This five-part series of “Notes…#3” began with my noting that TIMN (1996) was initially alone in offering a quadriform framework about past, present, and future social evolution, with a forecast that the next stage may bring the emergence of a new network-based sector. By now, there are three other quadriform frameworks about social evolution that are similarly oriented to the future: by Bauwens (2005-present), Karatani (2014), and Raworth (2017). In follow-up posts, I reviewed and compared each to TIMN. Now this post turns to TIMN’s advantages for theory and practice.
A brief preamble and a few points about TIMN
Lamentably, TIMN is far from finished as a framework, and it’s an overreach to call it a theory, though I do so anyway because of its potential. Moreover, unlike the three other frameworks, there is no book on TIMN. And much as there should be a book, there won’t be — I’m now too limited to prepare it. The same goes for the research enterprise I once hoped to undertake in order to develop indicators and methodologies, indeed a full model, for assessing a society’s — any society’s — status and prospects in TIMN terms. But at least I have a set of pubs and posts to back up my points (see bibliography at end).
Okay, that’s enough self-effacing preamble. Let’s get to work.
According to my review of history and theory (1996, 2009), four cardinal forms of organization — and evidently only four — lie behind the governance and evolution of all societies across the ages:
• The tribal form (T) was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging — the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs.
• The institutional form (I) was the second to emerge. Emphasizing hierarchy, it led to the development of the state and the military, as epitomized initially by the Roman Empire, not to mention the Catholic papacy and other corporate enterprises.
• The market form (M), the third form of organization to take hold, enables people to excel at openly competitive, free, and fair economic exchanges. Although present in ancient times, it did not gain sway until the 19th century, at first mainly in England.
• The network form (N), the fourth to mature, serves to connect dispersed groups and individuals so that they may coordinate and act conjointly. Enabled by the digital information-technology revolution, this form is only now coming into its own, so far strengthening civil society more than other realms.
Here's a table about this (but I see it's at least ten years old and in need of revision and updating):
TIMN sits atop this quadriform foundation. I could elaborate on how this leads to identifying an evolutionary progression across the ages from monoform (T-only), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), and hopefully next to quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies. I could also list the system dynamics I’ve identified that are common to all TIMN phase transitions. Not to mention much more (see sources cited below).
But this post is not a primer on TIMN. Instead, its purpose is to offer a comparative overview of TIMN’s advantages for theory and practice vis à vis the other three quadriform frameworks. So let’s move straight into that.
A comparison of the four frameworks: striking similarities, key disparities
• All four frameworks have quadriform designs: mine is based on four forms of organization, Bauwens’ on four relational modalities, Karatani’s on four modes of exchange, and Raworth’s on four means of provisioning. I’ve already discussed how well each of theirs matches TIMN’s. The parallels are striking, despite the disparities I noted in preceding posts. The strongest parallels and overlaps are between Bauwens’ and Karatani’s frameworks, partly because of their shared Marxism.
• All four frameworks regard their respective forms/modes quite similarly: Each form/mode has both material and ideational properties. All were evident in ancient times, when societies first took shape. Societies since then have always contained mixes of all four forms. Societies vary according to which form is dominant, and when. Societies also vary according to the relative strength and influence of the other forms at the time. A form’s rise to dominance modifies the nature and roles of the other forms, and their interactions often create interim hybrids. Historical progressions can be identified as to which form/mode becomes dominant, and when, from ancient through modern times. The advanced societies are presently on the cusp of the rise of each framework’s respective fourth form/mode.
• All four frameworks (Raworth’s less so) recognize clans and tribes as comprising early types of societies, with each of us associating their formation with a particular form/mode, but not entirely agreeing as to which one. Also, we all recognize that the form/mode that best explains the formation of the earliest societies then endures across the ages, manifesting itself in new ways, notably as nationalism. TIMN is more attentive to this than are the other frameworks.
