bio-social sciences

Bio social sciences are an evolution  within classical social sciences – namely against anti-biological, neoclassic economic, social and political sciences – allowing them to cope better with Contemporaneity.

March 1913. How an earlier era depicted its ruling class


Le scienze sociali bio-classiche sono le scienze sociali di TERZA GENERAZIONE, dopo quelle classiche e neo-classiche;  pur essendo ai loro primi passi, esse già si candidano ad essere presto un paradigma unificante, se non unico, come lo è la c.d. “sintesi neo-Darwiniana” in biologia. Anch’essa, in realtà è una costellazione di più paradigmi con alcune invarianti, e dibattiti-tensioni aperte dalle spinte  in avanti, come la più importante: Stephen J. Gould.

Le scienze bio-sociali, al contrario dei vecchi paradigmi biologizzano il loro materiale di studio, ne fanno risaltare qualità prima offuscate come: alterità (Levinas), complessità, corporeità, determinismo parziale degli ecosistemi (un tema sinora lasciato alla geografia,  ma che ora sta pervadendo le scienze sociali: vedi Fernandez Armesto, anni vari; Harvey 2007), differenze, disequilibrio creativo, evoluzione, fitness, genius loci, individualità e non-collettivismo,  interscambio natura-cultura, path dependence (Arthur; David),  routines, selezione sociale, socialità,  varietà e vitalità.

A differenza dei 2 vecchi  paradigmi, esse realizzano una SINTESI DIALETTICA di micro e macro fondazioni, in modelli sistemici basati sia sugli agenti che su istituzioni irriducibili. I pionieri di riferimento sono:

– nelle prime scienze sociali “classiche” e la nascente sociologia, i tentativi di Smith (quello maldestro di Malthus), Marx e Marshall;  Comte, Freud, Durkheim e Weber di declinare il Darwinismo.

– Dopo Schumpeter, Keynes, Kalecki, Minsky e Sraffa, i veri e propri pionieri sono Georgescu Roegen, Nelson e Winter ed anche i neo-istituzionalisti – nella fondazione della bio-Economia Politica.

– La storiografia  liberata dal bias eurocentrico, attenta all’interscambio civilizzazioni – ecosistemi (Fernandez Armesto).  

– Gli studi del cambiamento tecnologico e delle sue basi scientifiche di de Solla Price, Freeman, Pavitt, Nelson, Winter, Metcalfe, Soete, Dosi, Arthur, David, von Hippel, Lundvall e Teece.

Infine – last but not least – il profondo e durevole impatto delle ricerche di Michel Foucault: un’onda lunga che, sposandosi e scontrandosi (tra onde trasversali) con altri apporti   – come ad es. la complessità (Prigogine, Kauffman), le scienze cognitive (Simon) e gli studi sociali sulla S&T -, sta radicandosi nelle singole discipline, in versioni autoctone del paradigma bio-politico.


Bio-classical social sciences are 3rd generation social sciences, after macro-founded classical and micro-founded neo-classical ones. Although they are just starting, their ambition is cultural hegemony and an unification of the field. Their peculiarity is to focus what previous paradigms were hiding: LIFE, disequilibrium, evolution and variety. And the dialectical coexistence of micro and macro foundations, in agents- and institutions-based models. 

They are rooted in the classical Authors’ (from Smith to Weber) effort to readapt Darwinism, then neoDarwinism in the social arena. Pioneers include:

– bio-economics: Georgescu Roegen, Nelson and Winter;

– bio-history: Fernandez Armesto;

– bio-social studies of science and technology: the post-Schumpeterian school (Chris Freeman);

– a long wave of impact of Michel Foucault’s bio-politics, crossing over with bio-geography, complex systems (e.g. Stuart Kauffman), cognitivism (Herbert Simon), other philosophical and cultural contributions.




Margaret K. Nelson and Joan Smith (1999), UoCalifornia Press.

