One way of explaining social change is to show causal connections between two or more processes. This may take the form of determinism or reductionism, both of which tend to explain social change by reducing it to one supposed autonomous and all-determining causal process. A more cautious assumption is that one process has relative causal priority, without implying that this process is completely autonomous and all-determining. What follows are some of the processes thought to contribute to social change.
Changes in the natural environment may result from climatic variations, natural disasters, or the spread of disease. For example, both worsening of climatic conditions and the Black Death epidemics are thought to have contributed to the crisis of feudalism in 14th-century Europe. Changes in the natural environment may be either independent of human social activities or caused by them. Deforestation, erosion, and air pollution belong to the latter category, and they in turn may have far-reaching social consequences. Demographic processes
Population growth and increasing population density represent demographic forms of social change. Population growth may lead to geographic expansion of a society, military conflicts, and the intermingling of cultures. Increasing population density may stimulate technological innovations, which in turn may increase the division of labor, social differentiation, commercialization, and urbanization. This sort of process occurred in Western Europe from the 11th to the 13th century and in England in the 18th century, where population growth spurred the Industrial Revolution.
On the other hand, population growth may contribute to economic stagnation and increasing poverty, as may be witnessed in several Third World countries today. Economic processes Technological changes are often considered in conjunction with economic processes. These include the formation and extension of markets, modifications of property relations (such as the change from feudal lord-peasant relations to contractual proprietor-tenant relations), and changes in the organization of labor (such as the change from independent craftsmen to factories).
Historical materialism, as developed by Marx and Engels, is one of the more prominent theories that give priority to economic processes, but it is not the only one. Indeed, materialist theories have even been developed in opposition to Marxism. One of these theories, the “logic of industrialization” thesis by American scholar Clark Kerr and his colleagues, states that industrialization everywhere has similar consequences, whether the property relations are called capitalist or communist.
Ideas Other theories have stressed the significance of ideas as causes of social change. Comte’s law of three stages is such a theory. Weber regarded religious ideas as important contributors to economic development or stagnation; according to his controversial thesis, the individualistic ethic of Christianity, and in particular Calvinism, partially explains the rise of the capitalist spirit, which led to economic dynamism in the West. Social movements
A change in collective ideas is not merely an intellectual process; it is often connected to the formation of new social movements. This in itself might be regarded as a potential cause of social change. Weber called attention to this factor in conjunction with his concept of “charismatic leadership. ” The charismatic leader, by virtue of the extraordinary personal qualities attributed to him, is able to create a group of followers who are willing to break established rules. Examples include Jesus, Napoleon, and Hitler.
Recently, however, the concept of charisma has been trivialized to refer to almost any popular figure. Political processes Changes in the regulation of violence, in the organization of the state, and in international relations may also contribute to social change. For example, German sociologist Norbert Elias interpreted the formation of states in western Europe as a relatively autonomous process that led to increasing control of violence and, ultimately, to rising standards of self-control.
According to other theories of political revolution, such as those proposed by American historical sociologist Charles Tilly, the functioning of the state apparatus itself and the nature of interstate relations are of decisive importance in the outbreak of a revolution: it is only when the state is not able to fulfill its basic functions of maintaining law and order and defending territorial integrity that revolutionary groups have any chance of success. Each of these processes may contribute to others; none is the sole determinant of social change.
One reason why deterministic or reductionist theories are often disproved is that the method for explaining the processes is not autonomous but must itself be explained. Moreover, social processes are often so intertwined that it would be misleading to consider them separately. For example, there are no fixed borders between economic and political processes, nor are there fixed boundaries between economic and technological processes. Technological change may in itself be regarded as a specific type of organizational or conceptual change.
