Re: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 13 Feb 2004 - 07:07:55 GMT

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    At 02:36 PM 13/02/04 +1100, Steven wrote:
    >'The fault of the biological sociologists was not that they used it
    >[analogy] but that they used it wrongly. Instead of trying to control
    >their studies of society by their knowledge of biology, they tied to infer
    >the laws of the first from the laws of the second. Such inference is
    >worthless. If the laws governing natural life are found also in society,
    >they are found in different forms and with specific characteristics which
    >do not permit conjecture by analogy and can only be understood by direct
    >So much for those who think that Durkheim's work can be connected to

    I don't really know enough of the background here to comment.

    >Memetics is hostile to all forms of sociology, both the good and the bad.

    But I don't know why you make such a statement. Memetics takes off from a nearly trivial observation, animals can learn from each other, and what is learned is subject to the same kinds of selection (including neutral drift) that drives evolution. Sociologists have demonstrated this in (for example) studies of rumors.

    Memetics is a way of looking at the waxing and waning of the elements that make up our intellectual culture. Memes (information) lie behind every bit of our material culture and have been at least since our remote ancestors started chipping rocks.

    "Memeticist" is not a recognized specialization yet. The people I know who know the most about the subject are not hostile to sociology to the best of my knowledge.

    Since you *are* a sociologist, you have standing to say for the community that sociology and sociologists are hostile to memetics, but I think you should note that memetics is *taught* in some sociology courses

    which lists:

    Blackmore, Susan. 1999. The Meme Machine. Oxford U. Press. Aunger, Robert. 2002. The Electric Meme. The Free Press

    Among the reading materials.

    Another example:

             Memetics Page
             Memetics Bib Readings Dawkins, Richard. 1976. "Memes: The New Replicators," The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press. : 203-215. Grant, Glenn. "A Memetic Lexicon," boing-boing : 4- 7. Axelrod, Robert and Douglas Dion. 1988. "The Further Evolution of Cooperation," Scientific American (Dec 9): 1385-1389. Bass, Thomas. 1993. "Forgiveness Math," Discover (May) : 63-67.

    One more:

    Sociology 200: Introduction to Anthropology Semester: Fall 2003 Class: TTh 9:30-10:50 in Main 122 Instructor: Dr. Terry Ferguson

    1 (Sept.1-6) Course Introduction, Personal and Cultural Bias, Memetics and Worldview Brodie Intro-Ch. 3,


    11 (Nov.9-15)

    Memes and Cultural Bias Revisited

    Brodie Ch. 5, (Review Ch. 1-4)Dawkins article Blackmore Article Dennentt Article
    "The Selfish Meme" "Shock of the Other" (Milllineum part1); "Strange Relations" (Millineum part2)

    Looking over the syllabus, they read most of Richard Brodie's book.

    These three examples are from the first two pages Google returns for
    "sociology memetics course."

    Keith Henson

    PS. I thought of one possibility. If sociology is (in your opinion) opposed to evolution than what you say makes sense.

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