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Gerhard Emmanuel Lenski (born August 13, 1924 in Washington, DC) is an American sociologist known for contributions to the sociology of religion, social inequality, and ecological-evolutionary social theory (which is related to cultural evolution). He is a Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



In his books, Power and Privilege[1] (1966) and Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology[2] (1974-2008) Lenski expands on the works of Leslie White and Lewis Henry Morgan. He views technological progress as the most basic factor in the evolution of societies and cultures. Unlike White, who defined technology as the ability to create and utilize energy, Lenski focuses on information - its amount and uses. The more information and knowledge a given society has, especially where it allows humans to shape their environment, the more advanced it is. He distinguishes four stages of human development, based on advances in the history of communication. In the first stage, information is passed by genes. With the development of agriculture, humans are able to pass information through individual experience. In the third, humans begin to use signs and develop logic. In the fourth, they create symbols, and develop language and writing. Advances in the technology of communication translate into advances in a society's economic system and political system, distribution of goods, social inequality and other spheres of social life. He also differentiates societies based on their level of technology, communication and economy:

  1. hunters and gatherers
  2. simple agricultural or horticultural (lacking the plow)
  3. advanced agricultural
  4. industrial
  5. special (e.g. fishing societies or maritime societies)

The relationship between population and production is central to Lenski's thought. Human reproductive capacity exceeds the available resources in the environment. Thus, Lenski concludes, human populations are limited by their capability of food production. Human capacity for population growth, according to Laski has been a “profoundly destabilizing force throughout human history and may well be the ultimate source of most social and cultural change” (1987: 32). It is the relationships among population, production, and environment that drive sociocultural evolution.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Lenski, Gerhard E. (1984-04-01). Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification. University of N. Carolina Press. ISBN 0807841196.  
  2. ^ Lenski, Gerhard; Patrick Nolan (2005-11). Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology (10 ed.). Paradigm Publishers. ISBN 1594511438.  
  3. ^ Elwell, F. "A Note on Evolutionary Theory in Sociology." Rogers State University. Retrieved on: 2009-12-01.


  • Lenski, Gerhard (2005-05). Ecological-Evolutionary Theory: Principles and Applications. Paradigm Publishers. ISBN 1594511012.  
  • Lenski, Gerhard (1961). The Religious Factor : A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life. Doubleday U.S.. ASIN B001EOG3R0.  

External links



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