Evolutionary Theories of Organization 
Ph. D. Seminar in the Department of Management andOrganizations
Kellogg Graduate School of Management
Spring Quarter 2000
Prof. J. Peter Murmann

Version February 14, 2000 Return to ETSS.NET home



This course is designed to give Ph.D. students inorganization behavior, sociology, and related disciplines a broad overview of evolutionary theories ofsocial organization. One of the key objects is to learn how to construct a soundevolutionary argument in the social sciences.  To acquire this skill, wewill focus on the following kind of questions: What requirements does a theoryhave to meet to count as an evolutionary explanation?  How does anevolutionary argument differ from other theoretical approaches in the socialsciences?

A central skill of a good scholar is to write well. The course will pay a lot ofattention to how successful scholars craft their arguments and present them inwritten form. The second goal of the course is to improve scholarly writingskills by writing reviews of articles and a term paper.  Very early in thecourse students will start writing drafts of the term paper.  Students willbe paired up to serve as the reader of each other's writings throughout thequarter. I have scheduled two sessions at the end of the course, which arededicated to critiquing each student's paper.   

To facilitate a sophisticated discussion of individual topics concerningevolutionary theories, I have invited a number of experts on the subject to joinour course. David Hull, Steven Klepper, Richard Nelson, Charles Tilly, andSidney Winter have agreed to join our seminar at some time during the quarter.To accommodate their schedules, we will meet at irregular times for the 10 or 11sessions of the seminar.  

The seminar relies heavily on student preparation and participation.  Oneor two students (depending on enrollment) will act synthesizers for eachsession.  When students act as synthesizers for a session, they will alsobe responsible for writing a short review of an article or book chapter. Thereview should be of publishable quality.

The requirements of the course and their relativecontributions to the final grade are: 2 short written reviews of articles read10%, drafts of term paper 20%, presentation of term paper in class 10 %, finalversion of term paper 30% and participation 30%.

LeighThompson and I are coordinating our seminars so students will be able totake full advantage of the resources that she and I can bring to a Ph.D.education.

Key Dates:

                   Week 4: Outline of Term Paper Due

                   Week 5: Students will receive feedback on their outlines of term paper

                   Week 8: Draft of Term Paper due

                   Week 9 & 10: Students present their term papers in class

                   Finals Week: Final Version of Term Paper Due


  1. Course Overview: What are Evolutionary Theories?
  2. Readings:

    Depew, David J. and Bruce H. Weber (1995). Darwinism Evolving:Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural selection. Cambridge, Mass., MITPress. Chapter 2: "Evolution and the Crises of Neoclassical Biology",pp. 33-56. 

    Campbell, D. T. (1969). "Variation and Selective Retention inSocio-Cultural Evolution." General Systems 14: 69-85.

    Nelson, Richard R. (1995). "Recent Evolutionary Theorizing AboutEconomic Change." Journal of Economic Literature XXXIII (March):48-90.

    Aldrich, Howard, (1999). Organizations Evolving, Chapter2: "The Evolutionary Approach", pp. 20-40. Sage Publications.

    Murmann, Johann Peter (2000). Knowledge and CompetitiveAdvantage: The Coevolution of Firms, Technology, and National Institutionsin the Synthetic Dye Industry, 1850-1914. Introduction.


    Study Questions:

    How is a Lamarckian model of evolution different from a Darwinian model?

    Why is biology and not Newtonian physics a better model for the socialsciences?

    Why have scholars like Nelson and Aldrich adopted evolutionary arguments toexplain economic and/or organizational change?

    What are the necessary features of a complete evolutionary explanation?


  3. The Linguistic and Philosophical Background: Toward an Evolutionary Epistemology
  4. Session with David Hull


    Taub, Liba (1993). "Evolutionary Ideas and 'Empirical' Methods: TheAnalogy Between Language and Species in the Works of Lyell and Schleicher."British Journal for the History of Science 26(171-193).

    Hull, David L. (1988). "A Mechanism and its Metaphysics: An EvolutionaryAccount of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science." Biologyand Philosophy 3: 12

    Hull, David L., Rodney E. Langman and Sigrid S. Glenn (1999). "A GeneralAccount of Selection: Biology, Immunology and Behavior."

    Vincenti, Walter (1990). What Engineers Know and How They Know It?Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press. Chapters 7 and 8 pp. 200-258


    Study Questions:

    What phenomena can be modeled in evolutionary terms?

