These partially hypothetical illustrations of demographic trends underscore the importance of looking for consequences of any kind, whether they are direct or indirect, small-scale or large-scale. The ease with which social change can be identified or observed depends on at least four variables, all of which characterize the dynamic pattern of change.
These variables are scale, brevity, repetition, and mensuration. These two variables—the size of the sys-tem and the degree of alteration—are of course likely to be positively correlated. However, the correlation is not perfect; small changes can occur in inclusive systems and large changes in subsystems.
Changes that are completed in a relatively short time are likely to be more observable than those that take place over a longer time, even if the latter eventually become substantial in magnitude. Long-term cycles which occur on a large scale may be detected retrospectively; however, they will probably go unnoticed if they are on a small scale and involve only small degrees of variation.
Relatively brief changes, even if of small magnitude, have a greater chance of being observed if they are repeated frequently—in a cyclical pattern, for example. Repetition, in fact, greatly facilitates explanation and prediction, in that chance antecedents may be more readily distinguished from common and efficacious ones. In this respect, the repetition need not be confined to a single social unit, provided that there is enough similarity among units to allow for comparison.
Thus some of the social changes related to industrialization are unique and discontinuous with respect to past trends in areas undergoing modernization, but they are sufficiently repetitive from one society to another time for these purposes being only an incidental variable to permit the formulation of general principles. For large-scale transformations in social systems, such as political revolutions or rapid industrialization, the quest for quantities may seem unnecessarily laborious. Yet even here numerical indicators are likely to be useful for comparing cases, and they are particularly necessary if one is going to speak at all precisely about rates of change.
In the case of less dramatic social transformations, the perception of change may not be uniform, and reliable measurement may therefore be the only way of settling the issue, as well as of finding at least partial explanation for clearly demonstrated changes. For example, is mental illness increasing in the United States and other modernized societies? If so, by what standardized criteria of identification and diagnosis can the increase be demonstrated?
If it is demonstrable, how can cross-sectional differences in rates—for example, by age or income—be converted hypothetically into temporal trends, still using these same indicators? Failure to exercise both quantitative ingenuity and great methodological caution is likely to produce only a spurious explanation for a fictitious trend; such academic exercises unfortunately have been too common.
It is very rare, in studies of social change, that we come across a classically neat demonstration of a singular cause, producing a singular effect, under finitely specifiable and repeatable conditions. This is partly because of the difficulty or impossibility of fully controlled social experimentation. A further difficulty is the inadequacy of the currently available conceptual and observational tools.
Statistical techniques have been developed for dealing with these crudities, and others are likely to be invented [ see Cross—Section Analysis ]. Sequential analysis, however, involves additional problems, for it takes into account not only the degree to which the outcome is determined by one or another measurable antecedent but also the important question of the temporal order of critical variables.
Smelser , pp. This methodological principle offers the analyst some prospect of moving from the demonstration of necessary conditions to the understanding of sufficient conditions for social change, under favorable circumstances of observation and measurement. One of the more complex forms of evolutionary change has been identified by Arnold Feldman and Wilbert E.
Moore as cumulative, retroactive evolution. Although many of these have beenoffered in the past as master principles of social dynamics, the eclectic view here espoused has clear advantages in terms of factual confirmation, even if it thereby loses in simplicity and level of generalization. The principal mistake of the evolutionary theorists of the latter half of the nineteenth century was overgeneraliza-tion.
The rectilinear theories of human evolution either took too little account of diversity or explained it improperly. Later theorists went to the opposite extreme by ignoring biological factors and emphasizing sheer unexplained diversity. Fluctuations do indeed occur; for example, consider the chance variability in reproduction and the uncertainties of the intersection of hereditary and environmental factors in personality formation.
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In fact, the vicissitudes of matching recruits with the normative requirements of enduring positions insure some fluctuations in the exact behavioral counterparts of established structures Sorokin —, vol. As compared to fluctuations, cycles involve more determinate directionality. A simple pendulum swing between extremes e. The delineation of multistage cycles is likely to rest on tenuous analogies e. The self-equilibrating model.
