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The nature and units of social selection

  • Geoffrey Hodgson


  • Thorbjørn Knudsen


On the basis of the technical definition of selection developed by George Price (1995), we describe two forms of selection that commonly occur at the social level, subset selection and generative selection. Both forms of selection are abstract and general, and therefore also incomplete; both leave aside the question of explaining the selection criterion and why entities possess stable traits. However, an important difference between the two kinds of selection is that generative selection can accommodate an explanation of how new variation is created, while subset selection cannot. An evolutionary process involving repeated cycles of generative selection can, in principle, continue indefinitely because imperfect replication generates new variation along the way, whereas subset selection reduces variation and eventually grinds to a halt. Even if the two kinds of selection examined here are very different, they share a number of features. First, neither subset selection nor generative selection implies improvement. Neither kind of selection necessarily lead to efficiency or imply systematic outcomes. Second, both subset selection and generative selection can lead to extremely rapid effects in a social population. Third, in the social domain, both generative selection and subset selection involve choice and preference. Neither form of selection necessarily excludes intentionality. In concluding the article, we single out a challenge for future research in identifying the role of various units of culture in selection processes and the multiple levels at which social selection processes take place.

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Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Evolutionary Economics.

Volume (Year): 16 (2006)
Issue (Month): 5 (December)
Pages: 477-489

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Handle: RePEc:spr:joevec:v:16:y:2006:i:5:p:477-489
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  1. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. & Knudsen, Thorbjorn, 2006. "Why we need a generalized Darwinism, and why generalized Darwinism is not enough," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 1-19, September.
  2. Henrich, Joseph, 2004. "Cultural group selection, coevolutionary processes and large-scale cooperation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 3-35, January.
  3. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2003. "The Mystery of the Routine. The Darwinian Destiny of An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 54(2), pages 355-384.
  4. Wilfred Amaldoss & Robert J. Meyer & Jagmohan S. Raju & Amnon Rapoport, 2000. "Collaborating to Compete," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 19(2), pages 105-126, November.
  5. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. & Knudsen, Thorbjorn, 2004. "The complex evolution of a simple traffic convention: the functions and implications of habit," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 19-47, May.
  6. Ulrich Witt, 2004. "On the proper interpretation of 'evolution' in economics and its implications for production theory," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 125-146.
  7. Geoffrey Hodgson & Thorbjørn Knudsen, 2004. "The firm as an interactor: firms as vehicles for habits and routines," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 281-307, 07.
  8. Thorbj�rn Knudsen, 2004. "General selection theory and economic evolution: The Price equation and the replicator/interactor distinction," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 147-173.
  9. Sidney G. Winter, 1971. "Satisficing, Selection, and the Innovating Remnant," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 85(2), pages 237-261.
  10. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2001. "Is Social Evolution Lamarckian or Darwinian?," Chapters, in: Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics, chapter 6 Edward Elgar.
  11. Agarwal, Rajshree & Echambadi, Raj & Franco, April M. & Sarkar, M. B., 2002. "Knowledge Transfer through Congenital Learning: Spin-Out Generation, Growth and Survival," Working Papers 02-0101, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Business.
  12. Thorbj, rn Knudsen, 2002. "Economic selection theory," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 12(4), pages 443-470.
  13. Sidney G. Winter, 1971. "Satisficing, Selection, and the Innovating Remnant," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 85(2), pages 237-261.
  14. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2002. "Darwinism in economics: from analogy to ontology," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 12(3), pages 259-281.
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