The term “superorganic” was probably first used by the early sociologist Herbert of the time, Alfred Kroeber and Edward Sapir, in the American Anthropologist. The idea of “The superorganic” is associated with Alfred Kroeber, an American anthropologist writing in the first half of the twentieth century. Why the Superorganic Concept Serves the Human Sciences Badly. Peter J. Richerson University of California – Los Angeles. Los Angeles . Dobzhansky’s usage was probably inspired Kroeber and kindred influential social. scientists of his.

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Human beings are animals, and as such are organic systems. Humans have thoughts and behaviour. Do not anthropomorphise culture. They behave, however, in concert with each other, as a system external kdoeber individuals —— society.

Those are carried by individuals. It may have a life of its own, but its life more resembles an amoeba than a human. A living entity transcends its inorganic parts.

There is a parallel, therefore, in the relations between the inorganic and the organic, as between the organic and the superorganic. Do not think of a dog as a carbon atom or a hydrocarbon molecule.


If we start with the inorganic, it is the physical universe, all the atoms of elements without life. The second level of complexity is composed of living things.

Looking at the relationship between living things and their inorganic components in this way helps us to understand the relationship between culture and persons. Culture and society comprise the third level. We can call this the lowest level of complexity.


If you separate the dog or tree into its separate elements, it dies. If you copy text from this site, please acknowledge the author s and link it back to cec. Key Words Modules Sociology: All living things, plants and animals, are built up of inorganic elements, mainly hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, plus some trace elements.

They oo developed communications between themselves to an elaborate degree, much more sophisticated than other animals.

Culture as the superorganic

It operates at a higher level of complexity than the organic. Knowing the dynamics of how carbon atoms operate, or that kreber hydrogen and oxygen can result in a rapid combustion if not an explosion, does not explain how the tree works, with its leaves converting sunlight into energy to change water and carbon dioxide into oxygen llo carbon, channels to transfer sap from leaves to root, and so on.


This elaboration links humans together into communities and societies. The links are symbolic, not genetic as in biological systems. Similarly, do not think of a community, an institution, a society as a human being.

If you analyse all those parts, in themselves, or even as a collection, they are not living.

The superorganic is another way of describing —— and understanding —— culture or the socio-cultural system. Similarly, the dog, if seen as a biological system, operates at a higher complexity than the inorganic elements which comprise it.

The socio-cultural level, culture or society, therefore is carried by humans and transcends humans. The arrangement makes them alive.