This mechanistic assumption is not always warranted; the question as to whether the direction of change is deliberate is always a proper one. A further point about cyclical change may be derived from the example of a small-scale repetitive pattern just used. Cycles may be superimposed on an underlying, cumulative trend. On a larger scale, the alternation of relatively high and relatively depressed economic indicators in complex economies may represent essentially short-term variations that are consistent with long-term growth as indicated by per capita income or similar measures of economic development.
For various sectors of any social system, and even for entire systems, there is evidence of steady or even accelerating growth over long periods of time. For instance, the growth in the number of rules in continuing organizations is certainly not at a steady rate if very frequent temporal comparisons are made; however, it is probably very steady over somewhat longer intervals. Rates of technical innovation are variable according to time and place, although commonly on a cumulative base.
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If the invention rate is the unit of observation, its trends may appear nearly cyclical over extensive periods of human history. On the other hand, if the sum total of useful knowledge is taken as the basis of observation, the short-term variations in the rate of addition to stock are likely to appear as very minor fluctuations in the long-term accumulation of reliable knowledge.
This is because the growth of knowledge takes place at anexponential rate: the more there is, the faster itincreases. Conclusions about both the rate and the direction of social change are much affected by the choice of time intervals of observation, including the span between the initial and terminal observations. Constant surveillance of ongoing processes is rare outside the laboratory and nearly impossible for long-range changes.
Frequent recording of observations tends to pick up cyclical patterns and essentially meaningless fluctuations. Infrequent recording loses such information and points instead to more enduring trends. This is not to argue for less information, as infrequent observations are subject to grave risks of sampling error in the peculiarities of the observational situation. Mortality and fertility trends.
A further example of great substantive importance may serve to underscore the problems of sorting out short-term and long-term trends. Contemporary evidence and all reasonable inferences from available historical materials indicate fairly wide short-term fluctuations in death and birth rates. But they also indicate two clear longer-term patterns.
Over the very long term, human population growth has followed the cumulative, accelerating exponential pattern. Furthermore, the steady decline in mortality, followed, after an interval, by a steady decline in fertility, are trends uniformly accompanying economic development.
The trends represent a dynamic pattern that is repetitive, although the pattern seems to operate only once in each economic unit. This example can be pushed still further with respect to the direction of change. In societies where contraception is practiced, birth rates are likely to be correlated with current economic indicators [ see Fertility Control ]. However, there is more than a slight suggestion that fertility functions not only as a dependent variable but also as an independent variable.
Prosperous conditions result in exceptionally high fertility. As these birth cohorts reach maturity they tend to oversupply the prevailing labor demand, which serves to increase unemployment and other unfavorable economic indicators. These deteriorating economic conditions in turn result in small birth cohorts. The ways in which cumulative trends display themselves are numerous.
The size of organizations and even of entire populations often display this pattern. However, it must be remembered that the parameters or restrictive boundaries are themselves subject to change—for example, by technological or organizational innovation. Moreover, the lower limits, as well as the upper, may serve as restrictive boundaries. The directionality of change can be represented in terms of measures of size, incidence, or occurrence. Moreover, certain processes of change may be found to have a reliable and enduring direction.
Most notable of these in the theoretical literature is the presumably universal tendency toward specialization or structural differentiation. But the question of why this should be so is commonly left unanswered, the process being taken as given.
Theories of Social Change: A Critical Appraisal (Social and political theory)
Durk-heim and others sought a demographic explanation: growing numbers lead to more complex social arrangements, including positional and role differentiation. Extensive evidence does point to a high, but by no means perfect, correlation between size and specialization; however, the reasonsfor this correlation are left for the most part unexplained. In Darwinian evolutionary theory, structural differentiation derives from selective adaptation of organisms to their environment.