The causal connections between distinguishable social processes are a matter of degree and vary over time. Mechanisms of social change Causal explanations of social change are limited in scope, especially when the subject of study involves initial conditions or basic processes. A more general and theoretical way of explaining social change is to construct a model of recurring mechanisms of social change. Such mechanisms, incorporated in different theoretical models, include the following. Mechanisms of one-directional change: accumulation, selection, and differentiation
Some evolutionary theories stress the essentially cumulative nature of human knowledge. Because human beings are innovative, they add to existing knowledge, replacing less adequate ideas and practices with better ones. As they learn from mistakes, they select new ideas and practices through a trial-and-error process (sometimes compared to the process of natural selection). According to this theory, the expansion of collective knowledge and capabilities beyond a certain limit is possible only by specialization and differentiation.
Growth of technical knowledge stimulates capital accumulation, which leads to rising production levels. Population growth also may be incorporated in this model of cumulative evolution: it is by the accumulation of collective technical knowledge and means of production that human beings can increase their numbers; this growth then leads to new problems, which are solved by succeeding innovation. Mechanisms of social change Mechanisms of curvilinear and cyclic change: saturation and exhaustion
Models of one-directional change assume that change in a certain direction induces further change in the same direction; models of curvilinear or cyclic change, on the other hand, assume that change in a certain direction creates the conditions for change in another (perhaps even the opposite) direction. More specifically, it is often assumed that growth has its limits and that in approaching these limits the change curves will inevitably be bent. Ecological conditions such as the availability of natural resources, for instance, can limit population, economic, and organizational growth.
Shorter-term cyclic changes are explained by comparable mechanisms. Some theories of the business cycle, for example, assume that the economy is saturated periodically with capital goods; investments become less necessary and less profitable, the rate of investments diminishes, and this downward trend results in a recession. After a period of time, however, essential capital goods will have to be replaced; investments are pushed up again, and a phase of economic expansion begins. Theories
Even though years have passed since the theories of Marx, Weber, Durkheim and Parsons were first developed, their ideas and views are still being utilized in today’s society. Their ideas have brought about a change that has trickled down into today’s society and have influenced today’s researchers. Theorist such as Noel Sturgeon, Herbert Mead, and Albert Bandura are a few influenced by the past theorist. Sturgeon (2003, as cited in Seager) stressed the feminist social movement theory. She believed that social change can be activated as the decision-making process of thinking and acting of groups joined in a strong action.
Mead believed that behavior is not the result of things that have happened in the environment, such as pressure, attitudes, and stimuli (as cited in Perdue, 1986). Rather, humans are the reason for the actions they display to others. Bandura (1997) researched self-efficacy theory. Self-efficacy theory highlights the idea that people have an effect on the environment. How a person sees himself or herself determines the success in his or her life. The environment is affected by people who make modifications to it and by the skills people develop.
People choose the environments in which they live. Marx believed people did not have this choice. For example, if a person feels knowledge is lacking, the person will not try to get a better job. The theory of Marx is about progress (Etzioni ; Etzioni, 1964). It describes how the wealthy dominate and control people and economic wealth. He revealed that, without conflict, progress would not occur (Vago, 1999). Marx (1999) believed class decided the part of society a person belonged and that people could not change their class. This is true today in some cases.
However, Marx did not know about strike-it-rich programs, such as the lottery, which can move a person from a lower class and place him or her in the wealthy class. In today’s society, not only is the lottery a way for someone to advance, but, people also use long hours of hard work, education, loans, grants, and scholarships as a ways to advance. Marx’s theory would not apply in such a case. Tension, Conflict and Adaptation In structural functionalism, social change is regarded as an adaptive response to some tension within the social system.
When some part of an integrated social system changes, a tension between this and other parts of the system is created, which will be resolved by the adaptive change of the other parts? An example is what the American sociologist William Fielding Ogburn has called cultural lag, which refers in particular to a gap that develops between fast-changing technology and other slower-paced socio-cultural traits. Diffusion of innovations Some social changes result from the innovations that are adopted in a society.
