thing in at the end. In the final weeks of its run, we were getting bulletins from journalists like this one from John Schwartz of the New York Times, Dec. 28: "For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs."


"If it weren't for the callous lack of credibility of the pros, there never would have been a need for blogs." - Dave Winer

Slope One Predictors for Online Rating-Based Collaborative Filtering

Fascinating... Something tells me that experts in channelling and filtering "live" information will find more and more dollars in their pockets over the next few years.

Via Smartmobs

To The Commentosphere!

Daniel R. Luke, a frequent reader of Collision Detection, has pointed out an idea whose time has come:

Comments should be searchable. I should be able to aggregate all comments I or someone else has left on a particular blog. Ideally, this should span the entire blogosphere so that I could aggregate all the comments I have left on all blogs. It would be easy, then. to see where people go and what they say. This way the audience of the blogosphere would be much more empowered. In essence, I wouldn't necessarily have to startmy own blog to, in effect, have a blog of sorts.

Wish you were here

Alex Von Rosenberg and Sarah Quenon spinning fire at my house. Yes, that's right; my parties rock; and I rock... damn it.

Historians vs. George W. Bush

Today, I spent a little time transferring some of the best posts from my old blog, Netpolitik. In the process, I stumbled on this gem from my second week of blogging. If you've forgotten why you hate George W. Bush, I suggest you take a quick read.

Shooting An Elephant

Note: This is the only piece of writing that I can think of that has brought tears to my eyes in the past 8 years.

By George Orwell

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act.

Sure it's big....

Sure, my public news aggregator is getting huge, but am I happy? No... and I never will be until my aggregator crashes the smart campaigns server. Now that I've gotten that away I'm going to resume adding feeds. Its like feeding a monster.


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