Since environments differ both cross-sectionally and temporally, the idea of selective adaptation provides a way of accounting both for the observed diversity in-structural forms and for continuing change. It is surprising that so little use has been made of this conceptual scheme in the theory of social systems, where it appears equally applicable. In this scheme, population or membership size would serve as a basis for increased potential variability, and differentiation internal to the system would be one mode of adaptation of the entire system to its environmental setting.
Criteria of efficiency in optimizing goal achievement—criteria which may be overt and purposive in complex social systems—would then be particular forms of adaptation. Specialization is not, of course, an absolutely sovereign and irreversible dynamic process.
Occasionally, its dangers to systemic cohesion may lead to renewed emphasis on unity and commonality of participating units. However, the probability of continuing specialization in enduring social systems is high. The cumulative growth of reliable knowledge and technique abets the requirement of differentiated competence. Structural differentiation does imperil systemic cohesion, as just indicated. The mechanisms of effecting coordination are chiefly two: exchange, whether through relatively impersonal monetary markets or other forms of complementary reciprocities; and administrative authority, a mode of allocating duties and insuring compliance by the exercise of institutionalized power.
These mechanisms are not of course mutually exclusive; for example, subordination to authority may be contractual. A supplementary note on directionality is appropriate. It is of course not itself a scientific principle, but as an item of belief it is possibly a relevant social datum. But since social action is partly purposive, the direction of change may well reflect the desired direction of change.
Thus ideas of progress may be important elements in accounting for observed dynamics. Even lawful acceleration Moore such as the exponential curve, which makes the rate of growth proportional to the extent of the relevant universe at any time, displays an underlying order. From a theoretical point of view, such orderly change clearly requires persistence or repetition in the ambient conditions.
From a practical or procedural point of view, orderly change provides sufficient time for the identification of causes and the refinement of observation and measurement. This does not mean that measurement is no longer possible or appropriate; it does mean that new variables and parameters must be taken into account.
Two illustrations from the contemporary world are relevant here. In retrospect, the discovery of nuclear fission and fusion may be viewed simply as an evolutionary step in the pattern of multiplying power utilization White But the implications of that power for international politics, space travel , and economic production have introduced new dimensions into the potentialities for further change. At the more strictly social level, the extremely rapid spread of the doctrine of economic development has substantially reduced the cultural insularity of tribal societies and archaic agrarian civilizations and thus has increased the theoretical and practical utility of viewing the entire world as a single system.
By this we mean that the cumulative and interactive effect of changes that are analytically separable may result in unprecedented transformation. Thus, although there is no precedent for a rapid decline of birth rates in thecourse of economic development, several antecedent conditions for a sharp break with the past may be noted. The concept of the threshold emphasizes sequential rather than factorial analysis of causation. Trends may reverse as well as cumulate to new levels.
The upswing in birth rates among industrially advanced countries following World War n illustrates completion of a process of change, after which the number of children per family began to be determined by previously unimportant factors. The historic decline in fertility owed something to marriage rates and ages, but chiefly reflected an extending pattern of contraception.
As indicated by the then standard inverse relationship between fertility and socio-economic status, the leading practitioners of contraception were those families which could best afford children. But in the course of time the attitudes and techniques favorable to family limitation became less and less the exclusive possession of upper-class and middle-class families.
Apparently, it was chiefly education, among the various criteria of status, that had the greatest influence on family limitation, and it is also noteworthy that it is education that has exhibited the greatest equality of distribution. For example, the weakening of extended kinship systems as a consequence of geographic and social mobility may be followed by partially restored, though discretionary, communication and reciprocities among kinsmen.
Likewise, stable exchange or employment relations are likely to lose some of their nominal austerity and impersonality. Although social scientists have been at some pains to emphasize the partial restoration that occurs even after major revolutions, by definition revolutions involve fundamental changes in institutional structure and distribution of power.
Polarization for instance, of social classes of interest groups is of course one antecedent of revolutionary change; however, polarization in turn requires explanation. Under the conditions of political centralization, substantial urban agglomeration, and fairly effective communication, polarization is likely to occur when there is an absolute or relative decline in economic well-being or political rights among those already largely excluded from positions of affluence and power.
