Sunday, 15 December 2019

Theories of Social Change


The theory of social change is a diverse and complex that provides the occasion to offer explanations of social change. Social scientists have advanced grand theory of social change. This grand theory is a broad, sweeping theory covering some important phenomena over all times and places. Let outline a few of the more important ones.
A.    Evolutionary Theories
During the 19th century the evolutionary perspective became dominant to understand the process of social change. Auguste Comte, Morgan, and Spencer were the major proponents of this theory. They believed that society is the outcome of the constant process of evolution. It starts with a simple beginning to a more complex form. Evolutionary theorists consider social change in a positive sense. The theory was highly influenced by Darwin’s theory of organic evolution. The Darwinian model of biological evolution was applied by the evolutionary theorists who considered society as an organism to understand social evolution.
  i)      Auguste Comte (1798–1857)
Auguste Comte believed that human societies evolve in a unilinear way. He described three stages of social evolution. He framed the ‘law of three stages’, the law that governed the social world. He felt that the human mind, all knowledge, human beings and the entire world history developed through these three stages. A brief description of these three states is as follows:
i.        The Theological or fictitious stage:  According to Comte in this stage, “all theoretical conceptions, whether general or special bear a supernatural impress”. Unable to discover the natural causes of the various happenings, the primitive men attributed them to imaginary or divine forces. In this stage Comte had divided theological stage into the following four sub-stages.
a)      Fetishism: During this sub-stage, man accepts the existence of the spirit or the soul. It did not admit priesthood.
b)      Anthropomorphism: It is the second sub-stage in theological stage. With the gradual development in human thinking there occurred a change or improvement in the human thinking which resulted in the development of this stage.
c)      Polytheism: During this sub-stage, man begins to believe in magic and allied activities. He then transplants or imposes special god in every object. Thus they believed in several gods and created the class of priests to get the goodwill and the blessings of these gods.
d)     Monotheism: During this sub-stage of the theological stage man believes that there is only one centre of power which guides and controls all the activities of the world. Thus man believed in the superhuman power of only one god.
ii.      The Metaphysical or abstract stage: This stage being an improvement upon the earlier stage, it was believed that the abstract power or force guides and determines the events in the world. Metaphysical thinking discards belief in concrete god.
iii.    The Scientific or positive stage: The dawn of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the positive stage in which “observation predominates over imagination” and all theoretical concepts have become positive. In this final stage, dominated by industrial administrators and scientists, the nature of human mind has given up its childish and vain search for Absolute notions, origins and destinations of the universe and its causes but seeks to establish scientific principles governing phenomena.
Auguste Comte maintained that each stage of the development of human thoughts necessarily grew out of the preceding one. Only when the previous stage exhausts itself does the new stage develop. He also correlated the three stages of human thought with the development of social organization, types of social order, the types of social units and material conditions found in society. He believes that each successive stage grew out of the preceding one. The constitution of a new system cannot take place until and unless the destruction of the earlier one happens.
ii)      Lewis Henry Morgan (1818–1881)
L. H. Morgan’s model of evolution contends that all societies passed through three basic stages of evolution, viz., savagery, barbarism and civilization. The savagery stage comprised of the transition from human infancy to the development of some handy tools and fire. The barbarism phase is characterized by the invention of pottery, animal domestication, uses of metal tools, irrigation, and so forth. The civilization stage is comprised of the invention of the alphabet and the development of language. Morgan further sub-divided the Savagery and barbarism into three stages:
I.            Savagery:
                    i)            Lower Stage: In this stage, forests and trees were the places of shelter for the human beings. Wild fruits, nuts etc. were taken as food.
                  ii)            Middle Stage: The movement of human beings started from one geographical area to another. Fire was also invented in this stage.
                iii)            Upper Stage: Bows and arrows were invented. The skill of hunting developed with the invention of the bow and arrow.
