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The emergence of culture and cultural evolution is the result of an evolutionary process, evident also in non‐human species. What is specifically human is the dominance of cultural evolution. This does not mean that cultural evolution has replaced organic evolution, but rather that both have merged into one coevolutionary complex. Through niche construction, organic modern humans are the product of cultural evolution. This cannot be explained by adaptation to natural environment or by sexual selection. Cultural evolution with its coevolved organic traits did not so much enhance competence towards the natural environment as it did competence to develop and maintain cooperation. In the process, culture became a “system” with its own imperatives and integrating forces, differentiating into several autopoietic subsystems: the symbolic‐cognitive subsystem, the economic subsystem and the political subsystem. There are however social‐metabolic constraints that put limits on their evolutionary degrees of freedom. Culture's autopoietic reach has adaptive boundaries. The concept of social metabolism attempts to capture the unity of “persons” in a physical‐biological sense and “culture” in a symbolic sense, the decisive point being that culture must be understood as an autopoietic system sui generis. The social‐metabolic system of relations and interactions between nature, human population and culture is inherently coevolutionary. The history of social metabolism is the history of the coevolution of two autopoietic systems – an open and blind non‐orthogenetic evolutionary process.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Organization Studies and Cultural Theory, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of St. Gallen, Gatterstrasse 1 CH-9000 St. Gallen, Switzerland,

Publication date: 2011-12-01

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