    Science is about explanation and prediction. Are evolutionary models strongerin their explanatory or their predictive power?

    Why does Hull introduce the idea of a replicator and an interactor in histheory of evolution?


  5. Nelson & Winter live: Why construct formal models of evolution?
  6. Session with Dick Nelson and Sid Winter


    Winter, Sidney G. (1990). Survival, Selection, and Inheritance inEvolutionary Theories of Organization. Organizational Evolution NewDirections. J. V. Singh. Newbury Park, Sage Publications: 269-297.

    Malerba, Franco, Richard Nelson, Luigi Orsenigo and Sidney Winter. (1999)."'History-friendly' Models of Industry Evolution: The ComputerIndustry." Industrial and Corporate Change 8(1): 3-40.

    Winter, Sidney G. (1964). "Economic 'Natural Selection' and the Theoryof the Firm." Yale Economic Essays 4(1): 225-272.

    Krugman, Paul (1995). Models and Methaphors. Chapter 3 in Development,Geography, and Economic Theory. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, pp. 67-88. 


    Study Questions:

    Why is the value of constructing a formal model?

    How does a researcher decide on what variables should be a part of the model?

    How does a researcher decide what fundamental assumptions should go into amodel?


  7. The Nature of Organizations from an Evolutionary Perspective
  8. Readings:

    Bill Mckelvey. (1982). "The Population Perspective." Chapter 12 of OrganizationalSystematics: Taxonomy, Evolution, Classification.

    Nelson, Richard R. and Sidney G. Winter (1982). An Evolutionary Theory ofEconomic Change. Cambridge, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,Section on "Routines as analogs of skills."

    Howard Aldrich. (1999)  "Organizations Evolving." Selectionsfrom the book. 


    Study Questions:

    How does an evolutionary perspective view the intentionality of actors?

    How does an organization compare with an individual human being? Is agency inorganizations the same as agency of an individual human being?


  9. Micro-foundations: Behavior of Individual Human Beings
  10. Readings:

    Plotkin, Henry (1997). "Just What Kind of Science is Psychology?"Chapter 1 of Evolution in Mind: An Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology.Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
    Provides a short historical overview ofevolutionary thought in psychology and articulates the differences betweenevolutionary psychology and other sciences such as chemistry and physics.

    Nelson, Katherine and Richard Nelson. (1999). On the Nature and Evolution ofHuman Know How. Working Paper. Columbia University

    Weick, Karl E. (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing. Reading,Mass., Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

    Polanyi, Michael (1967). The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, New York,Doubleday &Company, Inc.

    Selections from the work of James March


    Study Questions:

    How do individual human beings make decisions, a) according to the rationalactor model and b) according to the evolutionary model?


  11. Causal Mechanisms
  12. Session with ChuckTilly, ~ April 20


    Hodgson, Geoffrey. (1999). Darwin, Veblen and the Problem of Causality.

    Tilly, Charles (1998). Durable Inequality. Berkeley,University of California Press.

            Tillyís Responseto Critics of "Durable Inequality" (1999) (Downloadthe Word File )


    Study Questions:

    How do causal mechanisms work in evolutionary theory?

    Functionalist arguments are commonplace in biology and in neo-classicaleconomics. Under what circumstances do they fail as explanations?

    Tillyís "Durable Inequality" is not explicitlyframed in terms of an evolutionary theory. Try to translate Tillyís causalarguments into the language of evolutionary theory To what extent are Tillyíscausal mechanisms consistent with an evolutionary explanation?


  13. Units and Levels of Analysis in Evolutionary Models
  14. Readings:

    Campbell, Donald T. (1990). Levels of Organization, Downward Causation, andthe Selection-Theory Approach to Evolutionary Epistemology. Theories of theEvolution of Knowing. Gary Greenberg and Ethel Tobach. Hillsdale, N.J., L.Erlbaum: 162.

     Other readings to be decided


    Study Questions:

    Atoms, molecules, organs, organisms, populations and ecosystems are some ofthe levels of organization of the natural world? It is it useful to apply suchan organizational scheme to the social world as well?

    If you affirm the previous question, How should we conceptualize theinteractions between levels of organization?

    How does one determine the proper unit of analysis for oneís researchquestions?

    What is the difference between "upward" and "downward"causation?


