Social change in the broadest sense is any change in social relations. Viewed this way, social change is an ever-present phenomenon in any society. A distinction is sometimes made then between processes of change within the social structure, which serve in part to maintain the structure, and processes that modify the structure (societal change).
The specific meaning of social change depends first on the social entity considered. Changes in a small group may be important on the level of that group itself but negligible on the level of the larger society. Similarly, the observation of social change depends on the time span studied; most short-term changes are negligible when examined in the long run. Small-scale and short-term changes are characteristic of human societies, because customs and norms change, new techniques and technologies are invented, environmental changes spur new adaptations, and conflicts result in redistributions of power.
This universal human potential for social change has a biological basis. It is rooted in the flexibility and adaptability of the human species—the near absence of biologically fixed action patterns (instincts) on the one hand and the enormous capacity for learning, symbolizing, and creating on the other hand. The human constitution makes possible changes that are not biologically (that is to say, genetically) determined. Social change, in other words, is possible only by virtue of biological characteristics of the human species, but the nature of the actual changes cannot be reduced to these species traits.
Several ideas of social change have been developed in various cultures and historical periods. Three may be distinguished as the most basic: (1) the idea of decline or degeneration, or, in religious terms, the fall from an original state of grace, (2) the idea of cyclic change, a pattern of subsequent and recurring phases of growth and decline, and (3) the idea of continuous progress. These three ideas were already prominent in Greek and Roman antiquity and have characterized Western social thought since that time. The concept of progress, however, has become the most influential idea, especially since the Enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. Social thinkers such as Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot and the marquis de Condorcet in France and Adam Smith and John Millar in Scotland advanced theories on the progress of human knowledge and technology.
Progress was also the key idea in 19th-century theories of social evolution, and evolutionism was the common core shared by the most influential social theories of that century. Evolutionism implied that humans progressed along one line of development, that this development was predetermined and inevitable, since it corresponded to definite laws, that some societies were more advanced in this development than were others, and that Western society was the most advanced of these and therefore indicated the future of the rest of the world’s population. This line of thought has since been disputed and disproved.
Following a different approach, French philosopher Auguste Comte advanced a “law of three stages,” according to which human societies progress from a theological stage, which is dominated by religion, through a metaphysical stage, in which abstract speculative thinking is most prominent, and onward toward a positivist stage, in which empirically based scientific theories prevail.
The most encompassing theory of social evolution was developed by Herbert Spencer, who, unlike Comte, linked social evolution to biological evolution. According to Spencer, biological organisms and human societies follow the same universal, natural evolutionary law: “a change from a state of relatively indefinite, incoherent, homogeneity to a state of relatively definite, coherent, heterogeneity.” In other words, as societies grow in size, they become more complex; their parts differentiate, specialize into different functions, and become, consequently, more interdependent.
Evolutionary thought also dominated the new field of social and cultural anthropology in the second half of the 19th century. Anthropologists such as Sir Edward Burnett Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan classified contemporary societies on an evolutionary scale. Tylor postulated an evolution of religious ideas from animism through polytheism to monotheism. Morgan ranked societies from “savage” through “barbarian” to “civilized” and classified them according to their levels of technology or sources of subsistence, which he connected with the kinship system. He assumed that monogamy was preceded by polygamy and patrilineal descent by matrilineal descent.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels too were highly influenced by evolutionary ideas. The Marxian distinctions between primitive communism, the Asiatic mode of production, ancient slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and future socialism may be interpreted as a list of stages in one evolutionary development (although the Asiatic mode does not fit well in this scheme). Marx and Engels were impressed by Morgan’s anthropological theory of evolution, which became evident in Engels’s book The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884).
The originality of the Marxian theory of social development lay in its combination of dialectics and gradualism. In Marx’s view social development was a dialectical process: the transition from one stage to another took place through a revolutionary transformation, which was preceded by increased deterioration of society and intensified class struggle. Underlying this discontinuous development was the more gradual development of the forces of production (technology and organization of labour).
Marx was also influenced by the countercurrent of Romanticism, which was opposed to the idea of progress. This influence was evident in Marx’s notion of alienation, a consequence of social development that causes people to become distanced from the social forces that they had produced by their own activities. Romantic counterprogressivism was, however, much stronger in the work of later 19th-century social theorists such as German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies. He distinguished between the community (Gemeinschaft), in which people were bound together by common traditions and ties of affection and solidarity, and the society (Gesellschaft), in which social relations had become contractual, rational, and nonemotional.
Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, sociologists who began their careers at the end of the 19th century, showed ambivalence toward the ideas of progress. Durkheim regarded the increasing division of labour as a basic process, rooted in modern individualism, that could lead to “anomie,” or lack of moral norms. Weber rejected evolutionism by arguing that the development of Western society was quite different from that of other civilizations and therefore historically unique. The West was characterized, according to Weber, by a peculiar type of rationality that had brought about modern capitalism, modern science, and rational law but that also created, on the negative side, a “disenchantment of the world” and increasing bureaucratization.
The work of Durkheim, Weber, and other social theorists around the turn of the century marked a transition from evolutionism toward more static theories. Evolutionary theories were criticized on empirical grounds—they could be refuted by a growing mass of research findings—and because of their determinism and Western-centred optimism. Theories of cyclic change that denied long-term progress gained popularity in the first half of the 20th century. These included the theory of the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto on the “circulation of elites” and those of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee on the life cycle of civilizations. In the 1930s and ’40s, Harvard professor Pitirim Sorokin developed a cyclic theory of cultural change in the West, describing repetitions of change from the ideational to the idealistic and sensate and back again.
Although the interest in long-term social change never disappeared, it faded into the background, especially when, from the 1920s until the 1950s, functionalism, emphasizing an interdependent social system, became the dominant paradigm both in anthropology and in sociology. “Social evolution” was substituted for the more general and neutral concept of “social change.”
The study of long-term social change revived in the 1950s and continued to develop through the 1960s and ’70s. Neoevolutionist theories were proclaimed by several anthropologists, including Ralph Linton, Leslie A. White, Julian H. Steward, Marshall D. Sahlins, and Elman Rogers Service. These authors held to the idea of social evolution as a long-term development that is both patterned and cumulative. Unlike 19th-century evolutionism, neoevolutionism does not assume that all societies go through the same stages of development. Instead, much attention is paid to variations between societies as well as to relations of influence among them. The latter concept has come to be known by the term acculturation. In addition, social evolution is not regarded as predetermined or inevitable but is understood in terms of probabilities. Finally, evolutionary development is not equated with progress.