Working Hard and Making Do

Surviving in Small Town America

A basic difference characerizes the US  labour markets  in the 1990s and the 2000s:

a) behind the (bastard) Clinton blablabla, demagogy on the New Economy, the former was a WalMart phase abandoning PostFordist dreams, departing from any reform, and aborting an ICT-based long wave. Just exploiting low paid, low quality  jobs supplying low cost services, and high increase of employment – as the dominant paradigm.

b) In the current decade, international competition induces the real US economy to finally jump on ICT diffusion, and to point (as some industries had already done before) to add more new capital, ICT per worker, allowing for more productivity per hour, and creating much less new jobs.

Therefore the economic expansion of the 1990s brought with it a surge of new jobs, but  for most workers family income rose only slightly, and the period witnessed a significant degradation of the quality of work. In this book, sociologists Margaret K. Nelson and Joan Smith take a look inside the households of working-class Americans to consider how the downgrading of jobs has affected survival strategies and gender dynamics.

Restructured companies are no longer hiring permanent staff. Rather, they tend to hire workers on a temporary basis. This is the case also of a large ICT multinational, the biggest Vermont employer, at a factory located just near  Coolidge Co.

Survival strategies differ in two subsets of working-class households in Coolidge, a rural county: those in which at least one family member has been able to hold on to good work (a year-round, full-time job that carries benefits), and those in which nobody has a steady employment.  “The authors assert that the new economy has exacerbated the gap between good job households and bad job households.” (Villandre 2000).

They find that households with good jobs are able to effectively use all of their labor power—they rely on two workers; they engage in on-the-side businesses; and they barter with friends and neighbors. In contrast, those living in families without at least one good job find themselves considerably less capable of deploying a complex, multi-faceted survival strategy. The authors further demonstrate that this difference between the two sets of households is accompanied by differences in the gender division of labor within the household, and the manner in which individuals make sense of, and respond to, their employment.

In Ch.5, that you can preview below, we read at pp. 119 and 154:

     “If the “normal” underpinnings of gender have been eroded, members of these households have found ways to replace them with other sructural supports. Rather than employment  in the formal labor force alone, it is the full range of household survival strategies that plays a central role in regaining for men whatever status they might have lost when their wives went to work – but only among good job households.” (119)    

     “… in bad job households, husbands especially but also wives try to reproduce gendered expectations of themselves in the face of objective conditions that make those expectations all but impossible to meet. The result is despair. In short, what we found missing was not “family values” but the ability to rise to the standards those values imply” (154).

The research conclusion “challenges the conventional notion of the formal and informal economy as polarized alternatives. The working-class households Nelson and Smith studied rely simultaneously on both sectors, and inequality among these households is shaped not by dependence on one rather than the other but by access to desirable positions in both” (Ruth Milkman).


Villandre, Serge (2000, January), review of Nelson and Smith (1999). CJS online.

Google Books reading:


Ajax, Census, informal economy
bad job households, Charles Rivers, self-provisioning
bad job households, Jack Curtis, moonlighting
Carterville, barter, Among bad job
job house, men in bad, husbands and wives
division of labor, husbands and wives, weed-whack




Bio-classic social science approaches stem from the mainstream family of paradigms, at the foundations of social sciences – with smooth continuity à la Marshall, no revolution à la marginalism. To be more precise: there are many ongoing bio-revolutions in the epistemology and methodology of social sciences. But in the substance of the applied analyses, in the interpretations of Modernity and Capitalisms, this is also A RETURN TO CLASSICS; a rejection of neo-classicism (STATIC functionalism, marginalism and structuralism)  as a dead end.

Their supporters rivendicate a closer link with the objects and focuses, methodology and mathematics of biology. For the first time, a revolution in social paradigms is not motivated by a clerical quest for autonomy, but – explicitly –  by eteronomy as a conseguence of a quest for realism.

It is argued that social scences must come closer to their own object, which is social life (where history blurs with nature), therefore must have closer exchanges with the research lines and methodologies (e.g., Maynard Smith, Sussex University) stemming from the  “neo-Darwinist synthesis” or paradigm in biology.


