Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
The term “superorganic” was probably first used by the early sociologist Herbert Spencer in the late 19th century, in contrast to “inorganic” or “organic.” To Spencer, and other cultural-determinist sociologists and philosophers like Émile Durkheim and Auguste Comte, human society is superorganic in that it exists at a higher level of complexity than physical things or biological organisms. Viewed through Spencer's social evolutionary thought, superorganic refers to the claim that culture is an entity that exists over and beyond the individuals that make it up. That is, just as inorganic entities (such as rocks) and organic biological entities (such as plants) have real ontological existence, so does the super- or meta-force of culture. The notion of the superorganic was brought into anthropological discourse in 1917 in a debate between two of the most ...