Revived interest in long-term social change was sparked by attempts to explain the gaps between rich and poor countries. In the 1950s and ’60s, Western sociologists and economists developed modernization theories to help understand the problems of the so-called underdeveloped countries. Some modernization theories have been criticized, however, for implying that poor countries could and should develop—or modernize—in the manner of Western societies. Modernization theories have also been criticized for their lack of attention to international power relations, in which the richer countries dominate the poorer ones. These relations have been brought to the centre of attention by more recent theories of international dependency, typified by the “world capitalist system” described by American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein. His world systems theory, however, has been attacked for empirical reasons and for its failure to account for the collapse of Soviet regimes and their subsequent movement toward capitalism and democracy. Wallerstein’s theory has also drawn criticism for failing to explain significant Third World economic development such as that seen in South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Patterns of social change
Theories of social change, both old and new, commonly assume that the course of social change is not arbitrary but is, to a certain degree, regular or patterned. The three traditional ideas of social change—decline, cyclic change, and progress—have unquestionably influenced modern theories. Yet because these theories are not scientifically determined, they fail to make an explicit distinction between decline and progress. In fact, the qualities of decline and progress cannot be derived scientifically (that is, from empirical observations) alone but are instead identified by normative evaluations and value judgments. If the study of social change is to be conducted on scientific and nonnormative terms, then, only two basic patterns of social change can be considered: the cyclic, as identified above, and the one-directional. Often the time span of the change determines which pattern is observed.
Much of ordinary social life is organized in cyclic changes: those of the day, the week, and the year. These short-term cyclic changes may be regarded as conditions necessary for structural stability. Other changes that have a more or less cyclic pattern are less predictable. One example is the business cycle, a recurrent phenomenon of capitalism, which seems somewhat patterned yet is hard to predict. A prominent theory of the business cycle is that of the Soviet economist Nikolay D. Kondratyev, who tried to show the recurrence of long waves of economic boom and recession on an international scale. He charted the waves from the end of the 18th century, with each complete wave comprising a period of about 50 years. Subsequent research has shown, however, that the patterns in different countries have been far from identical.
Long-term cyclic changes are addressed in theories on the birth, growth, flourishing, decline, and death of civilizations. Toynbee conceived world history in this way in the first volumes of A Study of History (1934–61), as did Spengler in his Decline of the West (1918–22). These theories have been criticized for conceiving of civilizations as natural entities with sharp boundaries, thinking that neglects the interrelations between civilizations.
This type of change continues more or less in the same direction. Such change is usually cumulative and implies growth or increase, such as that of population density, the size of organizations, or the level of production. The direction of the change could, however, be one of decrease or a combination of growth and decrease. An example of this last process is what American cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz has called “involution,” found in some agrarian societies when population growth is coupled with a decrease in per capita wealth. Yet another change may be a shift from one pole to the other of a continuum—from religious to secular ways of thinking, for example. Such a change may be defined as either growth (of scientific knowledge) or decline (of religion).
The simplest type of one-directional change is linear, occurring when the degree of social change is constant over time. Another type of social change is that of exponential growth, in which the percentage of growth is constant over time and the change accelerates correspondingly. Population growth and production growth are known to follow this pattern over certain time frames.
A pattern of long-term growth may also conform to a three-stage S curve. In the first phase the change is slow enough as to be almost imperceptible. Next the change accelerates. In the third phase the rate of change slackens until it approaches a supposed upper limit. The model of the demographic transition in industrializing countries exhibits this pattern. In the first (premodern or preindustrial) stage both the birth rate and the mortality rate are high, and, consequently, the population grows very slowly; then mortality decreases, and the population grows much faster; in the third stage both the birth rate and the mortality rate have become low, and population growth approaches zero. The same model has been suggested, more hypothetically, for the rates of technological and scientific change.
Combined patterns of change
Cyclic and one-directional changes may be observed simultaneously. This occurs in part because short-term change tends to be cyclic while long-term change tends to follow one direction. For example, production rates of industrializing countries exhibit the pattern of short-term business cycles occurring within long-term economic development.
These patterns cannot be applied simply and easily to social reality. At best, they are approximations of social reality. Comparing the model with reality is not always possible, because reliable data are not always available. Moreover, and more important, many social processes do not lend themselves to precise quantitative measurement. Processes such as bureaucratization or secularization, for example, can be defined through changes in a certain direction, but it is hard to reach agreement on the dimensions to be measured.
It remains to be seen whether long-term social change in a certain direction will be maintained. The transformation of medieval society into the Western nations of the 20th century may be conceived in terms of several interconnected long-term one-directional changes. Some of the more important of these changes include commercialization, increasing division of labour, growth of production, formation of nation-states, bureaucratization, growth of technology and science, secularization, urbanization, spread of literacy, increasing geographic and social mobility, and growth of organizations. Many of these changes have also occurred in non-Western societies. Most changes did not originate in the West, but some important changes did, such as the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism. These changes subsequently had a strong impact on non-Western societies. Additionally, groups of people outside western Europe have been drawn into a global division of labour, with Western nation-states gaining dominance both politically and economically.
The extent to which these changes are part of a global long-term social development is the central question of social evolution. Although knowledge concerning this question is far from complete, some general trends may be hypothesized. One trend is seen in the technological innovations and advances in scientific knowledge that have harnessed natural forces for the satisfaction of human needs. Among these innovations were the use of fire, the cultivation of plants, the domestication of animals (dating from about 8000 bce), the use of metals, and the process of industrialization. These long-term developments, combined with long-term capital accumulation, led to rising production and paved the way for population growth and increasing population density. Energy production and consumption grew, if not per capita, then at least per square mile.
Another trend stems from production methods based on the division of labour and social differentiation. The control of natural forces, and the ensuing social progress, was achieved only by utilizing the division of labour—and the corresponding specialization of knowledge—to raise productivity beyond natural limits. One consequence of this growth of productivity and technological innovation, however, was social differentiation. More people, in other words, could specialize in activities that were not immediately necessary for survival. Growth in the size and density of populations and increases in social differentiation heightened the interdependence of more and more people over longer distances. In hunting-and-gathering societies people were strongly interdependent within their small bands, depending on very little from outside their groups. In modern times most of the world’s people are linked by networks of interdependence that span the globe.
These processes are not inevitable in the sense that they correspond to any “law” of social change. They have had the tendency, however, to spread whenever they occurred. For example, once the set of transformations known as the agrarian revolution had taken place anywhere in the world, their extension over the rest of the world was predictable. Societies that adopted these innovations grew in size and became more powerful. As a consequence, other societies had only three options: to be conquered and incorporated by a more powerful agrarian society, to adopt the innovations, or to be driven to marginal places of the globe. Something similar might be said of the Industrial Revolution and other power-enhancing innovations, such as bureaucratization and the introduction of more destructive weapons. The example of weapons illustrates that these transformational processes should not be equated with progress in general.