The decline, of course, must be fairly severe, sharply differential in its impact, and numerically extensive. Although this form of change is implicitly quantifiable, very little quantitative analysis of the antecedents of revolution has been attempted.
Polarization, for example, is typical in the modernized sector of societies which are in early stages of industrialization. Yet in the majority of historical cases that sector has been too small to provide a clear revolutionary potential, and as it has expanded it has also reduced its polarity.
The apparently faster change in aspirations than in the means for their fulfillment in contemporary developing areas invites the speculation that the incidence of revolutions may increase in the future. Refinement of that speculation into a responsible probability distribution awaits the collection of comparative data, both cross-sectional and temporal. Theories of social change have little claim to scientific merit unless they are formulated as verifiable predictive propositions concerning the relations among variables. Thus, generally speaking, small-scale and short-term changes are easier to predict than their opposites.
Science cannot predict the unique event with absolute reliability; it can only assign probabilities to individual occurrences in a class of events. Although the precise shape of the future is hidden by a haze, there are several bases for at least rough and partial prediction. The first of these is the simple persistence of past and present conditions. Fortunately, for much of social conduct we can make this assumption; otherwise we would not know how to act or what to expect from day to day. Customs, organizations, and values may be expected to survive the pressures of other changes over long periods of time.
For example, we may predict with fair confidence that the United States will continue to have a constitutional government; although it may experience some shifts in political influence and even in the relative powers of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, it is not likely to become a one-party regime or adopt a strictly executive mode of government. A second basis for prediction is to be found in the continuation of orderly trends. In addition to our earlier discussion, some other probable trends may be noted. In the United States, the rate of urbanization and suburbanization has been increasing, but changes in the rate have been fairly orderly over three decades.
The average age of marriage has been decreasing, but at a slowing rate. The proportion of secondary school graduates has been increasing, as has the proportion going on to college. Women are entering the labor force at a gradually rising rate, particularly at ages over 45 and under The amount of private saving increases as the economy grows and income increases, but the proportion of money saved remains remarkably constant. Some of these trends have a decade or two of history behind them and some much longer periods. With the extension and improvement of social accounting, the examination of trends may become an increasingly important basis for forecasting.
Some destinations are known because the route has been traveled before. In addition to small-scale repetitive patterns, the contemporary world offers examples of large-scale recapitulated experience. Another component of forecasting is the great and growing importance of planning, which is of special significance in industrial countries and those attempting to become industrialized. A remarkable amount of energy and other scarce resources is spent on forecasting autonomous trends and calculating intermediate adaptations and on deliberately implementing future goals.
The future is partially predictable because it will resemble in part what it is now intended to be. Glencoe, Economic Development and Cultural Change. Especially valuable for theoretical andempirical studies of modernization. New York : Basic Books. Feldman, Arnold S. Pages — in Wilbert E. Moore and Arnold S. Maciver, Robert M. New York: Holt. Moore, Wilbert E. American Sociological Review — Ogburn, William F. New enl. New York: Viking. Sahlins, Marshall D. Ann Arbor : Univ. New York: Free Press.
Sorokin, Pitirim A. Totowa, N. Volume 4: Basic Problems, Principles, and Methods. Spencer, Herbert First Principles. New York: Farrar, Straus. Zollschan, George K. Boston: Hough-ton Mifflin. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. September 23, Retrieved September 23, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. The concept of social change is central to the social sciences and, in particular, to sociology.
In certain respects change is an inherent feature of societies rather than a periodic event that they undergo or something extraneous that acts upon or happens to them. At whatever level one pitches the concept, a society is not a thing but a process. It comprises a vast web of interactions that unfold through time and, as such, is in a perpetual state of becoming. Any society is constantly in motion and, like the proverbial river, is therefore never quite the same from one moment to the next.
