Gerhard E. Lenski

Gerhard E. Lenski




Gerhard E. Lenski

An American sociologist, Gerhard Emmanuel Lenski has been acknowledged for his immense involvement in the sociology of social inequality, religion and ecological theory. Before settling on sociology, Lenski worked in the English Air Force as a cryptographer during World War II. His academic history began in Yale University where he attained a BA degree in 1947 and later on studied for his PhD. Apart from his vast academic qualifications, Lenski has been awarded various decorations such as the Pre-doctoral Fellowship, Senior Faculty Fellowship and IREX Senior Faculty Exchange Fellowships. Most of his initial work touched on the sociology of religion and concluded in the production of the Religious Factor, a publication of the impact of religion on the economy, politics and families.

The Ecological-Evolutionary Theory

The ecological-evolutionary theory developed by Gerhard Lenski was in essence more of an amalgamation rather than plainly lining up the functional analysis with the theory differences. Although Lenski’s theory was particularly connected to social stratification, he had actually attempted to reveal the history of humankind for over nine centuries in a sociological model. The blend of functionalist assumptions and conflict Lenski fashioned in an evolutionary structure. According to Lenski, the evolutionary theory is useful in analyzing the structure and process of social stratification (Lenski, 1982). The stratification theory attempts to fuse the endeavors of the conflict theorists and functionalists to clarify the operation and existence of social classes. Conflict and functionalist theories were based on two traditions based on the dissimilarities in assumptions about the nature of society and human nature. Functionalism depends on the conservative tradition that argued that stratification is imperative to meet the societal needs wholly.

Conversely, conflict theorists questioned the presence of social requirements. These theorists are concerned with a diversity of desires, needs and interests for individuals and smaller groups as opposed to the larger society in their efforts to obtain valuable goods and services. These differences echo the opposing postulations about human nature. Lenski argues that functionalists highlight the social nature of human beings. He postulates that human beings cannot survive if they are secluded, and therefore, they must live in groups. However, simultaneously, they believe in the need for organization within social agencies.

Lenski’s viewpoint on the dichotomy of categories portrays man as being either good or bad, and the society as a system rather than developing concepts that mirror the dichotomy of clear affirmations or denials. Instead, sociologists should strive to ascertain the concepts that reflect the scale to which an occurrence presents certain features. Lenski affirms that conflict and functional theories provide the suggestions by which a particular theory can obtain coatings. The ecological-evolutionary theory is laden with assumptions and assertions on human nature. One assumption is that man is naturally a social creature that participates in aggressive cooperation to make the most of satisfying his need. Within man’ circles, social life and cooperation are imperative for survival (Lenski, 1982).

The society in which a man is born influences many of the basic needs and requirements as well as creating secondary needs. Lenski also assumed that the reproductive capability of human beings exceeds that of production. This is a usual characteristic of nature but is meager in providing sustenance and food for this life (Lenski, 1966). It is therefore expected that many human beings will die prematurely, and others will be starved. Men have learnt to avoid these problems by increasing their cultivation efforts and controlling their reproduction. Lenski argues that man comes out to as an animal with an unquenchable appetite for goods and services that have value.

Lenski clearly shares comparable ambitions for a modern form of evolutionism. The contemporary sociology urgently requires a plan for the universe of human societies. However, Lenski frequently misses the methodological and conceptual apparatus required. Other scholars have borrowed from the biological sciences to commence the achievements. For example, Lenski’s categorization of societies into gathering and hunting, maritime, agrarian herding, horticultural, fishing and industrial is visibly typological instead of phylogenetic. The poor familiarity with the evolutionary systems of the organization is apparent in the usage of terms such as taxons rather than taxa (Conley, 2005).

Socio-cultural change happens because of single members of the society developing adaptive transformations to their social and natural environments. Not everyone has the same power to make decisions and this regularly depends on the type of choice and the position of an individual in the classification system. Certainly, one of Lenski’s dominant themes is the great paradox that revolves around his readings on history. Continuity has mainly existed within societies, but change has also dominated among them. Works by Diamond and Wright have constantly reminded the academic groups that human societies are born, experience growth, and change constantly. Finally, all of them die. Therefore, it is time for modern evolutionists in the different specialized areas and theorists such as Lenski to make an effort in achieving an evolutionary social science (Lenski, 1966).

Lenski is somewhat keen to perceive humans as selfish creatures. This is the core of the theory and Lenski noted that compliance to policies could be explained as a form of consciousness of personal wellbeing. From the concepts, he concluded that men hardly ever had the freedom and were normally determined by the inborn essence of selfishness and controlled by the customs of social structures.


Conley J. (2005). Ecological-Evolutionary Theory: Principles and Applications. Canadian Journal of Sociology Online. Retrieved from

Lenski, G. E. (1966). Power and privilege: A theory of social stratification. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lenski, G. E., & Lenski, J. (1982). Human societies: An introduction to macrosociology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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