Saturday, January 28, 2012

Social Change

What is Social Change?


Social change is the alteration in patterns of social structure, social institutions and social behavior (culture) over time. No society could successful resist change in history, but the rate, nature, and direction of change differed greatly from one society to another.


To understand social change, the dynamic aspect, we need to understand social order and stability, the static aspect.


Theories of Social Change


A number of general theories of social change have been proposed by sociologists, historians, and anthropologists. The theories can be grouped into four main categories: evolutionary, cyclical, functional and conflict theories.


Evolutionary Theories


The assumption is that societies gradually change from simple beginnings into more complex forms.


Cyclical Theories


This group of scholars focused on the fact civilizations had risen and fallen. Civilizations are compared to organism which has a life. It has birth, maturity, old age and death. All creativity takes place in the early stage of the cycle. The civilization matures as it loses its original inspiration and declines. Arnold Toynbee (1946) explained the change in societies in terms of challenges and responses. Sorokin (1937) came out with the thought each societies cyclically swing between ‘sensate’ culture which emphasizes materialistic things and ‘ideational’ culture which emphasizes those things that can be perceived by mind only – things like faith and ultimate truth. Cyclical changes take place in response to the changes in preferences of people of society between ‘sensate’ and ideational’ cultures.


Functionalist Theories


New institutions come up as society becomes more complex. Formal school system maintained by government is an example.


Conflict Theories


Karl Marx declared that “violence is the midwife of history.’ Mao said “change comes from the barrel of a gun.” According to Marx, history is story of conflict between the exploiting and exploited classes. Authors who support conflict theory, now argue that class conflict is an oversimplication and there are other varieties of conflict that occur in societies – like conflict between racial groups and conflict between religious groups etc. Social changes are a result of social conflict is an accepted fact.


Sources of Change


The problem of finding the specific sources of social changes is easier than finding a general theory of social change. Some of the important sources of social change are describe below.


The Physical Environment


The physical environment of a place changes very slowly. Hence its effect may not be significant.




Ideas are important in social change. Marx argued that social conditions shape people’s ideologies, not the other way round.  But Weber gave prominence to ideas. Durkheim stated that social conditions give rise to ideas but ideas once expressed develop a life of their own and they act on society and create change.




Technology is a major source of social change. The more advanced a society’s technology, the more rapid social change tends to be.




The size of a population has a strong influence on social organization.


For Further Reading


Robertson, Ian (1977), Sociology, Worth Publishers, Inc., New York.
A Very Detailed Web Resource on Change Theories




Comments and editing to improve the article are welcome

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