Explanations of social change
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 Deathepidemics 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.
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 labour, 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.
Several theories of social evolution identify technological innovations as the most important determinants of societal change. Such technological breakthroughs as the smelting of iron, the introduction of the plow in agriculture, the invention of the steam engine, and the development of the computer have had lasting social consequences.
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 labour (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 gives 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.
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.
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.
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 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 curve 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.
Conflict, competition, and cooperation
Group conflict has often been viewed as a basic mechanism of social change, especially of those radical and sudden social transformations identified as revolutions. Marxists in particular tend to depict social life in capitalist society as a struggle between a ruling class, which wishes to maintain the system, and a dominated class, which strives for radical change. Social change then is the result of that struggle. These ideas are basic to what sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf has called a conflict model of society.
The notion of conflict becomes more relevant to the explanation of social change if it is broadened to include competition between rival groups. Nations, firms, universities, sports associations, and artistic schools are groups between which such rivalry occurs. Competition stimulates the introduction and diffusion of innovations, especially when they are potentially power-enhancing. Thus, the leaders of non-Western states feel the necessity of adopting Western science and technology, even though their ideology may be anti-Western, because it is only by these means that they can maintain or enhance national autonomy and power.
Additionally, competition may lead to growth in the size and complexity of the entities involved. The classic example of this process, as first suggested by Adam Smith, is the tendency in capitalism toward collusion and the establishment of monopolies when small firms are driven out of the competitive marketplace. Another example came from Norbert Elias, who suggested that western European nation-states were born out of competitive struggles between feudal lords. Competition also dominates theories of individualism, in which social change is seen as the result of individuals pursuing their self-interest. Game theory and other mathematical devices, however, have shown that individuals acting in their own self-interest will in certain conditions cooperate with one another and thereby widen the existing social networks.
Tension 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 sociocultural 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. (See social class, social status.)
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.
Here is your essay on Social Change!
Change is the internal law. History and science bear ample testimony to the fact that change is the law of life. Stagnation is death. They tell us stories of man’s rise and growth from the Paleolithic age to the Neolithic age, then to the Stone Age and next to the copper age etc. On the stage of the world, scenes follow scenes, acts follow acts, and drama follows drama. Nothing stands still.
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The wheel of time moves on and on. The old dies and the young steps into the world. We ring out the old and ring in the new. A child changes into a boy, a boy into a youth and then into a man. The bud changes into a flower. The dawn turns into morning, morning into noon, noon into afternoon and afternoon into night.
It is said, “Today is not yesterday, we ourselves change. No change is permanent, it is subject to change. This is observed in all spares of activity. Change indeed is painful, yet needful”. Flowing water is wholesome, and stagnant water is poisonous. Only when it flows through and alters with changes, it is able to refresh and recreate.
Change is an ever-present phenomenon. It is the law of nature. Society is not at all a static phenomenon, but it is a dynamic entity. It is an ongoing process. The social structure is subject to incessant changes. Individuals may strive for stability, yet the fact remains that society is an every changing phenomenon; growing, decaying, renewing and accommodating itself to changing conditions.
The human composition of societies changes over time, technologies expand, ideologies and values take on new components; institutional functions and structures undergo reshaping. Hence, no society remains complete static. Incessant changeability is very inherent nature of human society.
A social structure is a nexus of present relationships. It exists because social beings seek to maintain it. It continues to exist because men demand its continuance. But the existing social structure is influenced by many factors and forces that inevitably cause it to change. Society is thus subject to continuous change.
The change of man and society has been the central and quite dominant concern of sociology right from the time when it emerged as branch of learning. The concern for social change is of great importance not only in studying past changes but also in investigating ‘future’ developments.
Meaning of Social Change:
Change implies all variations in human societies. When changes occur in the modes of living of individuals and social relation gets influenced, such changes are called social changes.
Social change refers to the modifications which take place in life pattern of people. It occurs because all societies are in a constant state of disequilibrium.
The word ‘change’ denotes a difference in anything observed over some period of time. Hence, social change would mean observable differences in any social phenomena over any period of time.
Social change is the change in society and society is a web of social relationships. Hence, social change is a change in social relationships. Social relationships are social processes, social patterns and social interactions. These include the mutual activities and relations of the various parts of the society. Thus, the term ‘social change’ is used to describe variations of any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interaction or social organization.
Social change may be defined as changes in the social organization, that is, the structure and functions of the society.
Whenever one finds that a large number of persons are engaged in activities that differ from those which their immediate forefathers were engaged in some time before, one finds a social change.
Whenever human behaviour is in the process of modification, one finds that social change is occurring. Human society is constituted of human beings. Social change means human change, since men are human beings. To change society, as says Davis, is to change man.
Theorists of social change agree that in most concrete sense of the word ‘change’, every social system is changing all the time. The composition of the population changes through the life cycle and thus the occupation or roles changes; the members of society undergo physiological changes; the continuing interactions among member modify attitudes and expectations; new knowledge is constantly being gained and transmitted.
The question to what social change actually means is perhaps the most difficult one within the scientific study of change. It involves the often neglected query of what ‘kind’ and degree of change in what is to be considered social change.
Most analysts of social change deal with this question implicitly somewhere in their theoretical system or in the context of the latter’s application to some empirical case. For the present purpose it should suffice to examine definitions that are frequently used to conceptualise change.
According to Jones “Social change is a term used to describe variations in, or modifications of any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interaction or social organization”.
As Kingsley Davis says, “By Social change is meant only such alternations as occur in social organization – that is, the structure and functions of society”.
According to Maclver and Page, “Social change refers to a process responsive to many types of changes; to changes the man in made condition of life; to changes in the attitudes and beliefs of men, and to the changes that go beyond the human control to the biological and the physical nature of things”.
Morris Ginsberg defines, “By social change, I understand a change in social structure, e.g., the size of the society, the composition or the balance of its parts or the type of its organization”.
P. Fairchild defines social change as “variations or modifications in any aspects of social process, pattern or form.
B. Kuppuswamy says, “Social change may be defined as the process in which is discernible significant alternation in the structure and functioning of a particular social system”.
H.M. Johnson says, “Social change is either change in the structure or quasi- structural aspects of a system of change in the relative importance of coexisting structural pattern”.
According to Merrill and Eldredge, “Change means that large number of persons are engaging in activities that differ from those which they or their immediate forefathers engaged in some time before”.
Anderson and Parker define, “Social change involves alternations in the structure or functioning of societal forms or processes themselves”.
According to M.D. Jenson, “Social change may be defined as modification in ways of doing and thinking of people.