These can include technological inventions, new scientific knowledge, new beliefs, or a new fashion in the sphere of leisure. Diffusion is not automatic but selective; an innovation is adopted only by people who are motivated to do so. Furthermore, the innovation must be compatible with important aspects of the culture. One reason for the adoption of innovations by larger groups is the example set by higher-status groups, which act as reference groups for other people. Many innovations tend to follow a pattern of diffusion from higher- to lower-status groups.
More specifically, most early adopters of innovations in modern Western societies, according to several studies, are young, urban, affluent, and highly educated, with a high occupational status. Often they are motivated by the wish to distinguish themselves from the crowd. After diffusion has taken place, however, the innovation is no longer a symbol of distinction. This motivates the same group to look for something new again. This mechanism may explain the succession of fads, fashions, and social movements. Planning and institutionalization of change
Social change may result from goal-directed large-scale social planning. The possibilities for planning by government bureaucracies and other large organizations have increased in modern societies. Most social planning is short-term, however; the goals of planning are often not reached, and, even if the planning is successful in terms of the stated goals, it often has unforeseen consequences. The wider the scope and the longer the time span of planning, the more difficult it is to attain the goals and avoid unforeseen or undesired consequences.
This has most often been the case in communist and totalitarian societies, where the most serious efforts toward integrated and long-term planning were put into practice. Most large-scale and long-term social developments in any society are still largely unplanned, yet large-scale changes resulting from laws to establish large governmental agencies, such as for unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, or guaranteed medical care, have produced significant institutional changes in most industrial societies. Planning implies institutionalization of change, but institutionalization does not imply planning.
Many unplanned social changes in modern societies are institutionalized; they originate in organizations permanently oriented to innovation, such as universities and the research departments of governments and private firms, but their social repercussions are not controlled. In the fields of science and technology, change is especially institutionalized, which produces social change that is partly intended and partly unintended. Developments in Europe Not until the 1880s and 1890s did sociology begin to be recognized as an academic discipline.
In France, Emile Durkheim, the intellectual heir of Saint-Simon and Comte, began teaching sociology at the universities of Bordeaux and Paris. Durkheim founded the first true school of sociological thought. He emphasized the independent reality of social facts (as distinct from the psychological attributes of individuals) and sought to discover interconnections among them. Durkheim and his followers made extensive studies of primitive societies similar to those that were later carried out by social anthropologists.
In Germany, sociology was finally recognized as an academic discipline in the first decade of the 20th century, largely because of the efforts of the German economist and historian Max Weber. In contrast with the attempts to model the field after the physical sciences that were dominant in France and in English-speaking countries, German sociology was largely the outgrowth of far-ranging historical scholarship, combined with the influence of Marxism, both of which were central to Weber’s work.
The influential efforts of the German philosopher Georg Simmel to define sociology as a distinctive discipline emphasized the human-centered focus of German philosophical idealism. In Britain, sociology was slow to develop; until the 1960s the field was mostly centered in a single institution, the London School of Economics. British sociology combined an interest in large-scale evolutionary social change with a practical concern for problems relevant to the administration of the welfare state. Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim, one of the fathers of sociology, utilized scientific methods to approach the study of society and social groups. Durkheim believed that individuals are products of complex social forces and cannot be considered outside of the context of the society in which they live. He used the conception of the collective conscience to describe the condition of a particular society. According to Durkheim, this collective conscience is something entirely separate from the individual consciences that together form it.
He studied various aspects of this conscience in his books. In Suicide, Durkheim studied the reasons why individuals commit suicide and how the rate of such suicides indicates whether or not there are problems in the society in question. Karl Marx Karl Marx, along with Friedrich Engels, defined communism. Their most famous work was the Communist Manifesto (1848), in which they argued that the working class should rebel and build a Communist society. Marx’s influence during his life was not great. After his death it increased with the growth of the labor movement.
