Integrating Economic and Organization Theory
Edited by Anna Grandori
Chapter 9: Organizational adaptation and evolution: Darwinism versus Lamarckism?
An ongoing debate within organization studies concerns the roles of individual adaptation and competitive selection in the evolution of populations of firms. On one side, Michael Hannan and John Freeman (1989) emphasize the role of selection and stress the de facto limits of individual firm adaptability. Conventionally their ‘selectionist’ position is described as ‘Darwinian’, whereas opposing views that emphasize adaptability are described as ‘Lamarckian’. It is argued here that this labelling is misconceived. Darwin himself believed in the Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characters. Even if Lamarckian inheritance occurs, evolution requires selectionist mechanisms as well. And for detailed reasons the application of the Lamarckian notion to organizational evolution is problematic. By contrast, abstract Darwinian principles do apply, and Darwinism emphasizes adaptation and development as well as selection. The careful use of properly defined Darwinian principles not only helps to avoid earlier pitfalls but also fruitfully guides ongoing enquiry.
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