Energy and society: Herbert Spencer’s ‘energetic sociology’ of social evolution and beyond

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Herbert Spencer is usually thought to use a biological metaphor for understanding social-evolutionary processes. Spencer’s evolutionary theory is an ‘energetic’ theory, premised on a particular understanding of physical principles; he applied these ‘energetic’ principles equally to inorganic, organic and supra-organic (social) evolution. The centrality of energy metaphors makes Spencer’s theory of social evolution directly relevant in a global society where energy has once again become an important political, economic and environmental issue. Spencer omits the social use of non-human energy forms in his writings, and this gap is addressed in the context of its implications for his theory of evolution as a whole, providing a corrective to his oversight.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-455
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • differentiation
  • energy
  • environment
  • social evolution
  • Spencer
  • integration


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