Tribes to Networks: An Evolution of Society

by Mary Joyce

My friend Sem Devillart of the forecasting firm Popular Operations just sent me an interesting article by a staff member of the RAND Corporation, David Ronfeldt. Written back in 1996, it is probably one of the first to sketch the political and social implications of the networked society made possible by digital infrastructure. In the article, Ronfeldt describes social evolution (see image left) in terms of the additive “TIMN” framework:

Over the ages, societies organized in tribal (T) terms lose to societies that also develop institutional (I) systems to become T+I societies, normally with strong states. In turn, these are superseded by societies that allow space to develop the market form (M), and become T+I+M societies. Now, with the network (N) form on the rise, reshaping civil society, we may be entering a new phase of evolution in which T+I+M+N societies will emerge and take the lead.

I don’t totally agree with this typology (I think markets are part of institutional hierarchy, not an alternative to it), but this article, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks: A Framework About Societal Evolution, provides useful analysis of the changing power relationships in digitally networked society.

Download the article.

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