As H.T. Mazumdar says, “Social change may be defined as a new fashion or mode, either modifying or replacing the old, in the life of people or in the operation of a society”.
According Gillin and Gillin, “Social changes are variations from the accepted modes of life; whether due to alternation in geographical conditions, in cultural equipment, composition of the population or ideologies and brought about by diffusion, or inventions within the group.
By analyzing all the definitions mentioned above, we reach at the conclusion that the two type of changes should be treated as two facts of the same social phenomenon. Two type of changes are e.g. (i) changes in the structure of society, (ii) changes in the values and social norms which bind the people together and help to maintain social order. These two type of changes should not, however, be treated separately because a change in one automatically induces changes in the other.
For example, a change in the attitude of the people may bring about changes in the social structure. Towards the close of the 19 century, there was a tendency in the countries of Western Europe for families to grow smaller in size. There is a general agreement that this has been brought about mainly by voluntary restriction of births”.
In this case, a change in the attitude of the people is mainly responsible for change in the social structure. On the other hand, a change in the social structure may bring about attitudinal change among the members of the society. Transformation of rural society into industrial society is not simply a change in the structure of society. For example, industrialisation has destroyed domestic system of production.
The destruction of domestic system of production has brought women from home to factory and office. The employment of women gave them a new independent outlook. The attitude of independence instead of dependence upon men has become the trait of women’s personally. Hence, these two type of changes should not be treated separately but both of them should be studied together.
The problem of social change is one of the central foci of sociological inquiry. It is so complex and so significant in the life of individual and of society that we have to explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of social change in all its ramifications.
Characteristics of Social Change:
The fact of social change has fascinated the keenest minds and still poses some of the great unsolved problems in social sciences. The phenomenon of social change is not simple but complex. It is difficult to understand this in its entirety. The unsolved problems are always pressurising us to find an appropriate answer. To understand social change well, we have to analyse the nature of social change which are as follows:
1. Social Change is Social:
Society is a “web of social relationships” and hence social change obviously means a change in the system of social relationships. Social relationships are understood in terms of social processes and social interactions and social organizations.
Thus, the term social change is used to describe variation in social interactions, processes and social organizations. Only that change can be called social change whose influence can be felt in a community form. The changes that have significance for all or considerable segment of population can be considered as social change.
2. Social Change is Universal:
Change is the universal law of nature. The social structure, social organization and social institutions are all dynamic. Social change occurs in all societies and at all times. No society remains completely static.
Each society, no matter how traditional and conservative, is constantly undergoing change. Just as man’s life cannot remain static, so does society of all places and times. Here adjustment take place and here conflict breaks down adjustment. Here there is revolution and here consent. Here men desire for achieving new goals, and here they return to old ones.
3. Social Change occurs as an Essential law:
Change is the law of nature. Social change is also natural. Change is an unavoidable and unchangeable law of nature. By nature we desire change. Our needs keep on changing to satisfy our desire for change and to satisfy these needs, social change becomes a necessity. The truth is that we are anxiously waiting for a change. According to Green, “The enthusiastic response of change has become almost way of life.
4. Social Change is Continuous:
Society is an ever-changing phenomenon. It is undergoing endless changes. It is an “ongoing process”. These changes cannot be stopped. Society is subject to continuous change. Here it grows and decays, there it finds renewal, accommodates itself to various changing conditions.
Society is a system of social relationship. But these social relationships are never permanent. They are subject to change. Society cannot be preserved in a museum to save it from the ravages of time. From the dawn of history, down to this day, society has been in flux.
Social change manifests itself in different stages of human history. In ancient times when life was confined to caves (Stone Age), the social system was different from that of the computer age today. There is no fixity in human relationships. Circumstances bring about many a change in the behaviour patterns.
5. Social Change Involves No-Value Judgement:
Social change does not attach any value judgement. It is neither moral nor immoral, it is amoral. The question of “what ought to be” is beyond the nature of social change. The study of social change involves no-value judgement. It is ethically neutral. A correct decision on what is empirically true is not the same as correct decision on what ought to be.
6. Social Change is Bound by Time Factors:
Social change is temporal. It happens through time, because society exists only as a time-sequences. We know its meaning fully only by understanding it through time factors. For example, the caste system which was a pillar of stability in traditional Indian society, is now undergoing considerable changes in the modern India.
There was less industrialisation in India during 50s. But in 90s, India has become more industrialized. Thus, the speed of social change differs from age to age. The reason is that the factors which cause social change do not remain uniform with the changes in time.
7. Rate and Tempo of Social Change is Uneven:
Though social change is a must for each and every society, the rate, tempo, speed and extent of change is not uniform. It differs from society to society. In some societies, its speed is rapid; in another it may be slow. And in some other societies it occurs so slowly that it may not be noticed by those who live in them. For example, in the modern, industrial urban society the speed and extent of change is faster than traditional, agricultural and rural society.
8. Definite Prediction of Social Change is Impossible:
It is very much difficult to make out any prediction on the exact forms of social change. A thousand years ago in Asia, Europe and Latin America the face of society was vastly different from that what exists today. But what the society will be in thousand years from now, no one can tell.
But a change there will be. For example, industrialisation and urbanisation has brought about a series of interrelated changes in our family and marriage system. But we cannot predict the exact forms which social relationships will assume in future. Similarly, what shall be our ideas, attitudes and value in future, it is unpredictable.
9. Social Change Shows Chain-Reaction Sequences:
Society is a dynamic system of interrelated parts. Changes in one aspect of life may induce a series of changes in other aspects. For example, with the emancipation of women, educated young women find the traditional type of family and marriage not quite fit to their liking.
They find it difficult to live with their parents-in-law, obeying the mother-in-law at every point. They desire separate homes. The stability of marriages can no longer be taken for granted. The changing values of women force men to change their values also. Therefore, society is a system of interrelated parts. Change in its one aspect may lead to a series of changes in other aspects of the society.
10. Social Change takes place due to Multi-Number of Factors:
Social change is the consequence of a number of factors. A special factor may trigger a change but it is always associated with other factors that make the triggering possible. Social change cannot be explained in terms of one or two factors only and that various factors actually combine and become the ’cause’ of the change. M. Ginsberg observes: “A cause is an assemblage of factors which, in interaction with each other, undergo a change”. There is no single master key by which we can unlock all the doors leading to social change. As a matter of fact, social change is the consequence of a number of factors.
11. Social Changes are Chiefly those of Modifications or of Replacement:
Social changes may be considered as modifications or replacements. It may be modification of physical goods or social relationships. For example, the form of our breakfast food has changed. Though we eat the same basic materials such as meats, eggs corn etc. which we ate earlier, their form has been changed.