The key question, from this point of view, is not why things change but why many social forms persist for as long as they do: that is, why and how they are reproduced. Nevertheless, forms do change, sometimes on a grand scale, and much social science is focused on the question of why this is so. A key distinction can be found in classical and early modern social theories between revolutionary and evolutionary theories of change.
Evolutionary change is more difficult to pinpoint because, by definition, it is gradual and occurs over long stretches of time, but it is easily revealed through comparisons of historically distant snapshots of social life. This position can entail teleology; that is to say, it may rest upon an assumption, generally deemed erroneous by contemporary social theorists, that social forms serve a purpose within the wider systems to which they belong and, more problematically, come into being because they serve that purpose.
Functionalist accounts, when not criticized on the grounds that they cannot explain change, are often criticized for making such assumptions. Evolutionary accounts are not necessarily teleological, however, even when they work with the notion of environmental fit. Moreover, insofar as evolutionary accounts do rest upon teleological assumptions, this does not serve to distinguish them from revolutionary accounts, which can be equally prone to teleology.
Not only, for example, do some variants of revolutionary Marxism adopt functionalist explanations, some also adhere to the teleological notion that history is propelled in the direction of a pre-given endpoint and thus revolution is inevitable. In part this is a claim about the role of knowledge and ideas in steering the course of change and a critique of materialist theories that ignore or deny their role. More profoundly, however, it is a claim about the role of reflexivity in history.
We are not condemned to follow a particular historical trajectory, according to Popper, because we have the capacity to reflect upon the flow of history and this affords us the opportunity to act differently than we would otherwise have done. In part this critique has been informed by a dissatisfaction with the ethnocentric assumptions built into many accounts of progress; that is, the tendency for writers to treat their own society and standpoint as the furthest point hitherto achieved by any society along a continuum that all societies can be measured against.
At a deeper level it is informed by a suspicion of all forms of evaluative discourse, centered ultimately on claims regarding the impossibility of arriving at an unprejudiced or rational basis by which to establish criteria of evaluation. The more extreme claims of postmodernists can be challenged by reference to the pragmatic possibility of deriving local and specific criteria by which to evaluate change: For example, if we are prepared to agree that reducing infant mortality is a good thing, then we can argue that Western societies, insofar as their rates have reduced, have progressed in this respect.
However, much contemporary debate on change is framed in postmodern terms. Whereas classical social theory was centered on the emergence of modern society, contemporary social theory is centered on the transition to postmodern society. Boudon, Raymond. Cambridge, U. Giddens, Anthony.
Harvey, David. Oxford: Blackwell. The Postmodern Condition. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester, U. Social change is ubiquitous. Although earlier social scientists often treated stability as normal and significant social change as an exceptional process that required a special explanation, scholars now expect to see change at all times and in all social organizations. Much of this type of change is continuous; it occurs in small increments and reveals long-term patterns such as growth. Discontinuous changes, however, are more common than has been assumed.
From the perspective of individual organizations, these changes are relatively common and often result in sharp departures from previous states such as when corporations are created, merged, or terminated. From the perspective of larger populations of such organizations, relatively few discontinuous changes result in comparably sharp departures from long-term patterns and trends. Even revolutions that result in dramatic changes of political and legal institutions generally do not transform all of society equally.
Some previous patterns continue; others are restored. Cumulative social change must be distinguished from recurrent fluctuations and the processual aspect of all social life. Both sociologists and historians study the latter by focusing on those dynamic processes through which the social lives of particular individuals and groups may change even though overall patterns remain relatively constant. Marriages and divorces are major changes in social relationships, but a society may have a roughly constant marriage or divorce rate for long periods. Similarly, markets involve a continuous flow of changes in regard to who possess money or goods, who stands in the position of creditor or debtor, who is unemployed or unemployed, and so forth.
