"Social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organizational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house, and reprod uce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power (Morris 2010: 144)"
The four criteria proposed by Ian Morris:
"No single quantifiable trait can cover the full range of social development as defined here, but a combination of four traits — energy capture, organization, information technology, and warmaking capacity — does seem to do so, and each of the traits performs relatively well on the six criteria for adequacy.
Energy capture is the foundation of social development. At the lowest level, insufficient energy capture (for adult humans, roughly 2,000 kilocalories per adult per day, varying with body size and activity level) means that individual s slow down, lose body functions, and eventually die. To clothe, house, and reproduce themselves, and to extend their power at the expense of other communities, however, humans have to capture more energy (in the case of the US in 2000 CE, for instance, around 230,000 kilocalories per person per day). Energy capture must be the starting point for any discussion of social development.
Organization is also crucial. To be able to deploy energy for food, clothing, housing, reproduction, defense, and aggression , humans have to be able to organize it. Just as organisms break down without energy, societies break down without organization.
War-making capacity is also indispensable as a measure of social development. Societies, like the individual humans within them, compete for energy, and must be able to act both defensively and aggressively. As Mao Zedong famously put it in his essay On Protracted War , “Every communist must grasp this truth: ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’.”
Finally, information technology is, again, crucial for social development. Complex life forms depend on brains to make sense of the world around them; modern humans depend on language to communicate their unique levels of understanding; and the developed societies of the pas t five millennia have depended on still more sophisticated technologies like writing, mathematics, and mechanical, electrical, and electronic reproduction and transmission to store and share knowledge. These four traits do not add up to a comprehensive picture of Eastern and Western society across the last 16,000 years, any more than the UN’s traits of life expectancy, education, and income tell us everything there is to know about human development, but that is not what they are supposed to do. The goal i s that together they should give us a usable snapshot of social development, revealing the long=term patterns that need to be explained if we are to know why the West rules."
"Since the 1990s, debates within the West over the causes and likelihood of continuance of its global domination have intensified, probably driven largely by the People’s Republic of China’s economic takeoff (e.g., Acemoglu and Robinson, forthcoming; Clark 2007; Diamond 1997; Frank 1 998; Goldstone 2009; Landes 1998; Maddison 2003, 2005, 2007a, 2007b; North et al. 2009; Pomeranz 2000; Turchin 2003, 2009; Turchin and Nefedov 2009; Wong 1997). In varying ways, all the theories that have been offered have been arguments about social development in more or less the sense that I define it here, but this has often been left implicit. My goal in formalizing a definition of social development is to put the debate on a more explicit footing. I want to stress that social development is not a yard stick for measuring the moral worth of different communities. For instance, twenty-first century Japan is a land of air conditioning, computerized factories, and bustling cities. It has cars and planes, libraries and museums, high=tech healthcare and a lit erate population. The contemporary Japanese have mastered their physical and intellectual environment far more thoroughly than their ancestors a thousand years ago, who had none of these things. It therefore makes sense to say that modern Japan is more dev eloped than medieval Japan. Yet this implies nothing about whether the people of modern Japan are smarter, worthier, or luckier (let alone happier) than the Japanese of the Middle Ages. Nor do social development scores imply anything about the moral, environmental, or other costs of social development. Social development is a neutral analytical category. Measuring social development is one thing; praising or blaming it is another altogether.
Social development indices in neo-evolutionary anthropology
The "Human Relations Area Files (HRAF; http://www.yale.edu/hraf/ ) were established at Yale University to create a database for global comparisons of human behavior, society, and culture (Ember 1997; Ember and Ember 2001), and in the 1950s a number of anthropologists began using HRAF or other datasets to build cross-cultural indices of social development (e.g., Bowden 1969; Carneiro 1962, 1968, 1969, 1970; Erickson 1972; Freeman and Winch 1957; McNett 1970a, 1970b, 1973; Murdock and Provost 1973; Naroll 1956, 1970; Sawyer and Levine 1966; Tatje and Naroll 1970). These indices received severe criticism in the 1970s-80s (e.g., McGuire 1983; Shanks and Tilley 1987). Much, though not all, of this was justified (I expand on my views in Morris 2009), but regardless of the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of some of their writings, the early neo evolutionists did identify most of the basic problems in index building (e.g., how to reduce a mass of information to a small number of traits, how to weight the traits, how to define key terms like differentiation, and how to define the unit of analysis). They rarely agreed on how to solve these problems, but nevertheless developed sufficiently robust techniques that they could agree on scores 87 - 94 percent of the time (Carneiro 2003: 16768)."