Causes of Social Change Research Paper Starter

Causes of Social Change

(Research Starters)

Social change is broadly defined as the transformation of cultural, economic, political and social institutions and relationships over time. Sociologists are interested in identifying how change is initiated; for what or whose purposes and with what consequences. While some aspects of social change create positive results (for instance, democracy and human rights expanded in the aftermath of the American and French revolutions), many have unintended consequences (for instance, the expanded availability of communications technology blurs conventional boundaries between home and work). While social change might seem inevitable, its causes and pace vary over time. While social change in other historical periods was often forced by disease, famine or war, social change in more recent times has been increasingly linked to technology. Technological development is in turn, associated with 'modernization,' a process of social development through which societies move from one set of economic, political and social arrangements (for instance, traditional) to another (for instance, modern). These transitions are not necessarily discrete. For instance, within modern contexts, traditional forms of interaction (such as face-to-face) coexist with technologically directed interaction (such as instant messaging).

Keywords Modernization; Modernity; Globalization; Social Movement; Urbanization; Diachronic; Mechanical Solidarity; Organic Solidarity; Anomie; Alienation

Social Change: Causes of Social Change

Causes of Social Change

Overview

Social change is broadly defined as the transformation of cultural, economic, political and social institutions and relationships over time. Sociologists are interested in identifying how change is initiated, for what or whose purposes and with what consequences. While some aspects of social change create positive results (for instance, democracy and human rights expanded in the aftermath of the American and French revolutions), many have unintended consequences (for instance, the expanded availability of communications technology blurs conventional boundaries between home and work). In fact, not all social groups view and respond to social change as positive. While social change might seem inevitable from a contemporary perspective, its causes and pace vary over time. In past historical periods social change was often forced by disease, famine or war: in modern times, social change has been increasingly linked to technology and the availability of information. Technological development is, in turn, associated with 'modernization,' a process of social development through which societies move from one set of economic, political and social arrangements (for instance, traditional) to another (for instance, modern). These transitions are not necessarily discrete. For instance, within contemporary contexts, traditional forms of interaction (such as face-to-face) coexist with technologically directed interaction (such as instant messaging). Finally, not all social groups appreciate social change. While liberal reformers are typically in favor of social change (because they define social change in terms of social improvement), social conservatives are more hesitant about social change because they are concerned about the loss of tradition, for instance, in relation to authority.

Defining Social Change

Social change is broadly defined as the transformation of cultural, economic, political and social institutions and relationships over time. In order to chart social change, it is necessary to develop a baseline (a point against which all data are measured) and to create reliable instruments of measurement. The general baseline for measuring broad social change in Western societies is the great transformation associated with the Industrial Revolution in England (and later elsewhere) from 1780-1840, and the Democratic Revolutions of the United States in 1776 and of France in 1789 (Lee & Newby, 1989). Both the French and American Revolutions were engendered by and ushered in ideas such as democracy, equality and liberty, which had consequences for social arrangements, institutions and relationships. The spread of Enlightenment thinking (a belief in scientific objectivity and in reason as a counter to superstition and religious dogma) among the European and American educated classes in the eighteenth century created a new spirit of possibility that prompted nineteenth century commentators such as August Comte, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim to ask questions about the kinds of social changes that might be desirable for society; to explore the causes of social change; and to understand its consequences (Seidman, 1994). Thus, sociology emerged as a discipline focused on identifying, understanding and interpreting the various dimensions of industrial society (Bas, 1999, p. 287) or, of modernity, a period referring to the last two hundred years or so, in which occurred transformations of both space and time (Berman, 1982).

Indeed, at the heart of sociology is a dynamic (or diachronic) view of society as constantly changing in response to certain economic, social or political forces. Sociological analysis seeks to chart such changes and explain why they are occurring. These concerns became especially pressing from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century when traditional social arrangements (such as the authority of the established church and an agrarian way of life) began to shift and were challenged by the emergence of science, technology and mass production (Straus, 2002); when society was shifting from a predominantly rural population organized around subsistence farming to an urban, industrialized population (Bas, 1999). Industrialization brought with it new living arrangements (the growth of cities) and population growth; intellectual and cultural change (through the spread of ideas about democracy and equality via new media, such as penny news sheets); and increasing secularism (as scientific thought challenged religious beliefs). Sociologists drew on and adapted scientific method and created models of social change to explain this broad transformation from 'simple' homogenous societies to 'complex' highly differentiated societies, broadly understood as modernization.

Classical Models of Social Change

In contrast to feudal societies, which remained static for a long period, or which were seen to change in cyclical ways, to be modern is to live with social change and in an environment in which "all that is solid melts into air" (Berman, 1982). However, classical sociologists and social commentators have differed in their explanations for change and in their view of its consequences. First, late eighteenth century Enlightenment thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Ferguson, argued that scientific reason would stimulate social change for the moral advancement of society. Concomitantly, social change became synonymous with the idea of social progress. Second, Marx saw social change as necessary and as the product of conflict and revolution. He observed that while "philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it" (1976, p. 5), through a scientific understanding of society, which would, he thought, liberate humanity from the oppression of capitalism and the experience of alienation (Seidman, 1994, p. 48). Third, the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim argued that social change occurs through a process of differentiation in which society moves from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. For Durkheim, the pressing problem wrought by modernity was the state of anomie created by social confusion as traditional norms were challenged and changed. These macro-models have been developed to explain broad shifts from one kind of society (agrarian) to another (industrial), and processes of social organization, such as industrialization.

Further Insights

Industrialization

Industrialization — the transformation of a society based primarily on agriculture to one based on manufacture — was associated mainly with changes in technology (e.g. new machines that speeded up and standardized the process of production, especially and initially in the textile industry) and changes in the social organization of production (e.g. the factory system) (Hobsbawm, 1962). Eric Hobsbawm's (1969) history of industrial change shows how a confluence of changes in other industries, such as the introduction of steam power, not only contributed to the invention of new machines, but also stimulated other industries, primarily iron and coal, which all in turn contributed to the growth of the factory system, mechanized labor and a new working rhythm based on clock time rather than on the necessities of seasons and tides (Thompson, 1967). This new emphasis on clock time as the basis of social organization had implications for the experience of work, as people became increasingly subject to the supervision of employers and, later, managers, and a distinct boundary emerged between 'work' and 'home.'

Industrialization largely replaced a tradition where craftsmen made goods in low volumes with a system that focused on volume and predictability (Cossons, 2008). This transformation of work had implications for household arrangements and family relationships. For instance, legislation in nineteenth century England made it progressively more difficult for women and children to participate in factory-based work, contributing to a sexual division of labor buttressed by the emergence of a Victorian ideology of separate spheres (Bradley, 1992). Some feminist sociologists argue that the sexual division of labor continues to have consequences for women's experience of work and employment in the twenty-first century. For instance, while one of the main social changes in Western Europe and in the US since the Second World War has been the expansion of women in the workplace, there are persistent divisions between the kinds of work available to women (and the levels at which it is available) and the pay women receive for their work.

Post-industrial Society

Patterns of work and employment have shifted throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. For instance, fewer people now work in manufacturing and the factory system has been largely replaced by other systems (for instance, outsourcing). More recently, manufacturing has been relocated from first world countries to developing countries, leading some researchers to argue that work is becoming increasingly post-industrial and globalized. Post-industrial society refers to social organization that is not industrial (as defined above) and is highly complex. Some sociologists (such as Daniel Bell, in his classic book "The Coming of Postindustrial Society: a Venture in Social Forecasting,"...

(The entire section is 4739 words.)