II.            Barbarism:
                    i)            Lower Stage: This is a relatively advanced stage than savagery. People used pottery items in this phase.
                  ii)            Middle Stage: Domestication of animals started. Settled cultivation and techniques of house making developed.
                iii)            Upper Stage: Use of metals like iron as well as the art of writing developed in this stage.
III.            Civilization:
                    i)            From the Invention of a Phonetic Alphabet, with the use of writing, to the present time.
Morgan contended that each stage and sub-stage was initiated by a major technological invention. For example, he considered pottery to be characteristic of lower barbarism, domestication of plants and animals to be characteristic of middle barbarism, and iron tools to be characteristic of upper barbarism. Civilization was heralded by the invention of the phonetic alphabet, and the organization of political society on a territorial basis was the line of demarcation where modern civilization began.
iii)      Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)
Herbert Spencer, a 19th century anthropologist developed the idea of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the application of Darwin’s theory of natural selection in the social domain. Charles Darwin in his seminal work On the Origin of Species (1859) focused on the evolution of animals and plants. Spencer’s Social Darwinism is centred on two fundamental principles that are discussed below:
  i.      The principle of the survival of the fittest: Spencer fully endorsed the natural process of conflict and survival that operates as a kind of biologically purifying process. According to him, nature is endowed with a providential tendency to get rid of unfit and to make room for the better; it is the law of nature that the weak should be eliminated for the sake of strong.
ii.      The principle of non-interference: Spencer was a serious advocate of individualism and laissez-faire politics. He opposed almost any form of state interference with private activity. He insisted that the state had no business in education, health, sanitation, postal services, money and banking, regulation of housing conditions, or the elimination of poverty. For Spencer, the state was a sort of joint-stock company whose only role was the protection of the rights of the individual and defence of its citizens against external aggression. Spencer was of the opinion that sociologists should convince the state and the citizens not to intervene in the natural process of selection operative in the society.
Social Darwinism holds that human beings or social groups like animals and plants compete in a struggle for existence in the society. For Spencer, through competition, social evolution would automatically produce prosperity and personal liberty unparalleled in human history. The social policy should allow the weak and unfit to fail and die. Social Darwinism considers such an eventuality as moral and natural.

Conflict theory views social conflict as the constant, and change as the result of this conflict. Since conflict is continuous, change is continuous. Change produces new interest groupings and classes, and conflict between these produces further change. Any particular change represents the success of victorious groups or classes in imposing their preferences upon others. A number of social theorists have espoused this approach, and in this section we shall focus on the main ideas of three important conflict theorists: Karl Marx, Lewis Coser, and Ralf Dahrendorf.
  i)      Karl Marx (1818–1883)
The Marxian theory of social change is based on the basic understanding that social change occurs due to the constant conflict in a society between its haves and have nots. In the initial chapter of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (2007), Marx and Engels spell out their concept of history in the following lines: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”.
Marx’s theory of conflict or social change is based on dialectical materialism. For him, social change occurs due to the conflict of two antagonistic classes based on ownership of the means of production. For Marx, all the societies throughout history consist of two classes’ viz. haves and the haves not having antagonistic relation. Marx showed the trajectory of development of a society moving from one stage to another due to the conflict of the two classes of that society.
Marx argues that it is the prevailing material conditions which determine one’s class position. He contends that the unequal distribution of material resources among the different classes lead to class struggle. The ruling class derives its power from the control of ownership and the forces of production. It exploits the subordinate class which leads to conflict between these two classes. Marx developed the idea that society consists of base and superstructure. Base consists of the economy while the superstructure consists of other political, legal, moral and cultural institutions. The base (economy) controls the other aspects of social life (superstructure). “In the social production which men carry on, they enter into a definite relations that are indispensable and independent to their will, their relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which rise the legal and political superstructure and to which corresponds definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production… then comes the period of social revolution. With the change in the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed to reference.”
Due to the exploitative relationship between the classes, class polarization happens. The subordinate class from class in itself develops class consciousness and emerged as class for itself and ultimately revolution occurs. Class in itself in Marxian understanding is simply an economic category which does not have any class consciousness. When a particular class develops class consciousness, the members of the class will unify themselves as a class against the exploitation by the dominant class. Marx argues that a class after developing class solidarity moves toward the stage of class for itself. For Marx, a social group really becomes a class when it becomes a class for itself.