• All four frameworks recognize that the state will remain a crucial institution in the future. It first took shape in ancient times around a particular form/mode — pretty much the same one in all four frameworks — which is then modified as the next form/mode rises to dominance later on. Three of us foresee a new kind of state arising in the far future — a cybercratic nexus state in my view, a partner state in Bauwens’ view, and a global republic in Karatani’s view.
• All four frameworks imply that state and society are excessively subject to capitalist forces, and should become less so in the future. TIMN is not anti-state or anti-market; it requires the persistence of states and markets in the future, albeit much modified. TIMN does, however, distinguish between its +M market form and capitalism, and further research and analysis would surely show that many aspects of late-modern capitalism contradict, indeed corrode, the best principles of the market form. TIMN’s grounding for its +M form is Adam Smith. In contrast, Bauwens’ and Karatani’s frameworks are deeply anti-capitalist. Their grounding is Karl Marx. Yet, their frameworks, like TIMN, recognize that the market form will persist in some capacity, but to a lesser degree and more narrowly.
• All four frameworks imply that civil society should become stronger as the fourth form arises, and that this will generate a new sector. Three frameworks — Raworth’s, Bauwens’, and mine — do so by anticipating, even advocating, the development of a pro-commons sector (though we vary as to its presumed scope). Two — Bauwens’ and mine — explicitly link its emergence to the spread of network forms of organization — though my +N and Bauwens’ P2P are not identical concepts. Karatani’s framework implies strengthening civil society, but he never refers to the creation of a commons sector, and it’s not clear to what extent Mode D is a network-related concept.
• All four frameworks are about future social evolution; indeed, three — Bauwens’, Karatani’s and mine — amount to theories about past, present, and future social evolution. While none of us are entirely sure what the rise of the next form/mode will bring, all our frameworks mean “the end of history” is wrong. After the fall of the Soviet Union (an empire of biform societies), the sense of triumph in the United States and other triform democracies inspired an optimistic belief in the “end of history” model (Fukuyama, 1989, 1992). It claimed that “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” But matters are not evolving that way. The “end of history” is a trifomist model — offered at the moment of its greatest power and success, but also unknowingly on the eve of its looming obsolescence. For this model did not recognize a fourth form of organization and evolution would arise — what we variously term +N, P2P, and Mode D. In all our frameworks, the rise of this form — its technologies, its organizational dynamics, its behavioral and philosophical implications — is in its early disruptive phases, and it remains unclear what it will mean in the decades ahead. But it certainly means that “history” is nowhere near its “end”, moreover that something other than “liberal democracy” will result.
• All four frameworks imply the future emergence of new political ideologies, in accordance with the rise of a fourth form/mode. I identify TIMN with quadriformism; Bauwens, his P2P theory with commonism (similarly, Raworth); and Karatani, his exchange-mode theory with a kind of communism that may be deeply religious. Raworth’s progressivism overlaps a lot with Bauwens’ more radical commonism, but not with Karatani’s future vision. However, Bauwens’ and Karatani’s visions overlap profoundly. TIMN stands apart — its ideological stance is more about recognizing the significance of all four forms together, i.e., quadriformism, than about specifying future political isms that may issue on the Left or Right.
• Three frameworks — the most theoretical ones: Bauwens’, Karatani’s, and mine — show that the rise of a new/next form affects religious expressions. Karatani is the most emphatic about this, arguing that all four modes in his framework have religious properties, but none so much as Mode D and its implication that “X” will be religious in nature. This fits with TIMN and P2P theory as well. I have long noted, though never in full, that each TIMN form is associated with new religious expressions: the T form with ancient pagan religions, +I with hierarchical Catholicism and the Papacy, +M with competitive varieties of Protestantism — and a future +N may favor the rise of new ecumenical approaches, perhaps drawing on Buddhism. Bauwens has a rather similar but more detailed analysis about how various religions have expressed his framework’s four relational modalities. Beyond that, he and I have mused that the fourth form, be it +N or P2P, may better enable the world to generate a “noosphere” — the partly-spiritual concept of a globe-circling realm of the mind, fielded by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Edouard Le Roy, and Vladimir Vernadsky decades ago (see Ronfeldt, 2018). Indeed, Karatani’s vision for Mode D and outcome X seem to reflect the concept of the “noosphere”, though he never mentions it.