Marx’s ideas and theories came to be known as Marxism, or scientific socialism, which constitutes one of the principal currents of contemporary political thought. His analysis of capitalist economy and his theories of historical materialism, the class struggle, and surplus value have become the basis of modern socialist doctrine. Of decisive importance with respect to revolutionary action are his theories on the nature of the capitalist state, the road to power, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
These doctrines, revised by most socialists after his death, were revived in the 20th century by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who developed and applied them. They became the core of the theory and practice of Bolshevism and the Third International. Marx’s ideas, as interpreted by Lenin, continued to have influence throughout most of the 20th century. In much of the world, including Africa and South America, emerging nations were formed by leaders who claimed to represent the proletariat. James Meade
Meade influenced economic theory and practice through his writings and his work with the British government. Immediately following World War II, Meade worked with Keynes and others to establish the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), both of which were designed to help reconstruct the international financial system. During the 1950s, Meade developed his pioneering economic theory concerning international trade, which included a model for meeting the dual objectives of full employment and a balance-of-payments equilibrium.
His later works focused on domestic economic policy and the distribution of income. Meade’s publications include The Balance of Payments (1951), Trade and Welfare (1955), and Principles of Political Economy (1965). The 20th century What is seen in the 20th century is not only an intensification and spread of earlier tendencies in the social sciences but also the development of many new tendencies that, in the aggregate, make the 19th century seem by comparison one of quiet unity and simplicity in the social sciences.
In the 20th century, the processes first generated by the democratic and industrial revolutions have gone on virtually unchecked in Western society, penetrating more and more spheres of once traditional morality and culture, leaving their impress on more and more nations, regions, and localities. Equally important, perhaps in the long run far more so, is the spread of these revolutionary processes to the non-Western areas of the world.
The impact of industrialism, technology, secularism, and individualism upon peoples long accustomed to the ancient unities of tribe, local community, agriculture, and religion was first to be seen in the context of colonialism, an outgrowth of nationalism and capitalism in the West. The relations of the West to non-Western parts of the world, the whole phenomenon of the “new nations,” are vital aspects of the social sciences. So too are certain other consequences, or lineal episodes, of the two revolutions.
The 20th century is the century of nationalism, mass democracy, and large-scale industrialism beyond reach of any 19th-century imagination so far as magnitude is concerned. It is the century of mass warfare, of two world wars with toll in lives and property greater perhaps than the sum total of all preceding wars in history. It is the century too of totalitarianism: Communist, Fascist, and Nazi; and of techniques of terrorism that, if not novel, are to be seen on a scale and with an intensity of scientific application that could scarcely have been predicted by those who considered science and technology as unqualifiedly humane in possibility.
It is a century of affluence in the West, without precedent for the masses of people, to be seen in a constantly rising standard of living and a constantly rising level of expectations. The last is important. A great deal of the turbulence in the 20th century—political, economic, and social—is the result of desires and aspirations that have been constantly escalating and that have been passing from the white people in the West to ethnic and racial minorities among them and, then, to whole continents elsewhere.
Of all manifestations of revolution, the revolution of rising expectations is perhaps the most powerful in its consequences. For, once this revolution gets under way, each fresh victory in the struggle for rights, freedom, and security tends to magnify the importance of what has not been won. Once it was thought that, by solving the fundamental problems of production and large-scale organization, man could ameliorate other problems, those of a social, moral, and psychological nature.
What in fact occurred, on the testimony of a great deal of the most notable thought and writing, was a heightening of such problems. It would appear that as man satisfies, relatively at least, the lower order needs of food and shelter, his higher order needs for purpose and meaning in life become ever more imperious. Thus such philosophers of history as Arnold Toynbee, Pitirim Sorokin, and Oswald Spengler have dealt with problems of purpose and meaning in history with a degree of learning and intensity of spirit not seen perhaps since St.
