UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Collective action and cultural change : revisiting Eisenstadt’s evolutionary theory Abrutyn, Seth; Van Ness, Justin; Taylor, Marshall A.


Eisenstadt’s most well-known contributions come primarily from his research on “multiple modernities.” Less appreciated has been his evolutionary theory of cultural change. In this article, we revisit Eisenstadt’s evolutionary theory in order to make explicit his potential contributions to the neo-evolutionary tradition and demonstrate where his contribution can be further appreciated. In short, Eisenstadt’s theory supplements macro-level materialist and micro-level bio-psychological theories by (1) offering a group-level theory that takes agency and historicity seriously by calling attention to the role of institutional entrepreneurs and their projects for cultural change, (2) formulating a multi-linear, multi-directional theory of evolution that avoids determinist traps, (3) highlighting non-materialist crises such as the widespread breakdown in trust, the discontents of centralized and consolidated power, and the collapse of a shared sense of meaning, and (4) accounting for the possible conditions of success or failure. Historical examples are used to illustrate Eisenstadt’s model.

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