Ready-to-eat cornflakes, breads, omelets are substituted for the form in which these same materials were consumed in earlier years. Further, there may be modifications of social relationships. For example, the old authoritarian family has become the small equalitarian family. Our attitudes towards women’s status and rights, religion, co-education etc. stand modified today.
12. Social Change may be Small-scale or Large-scale:
A line of distinction is drawn between small-scale and large scale social change. Small-scale change refers to changes within groups and organizations rather than societies, culture or civilization.
According W.E. Moore, by small-scale changes we shall mean changes in the characteristics of social structures that though comprised within the general system identifiable as a society, do not have any immediate and major consequences for the generalised structure (society) as such.
13. Short-term and Long-term Change:
The conceptualization of the magnitude of change involves the next attribute of change, the time span. That is to say, a change that may be classified as ‘small-scale from a short-term perspective may turn out to have large-scale consequences when viewed over a long period of time, as the decreasing death rate since the 1960 in India exemplifies.
14. Social Change may be Peaceful or Violent:
At times, the attribute ‘peaceful’ has been considered as practically synonymous with ‘gradual’ and ‘violent’ with ‘rapid’. The term ‘violence’ frequently refers to the threat or use of physical force involved in attaining a given change. In certain sense, rapid change may ‘violently’ affect the emotions, values and expectations of those involved.
According to W.E. Moore, “A ‘true’ revolution, a rapid and fundamental alternation in the institutions or normative codes of society and of its power distribution, is rapid and continuous by definition and is likely to be violent, but may well be orderly as opposed to erratic”.
‘Peaceful’ has to do with the changes that take place by consent, acceptance or acquisition and that are enforced by the normative restraints of society.
15. Social Change may be Planned or Unplanned:
Social change may occur in the natural course or it is done by man deliberately. Unplanned change refers to change resulting from natural calamities, such as famines and floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruption etc. So social change is called as the unchangeable law of nature. The nature is never at rest.
Planned social change occurs when social changes are conditioned by human engineering. Plans, programmes and projects are made by man in order to determine and control the direction of social change.
Besides that by nature human beings desire change. The curiosity of a man never rests; nothing checks his desire to know. There is always a curiosity about unknown. The needs of human beings are changing day by day. So to satisfy these needs they desire change.
16. Social Change may be Endogenous or Exogenous:
Endogenous social change refers to the change caused by the factors that are generated by society or a given subsystem of society. Conflict, communication, regionalism etc. are some of the examples of endogenous social change.
On the other hand, exogenous sources of social change generally view society as a basically stable, well-integrated system that is disrupted or altered only by the impact of forces external to the system (e.g., world situation, wars, famine) or by new factors introduced into the system from other societies. For example, technological transfer and brain drain, political and cultural imperialism may lead to the diffusion of cultural traits beyond the limits of single societies.
17. Change Within and Change of the System:
The distinction between kinds of change has been developed by Talcott Parsons in his analysis of change ‘within’ and change ‘of the system, i.e., the orderly process of ongoing change within the boundaries of a system, as opposed to the process resulting in changes of the structure of the system under consideration. Conflict theorists draw our attention to the fact that the cumulative effect of change ‘within’ the system may result in a change ‘of’ the system.
To conclude, some of the attributes most frequently used in describing change are: magnitude of change (small-scale, large-scale changes), time pan, direction, rate of change, amount of violence involved. These dimensions should not be taken as either/or attributes but rather as varying along a continuum from one extreme to another (e.g., revolutionary vs evolutionary).
Other categorization that have been devised involve division of changes on the basis of such characteristics as continuous vs spasmodic, orderly vs erratic and the number of people (or roles) affected by or involved in change.
Although no hard and fast categories have yet been developed into which we can fit different types of change, the use of the foregoing distinctions, may be helpful in clarifying one’s conceptualization of any type of change or at least, they can help one to understand the complexities involved in developing a definition of the subject of social change.
In explaining the concept of social change, sociologists from time to time used words and expressions like evolution, growth, progress, development, revolution, adaptation etc. discarding one in preference to the other.
Though the concept of evolution was known to the generation preceding the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of Species”, the notion of social evolution was taken directly from the theories of biological evolution. Evolution in biological science means the developing of an organism.
It is a process by which a thing continuously adopts itself to its environment and manifests its own nature. Consequently it is a change which permeates the whole character of the object. Many social theorists from Herbert Spencer to Sumner applied this conception of ‘organic evolution’ in various ways to the explanation of social change.
The term ‘evolution’ is borrowed from biological sciences to Sociology. The term ‘organic evolution’ is replaced by ‘social evolution’ in sociology. Whereas the term ‘organic evolution’ is used to denote the evolution of organism, the expression of ‘social evolution is used to explain the evolution of human society.
It was hoped that the theory of social evolution would explain the origin and development of man. Anthropologists and Sociologists wanted to find a satisfactory and significant explanation of how our society evolved.
They were very much impressed by the idea of organic evolution which explain how one species evolves into another, and wanted to apply the same to the social world. Hence, the concept of social evolution is quite popular in sociological discussion.
Sociologists adopted the word ‘evolution’ to convey the sense of growth and change in social institutions. Social institutions are the result of evolution. They began to work to trace the origin of the ideas, institutions and of the developments.
The term ‘evolution’ is derived from the Latin word ‘evolvere’ which means to ‘develop’ or ‘to unfold’. It is equivalent to the Sanskrit word ‘Vikas’. Evolution literally means gradually ‘unfolding’ or ‘unrolling’. It indicates changes from ‘within’ and not from ‘without’. The concept of evolution applies more precisely to the internal growth of an organism.
Evolution means more than growth. The word ‘growth’ connotes a direction of change but only of quantitative character e.g., we say population grows, town grows etc. But evolution involves something more intrinsic; change not merely in size but also in structure.
According to Maclver and Page, “Evolution involves something more intrinsic, a change not merely in size but at least in structure also”.
Ogburn and Nimkoff write, “Evolution is merely a change in a given direction”.
Ginsberg says, “Evolution is defined as a process of change which results in the production of something new but revealing “an orderly continuity in transition”. That is to say, we have evolution when” the series of changes that occur during a period of time appear to be, not a mere succession of changes, but a ‘continuous process’, through which a clear ‘thread of identity runs’.
Evolution describes a series of interrelated changes in a system of some kind. It is a process in which hidden or latent characters of a thing reveal themselves. It is a principle of internal growth. It shows not merely what happens to a thing but also what happens within it. “What is latent becomes manifest in it and what is potential is made actual.”
Evolution is an order to change which unfolds the variety of aspects belonging to the nature of changing object. We cannot speak of evolution when an object or system is changed by forces acting upon it from without. The change must occur within the changing unity.