These specific changes, however, generally do not alter the nature of the markets. Researchers both study the form of particular transactions and develop models to describe the dynamics of large-scale statistical aggregations of such processes see "Social Dynamics. As Bourdieu , and Giddens suggest, it is necessary to see human social life as always being structured, but incompletely so. Indeed, the existence of stable social patterns over long periods requires at least as much explanation as does social change. This situation has led to renewed attention to social reproduction, or the ways in which social patterns are re-created in social action.
This contrasts with earlier views of continuity as a matter of inertia or simple endurance. Some continuity in the social order is achieved intentionally by actors with enough power to resist changes desired by others; rulers thus maintain their rule by force. Much social reproduction, however, works at a less consciously intentional level and is based on the ways in which people learn to think and act rather than on overt, material force.
Bourdieu and Passeron , for example, follow Weber in studying the ways in which ingrained, habitual ways of deciding what new action fits an individual's situation work without conscious intention to reproduce overall social patterns. A pattern of inequality in educational attainment that is understood officially as meritocratic and is genuinely intended by teachers to be so thus may be reproduced in part because students from nonelite backgrounds unconsciously lower their expectations for themselves, expecting elites to do better.
Teachers may unconsciously do the same thing. When decisions are to be made, such as whether to go to university, or which university to choose, elite students and their families are more likely to have the confidence and knowledge to invest in options with a higher long-term payoff. To understand social change, thus, it is necessary also to understand what produces social continuity. It would be a mistake to explain social change always in terms of a new factor that intervenes in an otherwise stable situation.
Rather, social change commonly is produced by the same factors that produce continuity. These factors may change in quantity or quality or in relation to each other. Sometimes, however, specific processes of social life undergo long-term transformations. These transformations in the nature, organization, or outcomes of the processes are what is usually studied under the label "social change.
These rates adjusted for the age of a population may be in equilibrium for long periods, resulting in little change in the overall size of a population. Alternatively birthrates may exceed death rates most of the time, resulting in gradual population growth, but periodic disasters such as war, famine, and pestilence may cut the population back.
In this case, the population may show little or no cumulative growth, but instead exhibit a dynamic equilibrium in which every period of gradual increase is offset by one of rapid decline. Approximations to these two patterns characterize most of world history. Population growth generally has been quite slow, although periodic declines have not offset all the increases.
In the last three hundred years, however, a new phenomenon has been noted.
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As societies industrialize and generally grow richer and change the daily lives of their members, they undergo a "fertility transition. This results in population growth that can be very rapid if the improvements are introduced together rather than gradually developing over a long period. After a time lag, this encourages people to have fewer children because more of the children they do have survive. As fertility rates birthrates standardized bythe number of women of child-bearing age also drop, a new equilibrium may be reached; population growth will slow or stop. This is a cumulative transition, because after it, the typical rates of birth and death are much lower even though the population may be much larger.
A variety of other changes may follow from or be influenced by this process. For example, family life may change with declining numbers of children, parents' especially mothers' lives are likely to change as fewer of their years are devoted to bearing and raising children, and childhood deaths may become rarities rather than common experiences. Social history is given its shape by such cumulative social changes.
Many of these changes are quite basic, such as the creation of the modern state; others are more minor, such as the invention and spread of the handshake as a form of greeting. Most, such as the development of team sports, fast-food restaurants, and the international, academic conference, lie in the broad area in between. Thus, cumulative social changes may take place on a variety of different scales, from the patterns of small group life through institutions such as the business corporation or church to overall societal arrangements.
Significant changes tend to have widespread repercussions, however, and so it is rare for one part of social life to change dramatically without changing other parts. While certain important changes, such as an increasing population, are basically linear, others are discontinuous. There are two senses of discontinuity. Evidence-based practice: a critical appraisal. Theories of Truth: A Critical Introduction.
Critical Properties of o4 Theories. Theories of Social Order: A Reader. Social Defense: Social Change. Contemporary Social Psychological Theories. A Fatal Appraisal. Social geographies of educational change. Critical Theories of Globalization: An Introduction. Recommend Documents. Roger Louis, series editor The series Reinterpreting History is dedicate Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction
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