The United States of America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth. It is, by definition, unique. Indeed, the study of American politics is generally considered to be so special that it warrants its own sub-field in most political science departments. Those who do try to compare America typically write about what is called “American Exceptionalism.”1 Of course this makes eminent sense, America is the dominant military and economic power in the world and it has used this power to shape the world around it. Even in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in history, America produces approximately 25 percent of the world gross product. No other country has the influence (for good or ill) as does the United States.
Orion A. Lewis and Sven Steinmo | How Institutions Evolve: Evolutionary Theory and Institutional Change
This article argues that questions of gradual institutional change can be understood as an evolutionary process that can be explained through the careful application of “generalized Darwinism.” We argue that humans’ advanced cognitive capacities contribute to an evolutionary understanding of institutional change. In constantly generating new variation upon which mechanisms of selection and replication operate, cognition, cognitive schemas, and ideas become central for understanding the building of human institutions, as well as the scope and pace of their evolution. Evolutionary theories thus provide a broad theoretical framework that integrates the study of cognition, ideas, and decision-making with other literatures that focus on institutional change and human evolution.
Orion Lewis and Sven Steinmo | Theory in Biosciences: Taking Evolution Seriously in Political Science
In this essay, we explore the epistemological and ontological assumptions that have been made to make political science ‘‘scientific.’’ We show how political sci- ence has generally adopted an ontologically reductionist philosophy of science derived from Newtonian physics and mechanics. This mechanical framework has encountered problems and constraints on its explanatory power, because an emphasis on equilibrium analysis is ill-suited for the study of political change. We outline the primary differ- ences between an evolutionary ontology of social science and the physics-based philosophy commonly employed. Finally, we show how evolutionary thinking adds insight into the study of political phenomena and research ques- tions that are of central importance to the field, such as preference formation.
Some economists argue that institutions are the most important factor affecting varia- tion in economic growth. There is a need, however, to better understand how and why institutions emerge and change. Informed by evolutionary theory and complexity sci- ence, this chapter develops a conceptual framework that follows models of cultural evolution in viewing institutions as part of a nongenetic system of inheritance. This framework is used to examine how broad historical factors (not just economic factors) influence present-day institutional arrangements and economic outcomes, as well as how noninstitutional aspects of culture (e.g., values, beliefs) interact with institutions to shape behavior in particular contexts. Overall, this framework emphasizes the pro- cesses by which institutions evolve, and how they can coevolve with other institutions and culture. This approach is illustrated using four examples to demonstrate how evolu- tion theory and complexity science can be used to study institutional emergence and change. Explicit models of the processes of institutional evolution need to be developed and then tested and assessed with data. This framework holds promise to bring together and synthesize the findings and insights from a range of different disciplines.
Orion Lewis and Sven Steinmo | Tomemos en Serio la Evolución: Análisis Institucional y Teoría Evolutiva
Las teorías evolutivas ocupan el centro de la escena en disciplinas científicas tan diversas como la psicología, la ciencia cognitiva, la antropología, la informática, la filosofía, la lingüística, la economía y la sociología1. Como veremos, en ciencias políticas también se usa con frecuencia el término “evolución”, pero en general simplemente para hacer alusión a una vaga noción de cambio. No obstante, en los últimos años se ha renovado el interés por la teoría evolutiva en ciencias políticas y un creciente número de científicos sociales ha comenzado a pensar en forma más sistemática la teoría evolutiva y sus implicaciones para el estudio de la política y el cambio evolutivo2. Aunque nadie cree que los conceptos o teorías evolutivas desarrollados en biología o psicología se deban importar directamente a la ciencia política, existe un creciente conjunto de trabajos que señalan que los argumentos meta-teóricos que están en la base de la teoría evolutiva tienen implicaciones para la forma de estudiar la política y la historia.