• Bauwens’, Karatani’s, and Raworth’s frameworks are limited to four forms or modes; and Bauwens and Karatani foresee their fourth modes reaching back to synthesize with the first, as though completing a circle. TIMN is defined by four forms as well (though it does not bend back like theirs). However, I sense a distant possibility of a fifth form. Each form’s rise is tied to the arrival of a new information and communications revolution, with each such revolution enabling information and communications to flow radically farther and faster than ever before. Have those revolutions come to an end? Is the digital revolution the last? I doubt it. Indeed, a biologically-based revolution may eventually occur that makes mental telepathy possible to a degree, first from bio-technology implants and ultimately from biological evolution. But that would be a long time from now, beyond today’s horizons. Thus, quadriform frameworks should suffice for an aeon, but I wanted to point out this speculative possibility, which TIMN leaves open.
I’ve noticed additional similarities and differences among the four frameworks, but the above should suffice for now.
TIMN’s comparative advantages for theory and practice
Some of TIMN’s advantages are about the handling of specific forms. Others are about TIMN as a framework favoring a quadriform view for assessing policy and strategy matters.
• Of the four frameworks, TIMN is the most attentive to the significance and persistence of the T/tribal (i.e., kinship) form across the ages, in all its manifestations, both positive and negative. On the bright side, TIMN affirms that, to evolve properly, societies continue to need strong healthy families and communities, along with modern “fictive kinship” manifestations that may range from fan clubs to patriotic displays that foster mutual identity and solidarity — they give a society coherence. On the dark side, TIMN shows that the tribal form may persist in clannish ways that foment political and economic corruption, making it difficult for the later forms to take hold properly. TIMN also accounts for mean-spirited reversions to tribalism that may occur when people lose faith in their political institutions and economic systems, as in today’s America. The other frameworks are not as suited to illuminating and explaining this range of positive and negative matters. Indeed, TIMN’s design can handle analyzing the widespread persistence of societies in which the Tribes form remains so strong, via political clans, gangs, cronies, and related cultural dynamics, that it corrupts and constrains the proper evolution of Institutions, Markets, and Networks. The other quadriform frameworks are not as well suited to illuminating this.
• TIMN’s second form — hierarchical institutions (+I) — receives similar strong treatments in the other frameworks as well. But TIMN has two noteworthy advantages: explaining systemic corruption, and explaining liberal democracy. According to TIMN, systemic corruption occurs largely when principles (and principals) from clannish elements of the tribal form intrude into the institutional form, exploiting and suborning it so much that government institutions can’t develop properly. The results may include collusion, gangsterism, and cronyism that affects not only the +I form but also the +M/market form. As for liberal democracy, it arises when +M market principles enter the arenas of +I political institutions, leading to requirements that they respond not just to hierarchy but also to representation. As Charles Lindblom observed: “Not all market-oriented systems are democratic, but every democratic system is also a market-oriented system.” Hallmarks of the spread of +M principles into government include competitive political parties and elected legislatures. This is why triform societies provide the archetypes of liberal democracy.
• TIMN distinguishes between the market form (+M) as an essential form for the advancement of societies, and capitalism as a way of implementing the market form. The other quadriform frameworks are not as clear about this distinction between the market form and capitalism; indeed, many writers tend to conflate the two. Capitalism should work well — and often has — but it may also become distorted and turn bad. This is why I sometimes say that TIMN is pro-market but not necessarily pro-capitalist; for capitalist practices may turn out to contradict the best of +M principles. What's happened in our society is that capitalism has become less and less a proper application of the market system.