Bio-classic economic and social science approaches stem from the mainstream family of paradigms, at the foundations of social sciences: they are an anti-thesis to neoclassical sciences, since they destitute the ABSTRACT individual, and instaure a centrality of real biological life and socio-biological processes. 

Therefore, although as a by-product they often contribute to  revitalize classical sciences (e.g., Ricardo-Marx in Sraffa, and in Georgescu-Roegen bio-political economy; Dostojevkij-Freud in Girard’s bio- and thanato-anthropology), this is not their core.

The core business of bio-classical sciences is to biologize, i.e. make difference, evolution, life, self-criticality and variety enter the study of the Social Sapiens: 

i) both in se: because it was adequate and necessary since from the origin of the species (in the “missing link” here represented by Mr Darwin in person, in a French caricature); 

ii) and per se: since Life has already carsically re-emerged in contemporary societies, they can not be properly understood, out of bio-paradigms that need urgent R&D investments.

Variuos philosophies, like Hegelian historicism; and a genuine, naive Darwinism (coupled with the former in Marx, with positivism in Malthus and Comte) had provided the earlier frames of 19th C. Classicism. Such an approach is now seen as basically a right methodological direction, at least as a start. Then, the neo-classic parenthesis represents for bio-evolutionists a retreat backward: to statics (Walras), false dynamics (von Neumann), dependence from physical results of no interest (fixed point theorem), ignoring complexity and evolution. 

A reaction leading to the “bio-social revolution” (a drastic shift in paradigm compared to neoclassicism, although not in relation to classicism), came from 2 facts:

1. structuralism, alone or in combination (with functionalism, language studies after de Saussure, systems theory), had killed the individual and his life – by hypostasis of an acceptabledisputable philosophical axiom:  for XXth C. philosophy, necessity and  determinism are in the language structure itself. The hypostasis argument adds: in every structure (Althusser: the labour process; Lacan: the subconsciuos;  etc.).

Michel Foucault’s evolving research programs, represent the revolt from inside structuralism: from a lack of Subject, to finding out his degrees of freedom (Esposito, Natoli).

2. Neo-classicism, exp. in economic sciences, killed evolutionary variety, by incorporating  Fordism ONLY in the “average subject” axiom (and forgetting all its  COMPLEX web of institutions and deals, systemic features and regulations). 

Post-fordism lead to a revolt against any legacy, even such a marginal relation of Marginalism with Fordism. Nelson and Winter did it first.

After pioneering research by Foucault, Wilson’s socio-biology, Nelson and Winter, Dosi and the Santa Fe school, bio-social sciences are taking the lead in the 21st C.

Their superiority is reinforced by the correspondence with the Zeitgeist (see the importance of this factor in Schumpeter’s History of economic analysis), but lays in a largely more powerful methodology – an applicatipn of system realism versus the neoclassic absolute, extreme, radical unrealism:

A) neoclassics insist to apply to complex relational system the existing, evidently inadapt maths for physics (not even the better and last, supplied by econophysics): multi-level system phenomena are modelled only at one level,  just for the sake to find analytical solutions; the latter, from means are ransformed into ends, at the expense of realism.

B) The complex bio-systems approach- on the contrary – represents relational systems as they are (multi-agent and multi-level), and gets satisfied with simulation results.


 Further references:

1) in “bios versus thanatos” we outline some features of Contemporary social systems, the object of study of bio-social sciences

2) some arguments are expanded in our biopedia DICTIONARY:socscidictio_080623

3) in a report, enclosed in the associated deeprecession blog:

we exemplify bio-social sciences at work, on the subcrime recession and the financial deflationary régime of the global economy. Please note some differences:

– Classical Political economy, sociology, etc., are not rejected but renovated, recalled to LIFE;

– immediate LIFE enters the picture, almost for the first time ever in social sciences (exc. some bio-graphical sections of anthropology and history);

– it cannot be substituted any more, just by abstract notions, abstract rights, abstract-average subjects (as those of neoclassic economics, funcionalist but even some systems sociology) and Trilussa’s statistics: on average, we share portions of luxury yachts (Trilussa was a popular poet in Roma’s dialect … anticipating critical bio-statistics).

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