Characteristics of Social Evolution:
According to Spencer, “Evolution is the integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion during which matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity.” Society, according to his view, is also subject to a similar process of evolution; that is, changing from a state of ‘incoherent homogeneity’ to a state of ‘coherent heterogeneity.’
Evolution is, thus, a gradual growth or development from simple to complex existence. The laws of evolution which were initially fashioned after the findings of charters. Darwin, came to be known as social Darwinism during the nineteenth century.
Spencer’s point of view can best be illustrated by an example. In the beginning, the most primitive stage, every individual lived an individualistic life, trying to know and do things about himself alone.
Every man was more or less similar, in so far as his ignorance about organized social life was concerned. In this sense, the people were homogenous. At that stage, neither they were able to organize their social life, nor could they work together. There was no system; nothing definite, expect their incoherent or loose-group-formations.
Thus, they formed “an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity,” But gradually, their experiences, realizations and knowledge increased. They learnt to live and to work together. The task of social organisation was taken on, division of labour was elaborated; and each found a particular type of work which he could do best. All worked in an organized and definite way towards a definite goal. Thus, a state of “definite, coherent heterogeneity” was reached.
Herbert Spencer has prescribed four important principles of evolution. These principles are:
1. Social evolution is on cultural or human aspect of the law of change of cosmic evolution.
2. Hence, social evolution take place in the same way at all places and progress through some definite and inevitable stages.
3. Social evolution is gradual.
4. Social evolution is progressive.
In addition to this characteristics, other features of social evolution are clearly evident which are discussed below.
Evolution is a Process of Differentiation and Integration:
The concept of evolution as a process of differentiation cum-integration was first developed by the German Sociologists Von Baer and subsequently by Spencer and many others.
(i) In order to understand this statement, i.e. evolution takes place through differentiation and Integration; we have to study the history of a society over a long, period of time. Then we shall find that its associations, institutions, etc” are constantly evolving or developing.
In social evolution, new and ever newer circumstances and problems are constantly appearing. In order to cope with them, new associations and institutions are evolved. For example, a community in a town previously. When the town had been a small community, its management was the responsibility of a Panchayat or a town area committee.
Now that the town has become a big commercial centre, its management is in the hands of a dozer different committees. One of them looks after the educational facilities, another looks after the sanitation, a third is deputed to look after the octroi, while a fourth manages the markets and so on. In this way, this differentiation increases with the evolution of the town.
(ii) But without Integration, this differentiation cannot take one anywhere. Hence, synthesis along with differentiation is necessary. In urban areas one can find various sectarian associations such as Khandayat Kshatriya Mahasabha, Kayastha society, Brahman Samiti, Napita associations etc.
At the same time, one also can find institutions: ‘Arya Samaj’,” etc. which synthesize and compromise associations based on various caste and class distinctions. Today, while new nations are coming into being in the human society, equally strong efforts are being made to create a world society by compromising these nations.
(iii) By virtue of this double processes of differentiation and integration, the efficiency of the society is being constantly increased. Division of labour is the magic word of modern economic evolution. By an increase in the number of associations and institutions in society, work in various spheres is performed more successfully. And because of the process of synthesis, various spheres take advantage of each other’s efficiency also.
Maclver points it out in a very systematic manner. According to him, evolution or differentiation manifests itself in society by (a) a greater division of society by labour, so that thereby a more elaborate system of cooperation, because the energy of more individuals is concentrated on more specific tasks, a more intricate nexus of functional relationships, is sustained within the group; (b) an increase in the number and the variety of functional associations and institutions, so that each is more defined or more limited in the range or character of its service; and (c) a greater diversity and refinement in the instruments of social communication, perhaps above all in the medium of language.
Various sociologists have laid stress on one or another of these aspect of evolution. Thus, Emile Durkheim has insisted on the preeminent importance of the social division of labour as a criterion of social development. Other writers have taken the various aspects together and sought to show that society passes through a definite series of evolutionary stages.
Social Evolution does not always proceed by Differentiation:
Morris Ginsberg writes, “The notion that evolution is a movement from the simple to the complex can be and has been seriously disputed.” In every field where we find the forces of differentiation at work, there the opposite trends are also manifested. For example in the development of languages, where the process of differentiation has been stressed, we have many disconnecting facts.
The modern languages derived from Sanskrit Like Bengali, Gujarati, Telugu and Tamil cannot be compared in their structure with the richness and diversity of their origin. Here the process is not towards differentiation but towards simplification.
In the development of religion too, the transition from fusion to differentiation is difficult to see. On the whole we find that social evolution does not always proceed by differentiation.
However in spite of the various difficulties, the concept of evolution still retains its usefulness. Maclver has strongly supported the principle of social evolution. He has criticised the practice of believing social evolution to be imaginary. Social evolution is a reality. Maclver has given some arguments in favour of the reality of social evolution.
He emphasizes, if we open the pages of History, we find that in the beginning there was no differentiation of institutions within human society or the performance of diverse functions. But latter on, as culture and civilization progressed, differentiation increased and it is even now increasing. This historical fact is an evidence of the extent and element of reality in the principle of social evolution.
Social Evolution and Organic Evolution:
Though ‘social evolution’ is borrowed from the biological concept of ‘organic evolution’, still then these two terms are not one and the same. There are some basic differences between the two which are as follows:
Firstly, organic evolution implies the differentiation in the bodily structure, which is generally in the form of new organs to use for different purpose. But social evolution does not imply this. Man is the centre of social evolution.
He need not have to develop new organ to adjust himself with changed conditions of life. Because man has the capacity of inventing tools, making instruments and devising techniques to control the forces of nature and to adjust himself with the natural conditions. He can look before and after.
Secondly, in organic evolution, the transmission of qualities takes place through biological heredity, i.e. through ‘genes’. But social evolution takes place through ideas, discoveries, inventions and experiences. Here the changes are transmitted mostly through the mental ability and genius of man.
Thirdly, in case of organic evolution only the descending generation is affected by the structural modification, alterations. But in social evolution even the old as well as the new generations are affected by it. For example, invention of new techniques and devices is influencing the present as well as the future generations.
Lastly, the organic evolution is continuous. There can be no break in it. It is continuous because of the irresistible pressure within the organisation and of environment or natural forces. But such a continuity may not be observed in the case of social evolution. It is subject to disruption. It is an intermittent. It lacks continuity.
Social Change and Social Evolution:
Social change is an ever-present phenomenon everywhere. When we speak of social change, we suggest so far no law, no theory, no direction, even no continuity. Social change occurs in all societies and at all times. No society remains completely static. The term ‘social change’ itself is wholly neutral, implying nothing but differences that take place in human interactions and interrelations.