ii)      Lewis A. Coser (19132003)
The conflict approach to social change gained additional momentum during the middle of the twentieth century, prompted by race conflicts, class struggles, and the warring of interests. Undoubtedly, the best-known conflict theorist among contemporary American sociologists is Lewis A. Coser. In his widely read book, The Functions of Social Conflict, Coser holds that conflict has both positive and negative effects. He explains that conflict is part of the socialization process and that no social group can be completely harmonious. Conflict in society is inevitable because individuals have a predisposition to hate as well as love. Thus, conflict is part of the human condition. But conflict can be constructive as well as destructive because it frequently resolves disagreements and leads eventually to unity. He believes that conflict makes for an increase in adjustment and adaptation as groups learn to live side by side. Moreover, conflict encourages “in-group” cohesion because the members of the group have a common enemy and a common cause.
Coser views conflict as a means of promoting social change. People who feel that their society satisfies their needs are not likely to want to alter anything in it. Those whose needs are not satisfied will attempt to change the situation by confronting the dominant group that has suppressed their goals. An obvious example is the civil rights movement in the United States. But Coser maintains that conflict can lead to change in a number of ways, including the establishment of new group boundaries, the drawing off of hostility and tension, the development of more complex group structures to deal with conflict and its accompaniments, and the creation of alliances with other parties. Each of these can result in a new distribution of social values, with the concomitant formation of a new social order. Therefore, conflict is seen as a creative force that stimulates change in society.
ii)      Ralf Dahrendorf (1929–2009)
Another influential contemporary conflict theorist is Ralf Dahrendorf (and the only sociologist who has been knighted and addressed as Sir Ralph). He rejects the Marxian notion of social class as determined by the relations to the means of production and defines it in terms of the unequal distribution of authority. All groups in society are seen as divided into those who have authority and those who do not. He maintains that social conflict has a structural origin and is to be “understood as a conflict about the legitimacy of relations of authority”. In any organization, roles and positions can be dichotomized into two “quasi-groups” whose members have opposed “latent interests.” The group in position of power or authority is interested in preserving the status quo, whereas the subordinated group is interested in change. These two “quasi-groups” are potential antagonists, in that their members share common experiences, roles, and interests, whether or not they are aware of them.
Under proper “conditions of organization,” interest groups emerge out of quasi-groups as the members develop a leadership cadre, effective intra-group communication, a consistent ideology, and an awareness of their common interests. Dahrendorf suggests that the more the subordinate interest groups become organized, the more likely they will be in conflict with the dominant group. The “conditions of conflict,” such as opportunities for social mobility and the responses of the agents of social control, will determine the intensity and violence of conflict. By “intensity” he refers to the emotional involvement and animosity felt by the participants. He proposes that the more organized the interest groups and the more regulated their conflict, the less violent the conflict will be. Conflict, in turn, leads to structural change as a result of a change in dominance relations. The type, speed, and magnitude of change depend on the “conditions of structural change.” These conditions include the capacity of those in power to stay in power and the pressure potential of the dominated interest group. Conflict between workers and management, the unionization process, and the changes brought about by the unions are used by Dahrendorf to illustrate his theory.
Dahrendorf altered Marx’s theory in several ways. He saw conflict as a problem of unequal authority in all sectors of society, in contrast to the strict Marxian notion of classes. Then, he suggested the importance of dealing with external conflict while, in the Marxian conception, conflict is identified as its primary source in the internal workings of society. Furthermore, Dahrendorf pointed out that conflict in a given society results not from internal contradictions arising in historical development but from pressures exerted by other societies. Finally, Dahrendorf contended that many of the conflicts are not capable of resolution as Marx has suggested, but most frequently are controlled through “compromise”.
