Cultural evolutionism is an ideology that attempts to describe and explain long-term change in human societies, insofar as those ways are socially and culturally rather than biologically acquired. The primary focus of cultural evolutionists is to view cultural change as 'evolutionary' and thus as a strictly scientific approach to culture that avoids trappings of reflexive, values-laden social sciences and humanities.
Cultural development, as distinct from cultural evolution, may be viewed as a uni-linear or multi-linear phenomenon. Uni-linear describes the change in human behaviour whereas multi-linear describes the change in separate cultures and societies. Cultural evolution, on the other hand, suggests a fuzzy line between culture and nature, as seen in notions such as multi-level selection, reciprocal altruism, "blind variation and selective retention," niche construction and what came to be known as 'Memetics,' proposed by Richard Dawkins.
Evolutionary theories that originated in natural and physical sciences have been transferred to culture and applied to involve the transmission of (particularly from generation to generation) by all non-genomic means - through the senses by example, or by instructions involving language. "Cultural evolution" therefore encompasses the generation and selection of new 'learning' by all means other than encoding in the genome. Although cultural evolution is not entirely peculiar to man (see for example: John Tyler Bonner, The Evolution of Culture in Animals (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980)) it is in a highly developed form restricted to man and much tied up with the development of language and writing.
The idea that human culture changes with time is evident with the fact that human beings have become a more civilized species through history.
Though often used interchangeably with the terms "social evolution" and "sociocultural evolution," the term "cultural evolution" sometimes is useful for specifying a focus on long-term change. Scholars use the traditionally biological, geological or cosmological notion of 'evolution' to not in properties of a social group as such (e.g., its sheer size or location), but in the way of life–the characteristic artifacts, behaviours, and ideas–of the group. Defined this way, cultural evolutionism is not an inherently Ethnocentric ideology and need not be used mainly to focus on racial characteristics of people, as many following Darwin, as well as among his peers, did.
Today, many archaeologists, some cultural anthropologists, and even a few sociologists self-identify as cultural evolutionists; Other scholars have been proposed, by virtue of their research interests, to fit the category. For example, the international scientific research project, the Seshat: Global History Databank takes an explicitly cultural evolutionary approach to human history.
Attempts to promote biological terminology in the historical development of culture often occurred through studies of population migration. There was also been evidence explaining that cultural evolution was the result of cultural diffusion, the movement and spread of cultural patterns to another culture, which resulted in the anthropological ideology of diffusionism. The method of adoption of different cultural practices to maintain social equilibrium, is thought to have resulted in diffusion of culture with adaptive changes.
Today, the theory of cultural evolution is an (often unstated) underpinning for other, more complex explanations for cultural change, and for the most part archaeologists believe that social changes are not only driven by biology or a strict adaptation to change, but by a complex web of social, environmental, and biological factors.