In explaining this concept of social change, modern sociologists from time to time used different words and expressions. Evolution is one of them. Many social theorists form Herbert Spencer to Sumner applied this conception of evolution in various ways to the interpretation of social change. But many modern theorists, particularly American, have abandoned the idea that social change takes place by evolutionary stages.
Evolution describes a series of interrelated changes in a system of some kind. It is a process in which hidden or latent characters of a thing reveal themselves. It shows not merely what happens to a thing but also what happens within it.
Evolution is an order of change which unfolds the variety of aspects belonging to the nature of changing object. We cannot speak of evolution when an object or system is changed by forces acting upon it from without.
The change must occur within the changing unity. Evolution is a process involving a changing adaptation of the object to its environment and a further manifestation of its own nature. Consequently, it is a change permeating the whole character of the object, a sequence in which the equilibrium of its entire structure undergoes modification.
According to Maclver, evolution is not mere change. It is an immanent process resulting in increased complexity and differentiation. He writes, “the Kernel of organic evolution is differentiation, a process in which latent or rudimentary characters take a distinct and variable form within the unity of the organism.”
Maclver further says, evolution or differentiation manifests itself in society by (a) a greater division of labour resulting in great specialization (b) an increase in the number and variety of functional associations, (c) a greater diversity and refinement in the means of social communication. “When these changes are proceeding, society is evolving”, concludes Maclver.
The concept of progress found notable expression in the writings of the French Philosophers such as Turgot, Condorcent and Fancis Bacon of the 18th century and has been a dynamic agent in the social activity of modern man. Sociologists such as Saint Simon, Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer were the earlier exponents of the idea of progress. According Comte, it was the intellectual elite who could bring about an era of progress.
Etymologically, the word progress means “moving forward.” But moving forward or backward, progress or regress are relative terms. If it be remarked that such and such country has progressed, no meaningful information can be extracted from such a statement unless the direction towards which progress has been made be known.
In this way, progress is not mere change. It is a change in particular direction. The word progress cannot be appended to change in every direction. For example, if the condition of agriculture in a particular country worsens and a famine results, it is undeniably a change, but it will not be called progress. Progress means moving forward in the direction of achievement of some aim.
Different thinkers have defined progress in different ways. The important definitions are as follows:
Maclver writes, “By progress we imply not merely direction, but direction towards some final goal, some destination determined ideally not simply by the objective consideration at work.
Lumely defines, “Progress is a change, but it is a change in a desired or approved direction, not in any direction.”
Ginsberg defines progress as “A development or evolution in a direction which satisfies rational criterion of value”.
According to Ogburn, “Progress is a movement towards an objective thought to be desirable by the general group for the visible future.
Burgess writes, “Any change or adoption to an existent environment that makes it easier for a person or group of persons or other organized from of life to live may be said to represent progress”.
Progress means an advance towards some ideally desirable end. Since progress means change for the better it definitely implies a value judgement of highly subjective character. For value, like taste, has no measuring rod.
A particular social change may seem to be progressive to one person to another it may seem retrogression, because they have different values. The concept of social progress is, therefore, subjective but it has reference to an objective condition.
Criteria of Progress:
It is difficult to explain the criteria of progress which are relative to their temporal context. Social values determine progress. Whether any change will be considered as progress or not depends upon the social values. Social values change with time and place. The criteria of progress change with the change of social values. Hence, it is difficult to formulate a universally acceptable criterion of progress. However, the following can be tentatively suggested.
Health and Longevity of Life:
Average length of life is one index of progress whether the world is growing better. But it does not necessarily follow from this that a longer life must be more pleasurable and better.
In the opinion of some persons, wealth or economic progress is a criterion of progress.
Some people are of the view that an increase in population is a sign of progress. But over-population cannot be a sign of progress.
According to some thinkers, moral conduct is the criterion of progress.
Since life has many facets, it is not possible to formulate any one criterion of progress. But is stated that the integrated development of society is the criterion of progress. Integrated development comprehends all mental, physical and spiritual aspects including above criteria.
Nature of Progress:
By analysing above definitions, we find that progress is a change, a change for the better. When we speak of progress, we simply not merely direction, but direction towards some final goal. The nature of the progress depends upon two factors, the nature of the end and the distance of which we are from it.
The modern writers today speak of social progress though they do not have a single satisfactory explanation of the concept. In order to have a better understanding of the meaning of progress, we have to analyse the following attributes.
1. Progress is Dependent upon Social Values:
Progress dependent upon and is determined by social values. It means that progress does not have precisely the same meaning at all times and places, because values change from time to time. There is no object which can uniformly or eternally be considered valuable irrespective of time and place.
Due to this reason, Maclver and Page have written, “The concept of progress is a chameleon that take on the colour of the environment when we feel adjusted to that environment, and some contrasting colour when we feel maladjusted.
2. There is a Change in Progress:
Change is one of its essential attributes. The concept of progress presupposes the presence of change. Without change, there can be no progress.
3. In Progress the Desired End is Achieved:
The progress is not mere change. It is a change in a particular direction. Broadly speaking, progress means an advance towards some ideally desirable end. It always refers to the changes that leads to human happiness. Not all changes imply progress.
4. Progress is Communal:
Progress from its ethical point of view, may be personal but from the sociological point of view, is communal since sociology is that science of society. In it, the individual is taken into consideration only as a part of society. Only that change, whose influence can be felt on entire community or society for its betterment or welfare, can be called social progress.
5. Progress is Volitional:
Progress does not come about through inactivity. Desire and volition are needed for progress. Efforts have to be made and when these efforts are successful it is called progress. It is an uphill task. It must be remembered that every effort is not progressive.
6. Progress is Variable:
The concept of progress varies from society to society, place to place and from time to time. It does not remain constant in all times and of all places. That which is today considered as the symbol or progress may tomorrow be considered and treated as a sign of regress. For example, in India, free mixing of young boys and girls may be interpreted as an indication of regress, whereas the same may symbolise progress in the Western Countries.
7. Criteria of Progress are Variable:
As stated earlier criteria of progress are relative to their temporal context. Social values determine progress. But social values change with time and place. Therefore, criteria of progress vary from place to place. Further, different scholars have prescribed different criteria of progress. For example, health and longevity have been considered as criteria of progress by some, while other have taken economic security, moral conduct as the criteria of progress.
8. Progress does not have a Measuring Rod:
The term progress is very much subjective and value-loaded. It is not demonstrable with a degree of certainty. We cannot show it to others unless they first accept our evaluations. We may or may not agree that there is progress, but we cannot prove it. Progress is a reality which is immeasurable and undemonstrable. Anything that cannot be demonstrated and measured scientifically cannot be rejected socially. It is especially true in the case of progress.