The cyclical theory of social change focuses on the rise and fall of civilizations and attempts to discover the patterns of growth and decay. It focuses on the fact that civilization have always risen and fallen. Like an organism, all civilizations have a life-like birth, maturity, old age and death. Sorokin, Toynbee, Spengler are the major theorists of this school of thought of social change. They hold that all civilizations go through the cycles of growth and decay.
  i)      Oswald Spengler (18801936)
About the social change, the German scholar Oswald Spengler, in 1918 in his book ‘The Decline of the West’ presented his cyclic theory. In this book he has criticized the evolutional theories of social change and said that change never happens in a straight line. In view of Spengler, social change occurs in a cycle, from where we start after roaming, we again reach the same place. Just in the same way as – man takes birth, becomes young, gets older and dies again and takes birth again. This cycle is also found in human society and civilizations. Human civilization and culture also undergo through rise and fall, formation and destruction. Like human body, they also attain birth, development and death. To prove their view, they described eight civilizations of the world (Arab, Egypt, Megan, Maya, Russia and western culture etc.) and presented their rise and fall. Spengler has said about the western culture that it has reached its uppermost position of development. In the field of trade and science it has done unprecedented progress, but slowly and slowly it is reaching its stage of attenuation and stability; hence, its destruction is for sure. He has given his similar views about the German culture and said that it has reached its uppermost position and its declination is nearby.
In his view, in future, the grandeur of the western societies that they have in today’s times will diminish and their affluence and power will be destroyed. He said that on the other hand, the countries of Asia which were not developed, weak and lethargy, with their economic and military power will move forward on the roads of progress and production. They will become a challenge for the western countries. In this way, with the examples of the western and the Asian societies, Spengler has specified the cyclic nature of the social change.
ii)      Arnold J. TOYNBEE (1889–1975)
Arnold J. Toynbee was an English historian. He studied 21 civilizations of the world and presented his theory of social change in his book ‘A Study of History’. After studying the development of different civilizations, he found a simple example and created his theory. The theory of Toynbee is also called ‘Challenge and Response Theory of Social Change’. He says that every civilization is given a challenge in the beginning by nature and man. To face this challenge, man is in a requirement of adaptation and to respond to this challenge also, he forms civilization and culture. After this, in place of geographical challenges, social challenges are given. These challenges in the form of internal problems or are given by the external societies. The society which faces these challenges successfully remains intact and those that are not able to do this are destroyed. In this way, a society goes through the phase of formation and destruction and coalition and disruption.
In the Sindhu and Nile Valleys, same thing has occurred. Natural environment gave challenge to the people of these places, the answer of which they gave by formation. The civilizations of Sindhu and Egypt have developed in the same way. The River Ganges and Volga also gave the same challenge, but its appropriate answer was not given by the people who stayed there. Hence, the civilizations did not flourish there.
iii)      PITIRIM SOROKIN (1889–1968)
Sorokin has presented the theory of cultural dynamics of social change in his book ‘Social and Cultural Dynamics’. He has criticized theories related to change given by Marx, Pareto and Veblen. In his view, social change in the form of up and rise, like a pendulum of a clock, occurs between one situation to another situation. He mainly explained two cultures–ideational and sensational. Every society rotates along with these two spindles of culture; in other words it comes and goes from sensational to ideational and from ideational to sensational culture. During going from one state to another state, there is a state in the middle where there is a combination of sensational and ideational cultures. Sorokin calls this ideal culture. After going through various cultures, change also occurs in the society. The characteristics of these three types of cultures are briefly described here as follows:
a.       Sensational culture: Sensational culture is also called as material culture. This culture is related to human senses and organs, that is, its knowledge can be gained by seeing, smelling and touching. In such a culture, more stress is given on accomplishment of material requirements and desires. Individual and collective sides are involved in sensational culture. Western society is example of this culture.
b.      Ideational Culture: This is absolutely opposite to that of sensational culture. This is related to feelings, God, religion, soul and ethics. This culture is called spiritualistic culture. In this, in place of material comfort more importance is given to spiritual progress, enlightenment and attainment of God. All things are assumed to be God’s grace. Predominance of religion and God is found in all–ideas, ideals, art, literature, philosophy and law; more stress is given on customs and traditions. In this culture, technology and science lag behind.
c.       Ideal Culture: This culture is a combination of both sensational and ideational cultures; hence, the characteristics of both the cultures are found in this culture. In this a balanced form of religion and science, material and spiritual comfort are found. Sorokin believes this kind of culture to be excellent. Because of this he calls this as ideal culture.
