Peter Turchin (editor in chief) Vice President of the Evolution Institute; University of Connecticut, USA

Harvey Whitehouse  Scientific Advisory Board of the Evolution Institute; University of Oxford, UK

David Sloan Wilson President of the Evolution Institute; Binghamton University, USA

The Social Evolution Forum (SEF) is supported by the Evolution Institute and by Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History

The Social Evolution Forum is a new platform aimed at promoting communication, discussion, and collaboration on diverse topics related to human society.

A central question of social evolution is elucidating the mechanisms and dynamics that resulted in the rise of large-scale complex human societies. How did ultrasociality (the ability of humans to cooperate in huge groups of unrelated individuals) evolve? Although much progress has been recently made in understanding the first phase of human social evolution, from ape-like ancestors to small-scale groups of hunter-gatherers, much remains to be discovered, and the area continues to generate high interest among the researchers. Even more controversial is the second phase, the evolution of large-scale hierarchically organized societies with cities, states, extensive division of labor, writing, monumental architecture, etc. There is currently no consensus on the processes and mechanisms that were responsible for this major evolutionary transition.

We think that conceptual and empirical tools are now sophisticated enough to make possible dramatic breakthroughs in this discipline. The stakes are enormous – not only because of the scale of the intellectual puzzle and intrinsic interest in the emergence of states, empires and civilizations, but also because of potential application in addressing such societal problems as war and failed states, and more optimistically trust, peace and large-scale cooperation.

Currently, researchers interested in these issues work in highly diverse disciplines – anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, evolutionary biology, and mathematics – with little interdisciplinary contact. Periodically scientists from these different disciplines meet at conferences or workshops, and interact intensively, but durable projects rarely emerge. There are many challenges to fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and collaborations, including semantics and different conceptual models and approaches.

An important aspect of the SEF is the historical dimension. After all, it would be unthinkable to study biological evolutionary without the insights and data gathered by paleontologists. Historians and archaeologists should play the same role in social evolution: documenting macrohistorical patterns in the development of complex societies that need to be explained, conducting microhistorical studies that help us fine-tune the proposed mechanisms, and providing data for empirical tests of theories.

The SEF has several dimensions. First, it is a virtual seminar, that is, a website dedicated to promoting the presentation and discussion of the most novel and important questions in social evolution theory. Second, it houses a blog dedicated to an informal discussion of current topics in social and cultural evolution, connections between of social evolution research and history and archaeology, and policy implications of this research (this blog is currently authored by Peter Turchin, but we expect that other authors will be joining in on the fun). And third, although fundamentally a communication network, the SEF also provides the foundations for inter- and pluri-disciplinary – and, ultimately, trans-disciplinary ­– collaboration. This takes the form of adverts to workshops and conferences, international funding opportunities, and the posting or publication of interim reports for specialists and for the broader community interested in social evolution.

We believe that the Social Evolution Forum will have a considerable impact on interdisciplinary research in social evolution theory, and will contribute to informing and educating the public about pressing issues of today’s society.

Note aded 14.III.2013: You can learn about new posts by following Peter Turchin on Twitter:  @Peter_Turchin

Contact e-mail: peter dot turchin at uconn dot edu

21 Responses “About” →
  1. This is like walking on virgin snow, necessary but rather a pity that you are the one to do it.
    I have been fascinated by the evolution of culture in Homo sapiens for the last thirty years. In terms of wide acceptance outside still rather discrete academic circles, it has gone nowhere. Attempts to interest non-specialists, friends, relations, people generally over the coffee cups, are far from automatically successful. It can be done, but it takes time, hard work, the application of whatever charm one can exercise, and at the end of it you have one more person looking at the world in a slightly different way.
    The notion of human culture as some sort of obligate symbiont that has evolved alongside the organism Homo sapiens does not at the moment seem to be having much evolutionary success among humankind at large, even while in academic environments it is now safely established and proliferating.
    Clearly this proliferation will be the driving force of its evolution. Nonetheless, and I only raise the question, I’m not making an assertion, it seems to me that good ideas, even good scientific ideas, can benefit from a certain amount of the pandemonium of popular life. It’s not that the leading-edge ideas are going to develop there. It’s that the kind of silence that this very page evinces can be broken by the evolution of popular discourse. Simon Singh in Fermat’s Last Theorem mentions a maths college where they have blackboards not only in the lifts but even above the urinals. To broaden the question beyond sexism one would have to go back to those old-fashioned French arrangements where the women queued behind the backs of men who needed no such privacy. Then I could raise the question, “What do you say to those around you about sociocultural evolution when you’re taking a leak?”

