“Understanding Organizational Evolution: Toward a Research Agenda using Generalized Darwinism’”

15 01 2014


That’s the title of a talk delivered yesterday at University of Liverpool Management School by Professor Geoff Hodgson, Business School, University of Hertfordshire. Hodgson is probably best known to the readers of this blog as the author of How Economics Forgot History: The Problem of Historical Specificity in Social Science.

The talk was based on a paper he published in Organization Studies (2013) vol. 34 no. 7: 973-992.

The terms ‘evolution’ and ‘coevolution’ are widely used in organization studies but rarely defined. Often it is unclear whether they refer to single entities or populations. When specific evolutionary processes are suggested, the labelling is often misleading. For example, in the debate over the roles of individual adaptation and competitive selection, the ‘selectionist’ position of Michael Hannan and John Freeman, which emphasizes the role of selection and stress the limits of individual firm adaptability, is often described as ‘Darwinian’ whereas opposing views that emphasize adaptability are described as ‘Lamarckian’. But these labels are not strictly dichotomous. Scholars have shown that core Darwinian principles, resulting from abstract ontological communality rather than analogy, apply to social evolution. This opens up a research agenda using the principles of generalized Darwinism and the replicator–interactor framework to help understand the evolution of organizations. Some illustrations of the conceptual value of this approach are provided, including understanding the entwinement of selection and adaptation, the nature and role of organizational routines, the place of strategic choice and the growth of organizational complexity. The framework of generalized Darwinism also helps to bridge apparently divergent perspectives in the business strategy and organizational ecology literatures.
*About the Speaker
Professor Geoff Hodgson is Research Professor in Business Studies at the Business School, University of Hertfordshire. Prior to his appointment, he held positions at University of Cambridge, Northumbria, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Bennington College (US). Apart from his Ph.D. from Cambridge, he also has an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is the author of 15 books, including: From Pleasure Machines to Moral Communities (2012) and (with Thorbjorn Knudsen) Darwin’s Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution (2010), both University of Chicago Press; and, The Evolution of Institutional Economics: Agency, Structure and Darwinism in American Institutionalism (2004), How Economics Forgot History: The Problem of Historical Specificity in Social Science, both Routledge. He has published over 180 articles in a wide range of journals including:Journal of Economic Literature, Journal of Economic Issues, Strategic Management Journal, Economy and Society, Review of International Political Economy, New Political Economy, Cambridge Journal of Economics and Organisation Studies. Professor Hodgson is scheduled to give 10 lectures on Conceptualising Capitalism at the Sorbonne, Paris in early 2014.
He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Institutitional Economics, former Editor of Cambridge Journal of Economics and Book Series Editor for several book series. He plays editorial and advisory roles for a large number of journals including: Journal of Economic MethodologyJournal of Evolutionary Economics, Review of Social Economy, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization and Economic and Industrial DemocracyInternational Review of Applied EconomicsJournal of Economic Analysis and Evolutionary and Institutional Economics Review. He is former President of the Association for Evolutionary Economics and lifelong honorary member of the European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy. His research interests are however wide-ranging, spanning also the methodology of economics, the history of economic thought, the nature of the firm, social theory and a close understanding of the American institutionalists of the 20th Century. Professor Hodgson is one of the leading institutionalist economists of our time and a driving force behind considerations of evolution in the study of economics and organizations.



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