In view of Sorokin, all the cultures of the world swing in a cradle from sensational to ideational culture; every culture after reaching its top most position again goes back to another type of culture. As it is seen from the figure that sensational and ideational cultures are only the limits of change, most of the time ideal culture is prevalent in society. Why this change occurs in culture? Sorokin has believed that the cause for this is the internal factors of natural law and culture because change is the law of nature; thus, culture also changes because of this law. In addition to this, the internal situations of the culture are also responsible for their change. Sorokin has said that in the 20th century, the western civilization has reached its top most position of the sensational culture and now it will again return back to its ideational culture. Because culture has an intimate relation; hence, when change occurs in culture it also occurs in the society.
iv)      VILFREDO PARETO (1848–1923)
Vilfredo Pareto demonstrated the cyclical theory of social change, which is called as the Theory of Circulation of Elites in his book ‘Mind and Society’. He has explained the categorical system in social change based on the cyclical changes. In his view, we see two categories in every society: upper or elite class and lower class. Both these categories are not stable, but a cyclical order of change is found in them. The people of the lower class assimilate in the elite class by increasing their qualities and efficiency. Slowly and slowly the efficiency and capability of the people of the elite class start declining and they start losing their qualities and become corrupt. In this way, they move towards the lower class. To fill the vacant place in the upper or elite class, the people in the lower class move in the upper directions who are intelligent, principled, efficient, capable and courageous. In this way, the process of going from the upper class to the lower class and from the lower class to the upper class keeps on going. Because of this cyclical rate, change can occur in the social structure. Because this change occurs in the cyclical rate, this is called the ‘cyclical’ or ‘theory of circulation of elites’ of social change. Pareto has explained the cyclical of social change in political, economical and ideological fields.
In the political field, we are able to see two types of people – tiger and foxes. The ‘tiger’ people have strong faith in ideological goals and take the support of power to obtain these goals. ‘Tiger’ people are those people who are in power. Because ‘tiger’ people use power; hence, a serious reaction can take place in society, thus they take the support of diplomacy and transform themselves from tiger to ‘foxes’ and likes foxes they cunningly rule the governance and exist in power, but some foxes are also present in the lower class those who are in a search to grab this power. A time comes when the power from the foxes of the upper class comes in the hands of foxes of the lower class. In such a state, because of power change, a change also occurs in political system and organization. In view of Pareto, in all the societies, power is used the most in place of logic for the governance. When there is a weakness in the desire and power to use force in the governing people, then in place of power they cunningly get their work done like foxes. The foxes of the governing class are more cunning; hence, they grab the power from the upper class. Hence, when the administrators change and power is changed then the change also occurs in the society.
In the economical field, Pareto has explained two classes i.e., Speculators and Rentiers. The people of the first class do not have a definite income, sometimes less and sometimes more. The people of this class earn wealth by their intelligence. Conversely, the income of the other class is definite. The people of the first class are inventors, industrialists and skilled businessmen, but the people of this class use power and cunningness to protect their interests and adopt corrupt techniques. Because of this they are ruined and the people of the second class occupy their place those who are honest. Along with change in this class, change also occurs in the economy of the society.
In the ideological field also two types of people are found–trustworthy and mistrustful. Sometimes there is a predominance of trustworthy people in society, but when they get stereotyped then they decline and their place is taken by the people of the other class.