  15. Empirical Research on Industry Evolution
  16. Session with Steve Klepper via modern telecommunication


    Carroll, Glenn and Michael Hannan, (1999). The Demography of Corporations andIndustries, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Chapters 1 and 2.

    Audretsch, David B. and Steven Klepper (1999). Introduction. Innovation,Economics Development, and the Evolution of Industry. David B. Audretsch andSteven Klepper (eds). Northampton, MA, Edgar Elgar.

    Klepper, Steven and Kenneth L. Simmons (1997)."Technological Extinctions of Industrial Firms: An Inquiry into theirNature and Causes." Industrial and Corporate Change 1997(2):379-460.

    Holbrook, Daniel, Wesley M. Cohen, David A. Hounshell andSteven Klepper (1999). "The Nature, Sources, and Consequences of FirmDifferences in the Early History of the Semiconductor Industry."


    Study Questions:

    What are the key empirical regularities of industry evolutionaccording to 1) Carroll and Hannan and 2) Klepper et. al?

    How is the demographic approach of Carroll and Hannan (2000)different from population ecology ý la Hannan and Freeman (1989)?

    How are explanations offered in population ecology different fromexplanations in evolutionary economics of Nelson & Winter, and Klepper?


  17. Coevolution of Firms and Larger Social Institutions


Thompson, John N. (1994). The Coevolutionary Process. University ofChicago Press, Chicago and London. (Illustrates coevolution in biology)

Murmann, Johann Peter (2000). Knowledgeand Competitive Advantage: in the Synthetic Dye Industry, 1850-1914: TheCoevolution of Firms, Technology, and National Institutions in Great Britain,Germany, and the United States.  Chapter on Coevolution.

Nelson, Richard R. (1991). "Why Do Firms Differ, and How Does ItMatter?" Strategic Management Journal 12: 61-74.

Lewin, Arie Y., Chris P. Long and Timothy N. Carroll (1999). "TheCoevolution of New Organizational Forms." Organization Science10(5): 535-550.

Lewin, Arie Y. and Henk W. Volberda (1999). "Prolegomena on Coevolution:A Framework for Research on Strategy and New Organizational Forms." OrganizationScience 10(5): 519-534.

Kaufman, Stuart A. (1993). The Origins of Order: Self-Organization andSelection in Evolution. New York, Oxford University Press. Chapter onCoevolution.


Study Questions:


10. & 11. Discussion of Student Papers


Background Readings

In parentheses are indicated what sessions the background readings are mostrelevant for. (S1 refers to the Session 1, etc.)

For a more elaborate bibliography of relevant background readings go to the bibliography I designed on etss.net.

Stinchcombe, Arthur L. (1968). Constructing Social Theories.Chicago, University of Chicago Press. (S6, S7)
Any student in the behavioral science shouldread this book during graduate school. For this seminar the chapters onfunctional explanation are most relevant.

Tilly, Charles (1999). Historical Sociology. InternationalEncyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. (Downloadthe Word File )(S7)

Herbert Simon (1996). The Architecture of Complexity, inSciences of the Artificial, Cambridge, MIT Press, pp. 183-216. (S7) Thisbook shows a great scholar at work. Simon was one of the leaders who putresearch in the hierarchical structure of phenomena back on the intellectual mapafter World War II. His thinking on hierarchies has had an enormous influenceacross many fields. 

Steve Pinker. (1997) How the Mind Works.(S5)
This is neo-darwinist evolutionary account ofhuman psychology. I do not share his computational view of the mind, but thisbook is still a valuable overview of research in evolutionary psychology.

Kaufman, Stuart (1995). At Home in theUniverse: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. New York,Oxford University Press. (S6)
The book argues that natural selection is notsufficient to explain the order in the universe. Order in complex system emergesspontaneously.

Raff, Rudolf A. (1996). The Shape of Life: Genes, Development, and theEvolution of Animal Form. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. (S6)
The author argues natural selection is notsufficient to explain the path of evolution. The authorís view is thatdevelopment must be incorporated into a complete view of evolution.

E.O. Wilson (1998). The Biological Basis ofMorality. (S2, S5)
Click on the title to read this article.

Klepper, Steven (1996). "Entry,Exit, Growth, and Innovation over the Product Cycle." American EconomicReview 86(3): 562-583. (S8)
A mathematical treatment of innovation andindustry dynamics.


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