Augustine wrote his monumental The City of God in the early 5th century when signs of the disintegration of Roman civilization were becoming overwhelming in their message to so many of that day. In the 20th century, though the idea of progress has certainly not disappeared, it has been rivalled by ideas of cyclicalchange and of degeneration of society. It is hard to miss the currency of ideas in modern times—status, community, purpose, moral integration, on the one hand, and alienation, anomie, disintegration, breakdown on the other—that reveal only too clearly the divided nature of man’s spirit, the unease of his mind.
There is to be seen too, especially during later decades of the century, a questioning of the role of reason in human affairs—a questioning that stands in stark contrast with the ascendancy of rationalism in the two or three centuries preceding. Doctrines and philosophies stressing the inadequacy of reason, the subjective character of human commitment, and the primacy of faith have rivaled—some would say conquered—doctrines and philosophies descended from the Age of Reason.
Existentialism, with its emphasis on the basic loneliness of the individual, on the impossibility of finding truth through intellectual decision, and on the irredeemably personal, subjective character of man’s life, has proved to be a very influential philosophy in the writings of the 20th century. Freedom, far from being the essence of hope and joy, is the source of man’s dread of the universe and of his anxiety for himself. Soren Kierkegaard’s 19th-century intimations of anguished isolation as the perennial lot of the individual have had rich expression in the philosophy and literature of the 20th century.
It might be thought that such intimations and presentiments as these have little to do with the social sciences. This is true in the direct sense perhaps but not true when one examines the matter in terms of contexts and ambiences. The “lost individual” has been of as much concern to the social sciences as to philosophy and literature. Ideas of alienation, anomie, identity crisis, and estrangement from norms are rife among the social sciences, particularly, of course, those most directly concerned with the nature of the social bond, such as sociology, social psychology, and political science.
In countless ways, interest in the loss of community, in the search for community, and in the individual’s relation to society and morality have had expression in the work of the social sciences. Between the larger interests of a culture and the social sciences there is never a wide gulf—only different ways of defining and approaching these interests. Marxist influences The influence of Marxism in the 20th century must not be missed. Currently the works of Lenin have outstripped the Bible in distribution in the world.
For hundreds of millions of persons today the ideas of Marx, as communicated by Lenin, have profound moral, even religious, significance. But even in those parts of the world, the West foremost, where Communism has exerted little direct political impact, Marxism remains a potent source of ideas. Not a few of the central concepts of social stratification and the location and diffusion of power in the social sciences come straight from Marx’s insights. Far more was this the case in the Communist countries—the former Soviet Union, other eastern European countries, China, and even Asian countries in which no Communist domination exists.
In all these countries, Marx’s name is virtually sacrosanct. There is not the same degree of differentiation of social sciences in these countries that is found in the West. As an example, sociology hardly exists as a recognized discipline in these countries, and, by the standards of the West, the other social sciences have little more than a rather rudimentary existence. Economics alone tends to be favored, and this is, of course, largely Marxian economics—the economics of Marx’s Das Kapital.
But, though Marxism has had relatively little direct impact on the social sciences as disciplines in the West, it has had enormous influence on states of mind that are closely associated with the social sciences. Especially was this true during the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression. Today signs are not lacking of a strong revival of interest in Marx that could well, through sheer numbers of its adherents, affect the nature of the social sciences in the years ahead. Socialism remains for many an evocative symbol and creed.
Marx remains a formidable name among intellectuals and is still, without any question, the principal intellectual source of radical movements in politics. Such a position cannot help but influence the contexts of even the most abstract of the social sciences. What Marx’s ideas have suggested above all else in a positive way is the possibility of a society directed not by blind forces of competition and struggle among economic elements but instead by directed planning. This hope, this image, has proved a dominant one in the 20th century even where the influence of Marx and of Socialism has been at best small and indirect.
It is this profound interest in central planning and governance that has given almost historic significance to the ideas of the English economist J. M. Keynes. What is called Keynesianism has as its intellectual base a very complex modification of the classical doctrines of economics—one set forth in Keynes’s famous The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1935–36. Of greater influence today, however, than the strictly theoretical content of this general theory is the political impact that Keynesian ideashave had on Western democracies.
