Saturday, April 2, 2016

Recent World History Textbook the First One Based on Tri-Sectoral Lens

Franz Marc, Red Horses, 1911

GARY Lamb, in the 2004 book The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, wrote that
Steiner was one of the first persons to elaborate the threefold nature of modern social life to any significant degree. However, social life is now commonly portrayed as consisting of three main sectors. Some of the more recent proponents of a three-sector society are former Democratic New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, David Korten, the anti-globalist author and activist, and the socialist-leaning professors and authors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato....Thus far, however, their characterizations have little correlation to Steiner's perspective in theory or practical application....The fact that a threefold characterization of society has become commonplace has, to a certain degree, vindicated Steiner’s visionary insights into social life. [pp.18-19]
A growing tendency to devalue culture and to treat political and economic structures as the chief causal forces in history emerged roughly a century and a half ago due to various influences, such as the Industrial Revolution, the positivism of Comte, and Marx's historical materialism. The tendency to underrate culture began to weaken only after the 1970s, at least to judge by the appearance of groups of scholars devoted to developing various forms of cultural history. Cultural historians have since treated many elements of experience, including art, symbols, religion, language, customs, styles, and manners, as equivalent to texts that can be read and interpreted.

No doubt partly due to the groundwork cultural historians laid by insisting on the irreducibility of culture, in 2014 Stephen Morillo's Frameworks of World History appeared and became the first world history textbook to employ a continuously three-sector causal analysis.  Morillo refers throughout the book to 
  • “cultural frames” (unnoticed, taken-for-granted elements of cultures) and “cultural screens" (onto which societies project cultural issues they do not take for granted, that are noticed, and that are consequently contested); 
  • “hierarchies” (governments); and 
  • "networks" (along which economic and cultural elements interact with each other and with governments).
Morillo accepts that culture, as much as economic life or politics, is a causal force in history. He makes clear that culture can sway and sometimes determine economic and political events.  On the other hand, the periodization he uses -- Hunter-Gatherer, to Agrarian, to Industrial -- might be thought to privilege economic factors in human social evolution.  Morillo however does not reduce the spiritual-cultural realm to the economic; so it can be assumed that his choice of periodization merely reflects the fact that it is much easier to achieve widespread consensus about knowledge of physical, economic, and technological stages of history than it is to achieve consensus on cultural stages.  That need not, and in Morillo's case does not, entail any assumptions about which of the three realms of society is more fundamental.  Morillo in Frameworks presents the evolution of cultural systems as thoroughly as the development of economic and political systems. It is not a book about social threefolding, and Morillo probably knows nothing about the subject. But some may find it an interesting history to read from a threefold perspective.

Some specific content from Frameworks may be the subject of the next post.


  1. thanks, sounds like an interesting book :)

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