  2. Yes, I think that might need to be put into context.

  3. I’ll be following this with interest. I am presently teaching a course in our history department on future studies. One issue that divides professional historians: What ought we be doing? Is it our job to reconstruct large social patterns and structures? Or should we be recovering lived experience? The former gets you into the idea that history is a social science, the latter a branch of the humanities.


    • Peter Turchin

      March 9, 2013

      David, I think that both needs to be done. As I have been saying elsewhere, I see great value in both History-as-Humanity and History-as-Science. I primarily operate on the science side of things, but I love reading good historical narratives as well. Others don’t care about general principles, and that is fine too. Finally, there is no clearcut boundary between these two sides. More here:



      • David Hochfelder

        March 9, 2013

        I think part of the issue is that (generally speaking) historians don’t understand math or see the point to using it. Our math GRE scores for incoming grad students are subterranean, for instance.

        I agree that the two approaches answer different questions. Taking the example of Fogel and Engerman, it’s valuable to understand that slavery was profitable and that slaves’ material conditions were on par with northern factory workers. But that approach doesn’t tell us much about the actual experiences of slaves and masters. So we need both.

  4. Sorry, still getting used to the comment function. Here’s my real ID.

  5. Hello…This is prob not the best place for this comment/issue but it’s the only one I can find.

    The RSS feed for the Cliodynamics journal at eScholarship (http://www.escholarship.org/uc/irows_cliodynamics) is broken…..it would be helpful to followers/fans of this field if we could be sure of keeping up with the journal…




    • Peter Turchin

      March 14, 2013

      I have questions, do you mind sending me an e-mail? peter dot turchin at uconn dot edu


    • Peter Turchin

      March 14, 2013

      You can also learn about new issues of Cliodynamics by following me on Twitter: @Peter_Turchin

      • Dear Peter …apologies for the delayed response…I don’t visit my WordPress.com account very often….

        The issue for me is that when I press the RSS button I see ‘raw XML’ instead of the expected ‘invitation’ to specify a ‘reader program’….

        I have since been able to get Cliodynamics RSS feed to work correctly in my ‘Feedly’ setup.

        But, still, when I click on the actual RSS button on the “http://www.escholarship.org/uc/irows_cliodynamics” site..I just see raw XML….

        I will now follow you on Twitter….thanks for the response, good luck with the work…and apologies for the tardy response…


      • FYI…

        arthur@doohan.org is my email….


  6. Hana Hanafi

    April 24, 2013

    Hello, I am a tenth grade student in an American International school in Egypt. In our biology class we had a debate on evolution. One group had to be pro evolution and the other had to be anti evolution, I was in the anti evolution group. Although I still don’t agree with the concept of evolution, there were arguments that the pro evolution group have said could that could have been right predictions. Some of which I agreed with, but also some arguments which I totally disagreed with. I was really interested when the other group had pointed out that humans ancestors were apes. I actually never knew that, I thought that humans themselves came from apes thats why I never totally agreed with evolution, but I never understood that our actually ancestors were apes, this fact interested me a a lot. On the other hand no one has ever witnessed evolution in the past, so to me it is just a matter of prediction. Also I have great beliefs in god, and for that reason it is pretty hard to change my mind on this opinion.


    • Peter Turchin

      April 24, 2013

      Hana, there is a lot of evidence that evolution is real: laboratory experiments with flies and other organisms, field studies on many species of animals and plants, and paleontology. Even for humans the evidence is overwhelming. So we have observed evolution in many settings. How this squares with your religious beliefs is for you to decide. My personal opinion is that science and religion are entirely separate parts of human experience. In other words, whether evolution is true, or not, has little, if any, bearing, on what you should believe in.


  7. christopher mcdonough

    May 27, 2013

    Evolution is nothing more than a repair process that replaces damaged beyond repair sections of code and replaces it with a foreign yet identical sequence of code…Believolution amazon kindle. makes more sense, not to impune your work sir.

  8. One thing that might help would be a way to contact people involved with this site. I am quite interested in cultural evolution and have been looking into this issue for some 15 years. My principal in interest is in the shorter-period oscillations about the secular cycles. In my work the secular cycle is usually treated as a secular trend which is removed by a suitable detrending method.

    I am interested in discussing some of these issues and perhaps share data and insights. But there is no actual discussion forum where people can present material, only articles with comment sections. Responding to an article from a year or two ago is not likely to engender a response.


    • Peter Turchin

      April 27, 2014

      Dear Mike, please send me an e-mail at peter dot turchin at uconn dot edu. Looking forward to our discussions.

  9. How does someone unsubscribe from this list?

    • Please scroll down any notification you get from the Social Evolution Forum, find the following line:

      Unsubscribe to no longer receive posts from Social Evolution Forum.

      and click on ‘Unsubscribe’.

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