Functionalists accept change as a constant which does not need to be “explained.” Changes disrupt the equilibrium of a society, until the change has been integrated into the culture. Changes which prove to be useful (functional) are accepted and those which are useless or dysfunctional are rejected.
  i)      Talcott Parsons (1902–1979)
The most influential and best-known representative of contemporary American sociologists embracing this approach is Talcott Parsons. Detailed examination of Parsons’s complex ideas concerning social change that appeared in a number of these publications over time; The Social System (1951); Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives (1966); The System of Modern Societies (1971); and The Evolution of Societies (1977) are beyond the scope of this discussion. The ensuing analysis will only consider some of his ideas of change in the context of equilibrium theory.
Talcott Parsons’s theory of social change was shaped by the biological theory of evolution. He developed the model of ‘a paradigm of evolutionary change’. The first component of that paradigm is the process of differentiation. Parsons assumed that any society is composed of a series of subsystems that differ in terms of both their structure and their functional significance for the larger society. As society evolves, new subsystems are differentiated. This is not enough. They also must be more adaptive than earlier subsystems. Thus, the essential aspect of Parsons’s evolutionary paradigm was the adaptive upgrading. Parsonian model of social change is a positive one. When he talks about social change he concentrates on the positive aspects of change. His evolutionary scheme follows four stages of social evolution. These are mentioned below:
a)      Constitutive Symbolism: This is the earliest form of society with low level of differentiation. In such a society, a set of religious symbols control social life.
b)      Advanced Primitive Society: This is the initial phase of the start of social stratification in society. Agriculture and pastoral economy started.
c)      Intermediate Society: In this stage, writing and literary skills developed.
d)     Industrialized Society: Here traditional economy is replaced by industrial economy.
Talcott Parsons is basically a structural functionalist and he concentrated more on the equilibrium of the social system rather than change. In his schema, changes in one element lead to changes in the entire structure.
ii)            William Fielding  Ogburn (1886–1959)
As one of the most influential early American sociologists, William F. Ogburn, in his presidential address to the American Sociological Society (ASS) in December 1929, told colleagues that sociology was “not interested” in improving the world. Science, he suggested, is interested only in discovering new knowledge. For him society was simply a term for the collective responses of the individuals who comprised it, and he maintained that sociology should be confined to the measurement and tabulation of environmental change and responses to it.
His cultural lag theory may be considered a kind of equilibrium theory. Ogburn’s theory reasons that societies operate as homeostatic mechanisms, in that changes that upset equilibrium in one part tend to produce compensating changes to restore that equilibrium. In this situation, however, the new equilibrium condition differs from the old one and there is a lag between the two equilibrium states. The unequal rates of change produce a strain or maladjustment, which in turn produces a lag, until the more slowly changing, usually nonmaterial, culture catches up. For example, if technology changes, the curriculum may be out of date, and students will be less able to get jobs. Unemployment may then be a problem until education is modernized. In Ogburn’s words (1964:86): “A cultural lag occurs when one of two parts of culture which are correlated changes before or in greater degree than the other part does, thereby causing less adjustment between the two parts than existed previously.”
In essence, Ogburn argues that material culture and nonmaterial culture change in different ways. Change in material culture is considered to have a marked directional or progressive character. This is because there are generally agreed-upon standards of efficiency that are used to evaluate material inventions. To use aeroplanes as an example, designers keep working to develop planes that will fly higher and faster and carry more payload at a lower unit cost; and because aeroplanes can be measured against these standards, inventions in this area appear both rapidly and predictably.
In the area of nonmaterial culture (knowledge and beliefs, norms and values), on the other hand, there are often no generally accepted standards. The obvious directional character of change in material culture is lacking in many areas of nonmaterial cultures.
In addition to the differences in the directional character of change, Ogburn believes that material culture tends to change faster than nonmaterial culture. This difference in rate of culture change gives the basis for the concept of cultural lag. Material inventions bring changes that require adjustments to be made in various areas of nonmaterial culture. The invention of the automobile, for instance, freed young, unmarried men and women from direct parental observation, made it possible for people to work at great distances from their homes, and, among other things, facilitated crime by making escape easier.
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