• TIMN implies the future emergence of a more distinct commons sector than do the other frameworks. Right now, this +N sector remains inchoate, barely noticeable, rather in keeping with William Gibson’s saying that “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Best I can tell, it will be a “commons sector” (or “social sector” or “civil sector” or “people sector”) that assembles together a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find ways to address and resolve America’s largest, most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. These are the very social problems that have become evermore complicated and urgent, partly because of America’s success as a triform system, and that our existing public and private sectors keep proving unable to resolve. If so, these entities and activities will migrate (and be migrated) out of the public and private sectors and coalesce into a networked (+N) commons sector. It will operate differently from the other sectors, probably as a set of non-profits, cooperatives, collectives, collaboratives, trusts, platforms, and other networked associations. It will be committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with existing household (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. It will be subject to, and protected by, an array of laws, rules, and regulations that are different from those pertaining to the other sectors. This new sector will be focused on the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of its people. In comparison, Raworth’s concept of a commons sector lacks specificity, and Bauwens’ is mighty sweeping and unbounded, while Karatani appears not to think in terms of sectors — as I explain in reviewing their frameworks earlier.
• TIMN is not derived from or committed to any specific ideology. TIMN expects and allows for a broad future political spectrum, from Left to Right. It leaves room for the endurance of conservative and progressive orientations along a new quadriformist spectrum. In contrast, the other three frameworks clearly belong on the Left — Bauwens’ and Karatani’s even aspire to a final future triumph of the Left over the Right, in keeping with their Marxist orientations. To my disappointment, I’ve found no theorists or philosophers on the Right who are pondering the future within anything like a quadriform framework. They seem stuck in their triformist mindsets. Politicians and pundits on the Right may even react that the quadriformism I seek would jeopardize America’s traditions of capitalism and individualism. Rubbish nonsense. What they may not see is that creating a quadriform system should lead to stronger, healthier families and communities, a smaller, less burdened, less burdensome government, and a freer, fairer, more efficient market system — all key goals of most conservatives.
• TIMN emphasizes looking at the overall combination of forms, whereas the other frameworks — Bauwens’ and Karatani’s in particular — stress looking at which single form is dominant. TIMN is more about limits and balances among its four forms; the other frameworks are more about the domination of one mode over the others. The latter insist that societies evolve over time through a progression of dominant modes, finally culminating with the dominance of a fourth mode — P2P in Bauwens’ case and Mode D in Karatani’s case. TIMN recognizes that progressive dominations occur, but its design prefers that that no single form dominate as societies advance. The more any single form comes to dominate — be it the tribal, institutional, market, or network form — the more likely is a society’s evolution to become unbalanced and distorted. According to TIMN, monoform (T-only) systems get superseded by biform (T+I) systems, then these by triform (T+I+M) systems, and next will be quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems. A kind of domination dynamic is embedded in there, but for now I’m supposing that a comprehensive multi-form approach to analysis will prove more correct.
• TIMN could be operationalized as a methodology — a diagnostic tool — for identifying and assessing policy and strategy options. I doubt the other frameworks could be, or that their creators would want to. Developing TIMN for such purposes would require a large research project to determine key indicators for each form (both their bright and their darks sides), the status of system dynamics, etc., so as to assist policymakers and strategists with assessing particular situations. I hope to say more about this in a future post; it’s an important matter, though refining such a methodology is not essential for articulating a quadriformist manifesto.
• A final point: TIMN is the most suited of these quadriform frameworks to fashioning a new American political narrative. One that is forward-looking, hopeful, and full of opportunity. One that can appeal to conservatives along with progressives who sense triformism isn’t working well any longer. I intend to elaborate on this in a future post.
: I’d say this comparison helps validate and commend TIMN. Yet none of this is to claim that TIMN is right and the other frameworks wrong. We are all more-or-less right, or at least on the right track. The parallels are more significant than the disparities. Of course, I believe TIMN is more right as a way to build theory and to come up with new policies and strategies. But my grander point is that we are all quadrifomists — the way to a better future. You should think about becoming one too.