For out of these ideas came the clear policy of governments dealing directly with the business cycle, of pumping money and credit into an economic system when the cycle threatens to turn downward, and of then lessening this infusion when the cycle moves upward. Above all other names in the West, that of Keynes has become identified with such policy in the democracies and with the general movement of central governments toward ever more active and constant regulation of processes once thought best left to what the classical economists thought of as natural laws.
True, the root ideas of the classical economists are found in modified form even today in the works of such economists as the American Milton Friedman. But it would not be unfair to say that Keynes’s name has become associated with democratic economic planning and direction in much the way that Marx’s name is associated with Communist economic policies. Theoretical modes Developmentalism Developmentalism is another overall influence upon the work of the social sciences, especially within the past three decades.
As noted above, an interest in social evolution was one of the major aspects of the social sciences throughout the 19th century in Western Europe. In the early 20th century, however, this interest, in its larger and more visible manifestations, seemed to terminate. There was a widespread reaction against the idea of unilinear sequences of stages, deemed by the 19th-century social evolutioniststo be universal for all mankind in all places. Criticism of social evolution in this broad sense was a marked element of all the social sciences, pre-eminently in anthropology but in the others as well.
There were numerous demonstrations of the inadequacy of unilinear descriptions of change when it came to accounting for what actually happened, so far as records and other evidences suggested, in the different areas and cultures of the world. Beginning in the late 1940s and the 1950s, however, there was a resurgence of developmental ideas in all the social sciences—particularly with respect to studies of the new nations and cultures that were coming into existence in considerable numbers. Studies of economic growth and of political and social development have become more and more numerous.
Although it would be erroneous to see these developmental studies as simple repetitions of those of the 19th-century social evolutionists, there are, nevertheless, common elements of thought, including the idea of stages of growth and of change conceived as continuous and cumulative and even as moving toward some more or less common end. At their best, these studies of growth and development in the new nations, by their counterpoising of traditional and modern ways, tell a good deal about specific mechanisms of change, the result of the impact of the West upon outlying parts of the world.
But as more and more social scientists have recently become aware, efforts to place these concrete mechanisms of change into larger, more systematic models of development all too commonly succumb to the same faults of unilinearity and specious universalism that early-20th-century critics found in 19th-century social evolution. Social-systems approach Still another major tendency in all of the social sciences since World War II has been the interest in “social systems.
” The behavior of individuals and groups is seen as falling into multiple interdependencies, and these interdependencies are considered sufficiently unified to warrant use of the word “system. ” Although there are clear uses of biological models and concepts in social-systems work, it may be fair to say that the greatest single impetus to development of this area was widening interest after World War II in cybernetics—the study of human control functions and of the electrical and mechanical systems that could be devised to replace or reinforce them.
Concepts drawn from mechanical and electrical engineering have been rather widespread in the study of social systems. In social-systems studies, the actions and reactions of individuals, or even of groups as large as nations, are seen as falling within certain definable, more or less universal patterns of equilibrium and disequilibrium. The interdependence of roles, norms, and functions is regarded as fundamental in all types of group behavior, large and small.
Each social system, as encountered in social-science studies, is a kind of “ideal type,” not identical to any specific “real” condition but sufficiently universal in terms of its central elements to permit useful generalization. Interactionism Interaction is still another concept that has had wide currency in the social sciences of the 20th century. Social interaction—or, as it is sometimes called, symbolic interaction—refers to the fact that the relationships among two or more groups or human beings are never one-sided, purely physical, or direct.
Always there is reciprocal influence, a mutual sense of “otherness. ” And always the presence of the “other” has crucial effect in one’s definition of not merely what is external but what is internal. One acquires one’s individual sense of identity from interactions with others beginning in infancy. It is the initial sense of the other person—mother, for example—that in time gives the child its sense of self, a sense that requires continuous development through later interactions with others.