David Ronfeldt, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks — A Framework About Societal Evolution
, RAND, P-7967, 1996.
David Ronfeldt, In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form
, RAND, WR-433, 2007.
David Ronfeldt, “Overview of social evolution (past, present, and future) in TIMN terms,” Materials for Two Theories Blog
, February 25, 2009, at
David Ronfeldt, “Explaining social evolution: standard cause-and-effect vs. TIMN’s system dynamics,” Materials for Two Theories Blog
, September 18, 2009, at
David Ronfeldt, “TIMN in 20 minutes: social evolution — past, present, and future,” YouTube Video
, May 23, 2012, at
David Ronfeldt, “Organizational forms compared: my evolving TIMN table vs. other analysts’ tables — revised & expanded,” Materials for Two Theories Blog
, May 12, 2016, at
David Ronfeldt & John Arquilla, The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik: Twenty Years After
, May 2018, at
David Ronfeldt & Danielle Varda, The Prospects for Cyberocracy (Revisited)
, December 2008, posted on Social Science Research Network, January 2009, and on OpenSIUC, June 2009.
ADDENDUM ON “FORMS OF ORGANIZATION”
While my focus started out being about “forms of organization”, I’ve tried to clarify that each of the four TIMN forms — tribes, (hierarchical) institutions, markets, and networks — is about much more than organization in a narrow sense. Here’s the longest clarification I’ve written so far:
“The development of each form has a long history. Early versions of all four were present in ancient times. But as deliberate, formal systems with philosophical portent, each has gained strength at a different rate and matured in a different epoch over the past 10,000 years. Tribes developed first (in the Neolithic era), hierarchical institutions next (notably, with the Roman Empire and then the absolutist states of the 16th century), and competitive markets later (as in England and the United States in the 18th century). Now, collaborative networks are on the rise as the next great form. Its cutting edge currently lies among activist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with civil society. …
“Each of the four forms, writ large, embodies a distinctive set of structures, processes, beliefs, and dynamics about how society should be organized — about who gets to achieve what, why, and how. Each involves different codes and standards about how people should treat each other. Each enables people to do something — to address some social problem — better than they could by using another form. Each attracts and energizes different kinds of actors and adherents. Each has different ideational and material bases. Each has both bright and dark sides, both strengths and weaknesses. And each can be gotten “right” or “wrong” in various ways, depending on circumstances.
“Once a form is subscribed to by many actors, it becomes more than a mere form: It develops into a realm, even a system, of thought and behavior. Indeed, the rise of each form spells an ideational and structural revolution. Each is a generator of order, because each defines a set of interactions (or, transactions) that are attractive, powerful, and useful enough to create a distinct realm of activity, or at least its core. Each becomes the basis for a governance system that is self-regulating and, ultimately, self-limiting. And each tends to foster a different kind of worldview, for each orients people differently toward social space, time, and action. What is deemed rational — how a “rational actor” should behave — is different for each form; no single “utility function” suits them all.
“Each form becomes associated with high ideals as well as new capabilities. Yet, all the forms are ethically neutral — as neutral as technologies — in that they have both bright and dark sides and can be used for good or ill. The tribal form, which should foster communal solidarity and mutual caring, may also breed a narrow, bitter clannishness that can justify anything from nepotism to murder in order to shield and strengthen a clan and its leaders. The hierarchical institutional form, which should lead to professional rule and regulation, may also be used to uphold corrupt, arbitrary dictators. The market form, which should bring free, fair, open exchanges, may also be distorted and rigged to allow unbridled piracy, speculation, and profiteering. And the network form, which can empower civil society actors to serve public interests, may also be used to strengthen “uncivil society” — say, by enabling terrorist groups and crime syndicates. So, it is not just the bright sides of each form that foster new values and actors; their dark sides may do so as well.” (from Ronfeldt, February 2009)
That still looks pretty good to me as a brief clarification.