To conclude, progress conveys the sense of something better and improved. The advancement in technology was opposed to contribute to progress. But, these developments did not carry the sense of progress. It was advancement only in a particular direction.
The comprehensiveness of progress was missing. The extremes of poverty and health, of ignorance and enlightenment had continued to coexist as ever before. Progress as conceived over the ages past, is now considered to be illusive. The end of progress, it has come to be accepted, cannot be determined.
The ‘progress’ in the West did not meet all its ends. It did not bring the fulfillment, that was taken to be its true aim. For this, the use of the term progress was considered inappropriate. The application of the term fell into disfavour. More so, the growing belief that sociology should be value-free also discouraged the use of this expression.
Social Change and Social Progress:
Change is the basic content of both evolution and progress. But the term change is wholly neutral, only suggesting variation in a phenomena over, a period of time. The moment the specifications like direction, desirability, and value-judgement are added to change, another terminology ‘progress’ becomes necessary to describe the process of change.
Progress is not mere change. It is a change in particular direction. It cannot be appended to change in every direction. The word progress means moving forward in the direction and achievement of some desired goal. It is certainly a change, a change for the better not for the worse. The concept of progress always involves and implies value judgement. It is not possible to speak of progress without reference to standards. Not all changes imply progress.
But social change is a generic term, an objective term describing one of the fundamental processes. There is no value-judgement attached to it. It is true that some changes are beneficial to mankind and some are harmful.
But social change is neither moral nor immoral, but amoral. The study of social change involves no value-judgement, while the concept of social progress implies values judgement. Social progress means improvement, betterment, moving to a higher level from a lower level.
Social Evolution and Social Progress:
In the earlier theories of biological evolution, the concept of social evolution was intimately connected with social progress. For the social evolutionists of the nineteenth century from Auguste Comte to Herbert Spencer and Lester F. Ward, social evolution was, in effect, social progress. Modern sociologists, particularly Americans, do not hold this proposition.
They point out that evolution does not mean progress, because when a society is more evolved it does not necessarily follow that it is more progressive. If it would have been progressive, Maclver and Page remark that people in the more evolved society are better or better fitted to survive or more moral or more healthy than those we call primitive. Even if the opposite were true, it would not refute the fact that their society is more evolved.”
Social evolution should also be distinguished from social progress. Firstly L.T. Hobhouse says, evolution means a sort of growth while .social progress means the growth of social life in respect of those qualities to which human beings attach or can rationally attach value. The relation between the two is thus a ‘genus-species’ relation.
Social progress is only one among many possibilities of social evolution; any or every form of social evolution is not a form of social progress. For example, caste system in India is a product of social evolution. But it does not signify progress. Hobhouse concludes, “that it is good, the fact that society has evolved is no proof that it progressed.
Secondly, evolution is merely change in a given direction. It describes a series of interrelated changes in a system of some kind. It refers to an objective condition which is not evaluated as good or bad. On the contrary, progress means change in a direction determined ideally. In other words, it can be said, progress means change for the better not for the worse.
It implies a value-judgement. The evolutionary process may move in accordance with our notion of desirable change, but there is no logical necessity that it should. The concept of progress necessarily involves a concept of end. And the concept of end varies with the mentality and experience of the individual and the group.
The affirmation of evolution “depends on our perception of objective evidences, whereas the affirmation or denial of progress depends on our ideals.” It follows that evolution is a scientific concept and progress is an ethical concept. Evolution is a demonstrable reality; out the term progress is very much subjective and value-loaded and is not demonstrable with a degree of certainty.
While social evolution is clearly distinguished from social progress, we must not loose sight of their relationships. Ethical valuations or ideas (Progress) are socially determined and hence determine the objective phenomena (Evolution) of society. They have always been powerful in shaping and moving the world. In some manner they are active in every process of social change. “All social change has this double character.”
From the above analysis we find, though the above three concepts, social change, social evolution and social progress share many common reference points, they have different intellectual framework. They all articulate same consequential effects.
In all the three processes, one cause produces a number of effects, the effect and cause get intermixed to produce other new effects, again new connections between cause and effect are established and so on goes the process.
Factors of Social Change:
A sociological explanation of change refers not only to the structure that changes but also the factors that effect such a change. Social change has occurred in all societies and in all periods of time. We should, therefore, know what the factors are that produce change. Of course there is little consensus among the representatives of theoretical proposition on the sources.
Besides, the linear as well as the cyclical theorists paid little attention to the determinations of factors involved in social change. Morris Ginsberg has made a systematic analysis of the factors which have been invoked by different writers to explain social change.
Here, our analysis is confined to sociological implantation of the origins and causes of change. Cause will be defined here as set of related factors which, taken together, are both sufficient and necessary for the production of a certain effect.
Attempt has been made to take up each factors of social change by itself and find out the way in which it effects social change. These factors are treated independently, purely for purpose of understanding and we are not of the view that they can influence social change independent of other factors.
Technological factor constitute one important source of social change. Technology, an invention, is a great agent of social change. It either initiates or encourages social change. Technology alone holds the key to change. When the scientific knowledge is applied to the problems of life, it becomes technology. In order to satisfy his desires, to fulfill his needs and to make his life more comfortable, man builds civilisation.
The dawn of this new civilization is the single most explosive fact of our lifetimes. It is the central event, the key to the understanding of the years immediately ahead. We have already crossed the first wave (agricultural revolution). We are now the children of the next transformation i.e. the third wave.
We go forward to describe the full power and reach of this extraordinary change. Some speak of a “Looming Space Age”, “Information Age”, “Electronic Era”, or “Global ‘ Village”. Brezezinski has told us, we face a “Technetronic Age”. Sociologist Daniel Bell describes the coming of a “Post-Industrial Society”. Soviet futurists speak of the STR-‘The Scientific-Technological Revolution”. Alvin Toffler has written extensively about the arrival of a “Super Industrial Society”.
Technology is fast growing. Every technological advance makes it possible for us to attain certain results with less effort, at less cost and at less time. It also provides new opportunities and establishes new conditions of life. The social effects of technology are far-reaching.
In the words of W.F. Ogburn, “technology changes society by changing our environment to which we in turn adapt. This change is usually in the material environment and the adjustment that we make with these changes often modifies our customs and social institutions”.
Ogburn and Nimkoff have pointed that a single invention may have innumerable social effects. According to them, radio, for example, has influenced our entertainment, education, politics, sports, literature, knowledge, business, occupation and our modes of organisation. They have given a list consisting of 150 effects of radio in U.S.A.
The pace of change in the modern era is easily demonstrated by reference to rates of technological development. The technological revolution enabled human kind to shift from hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture and later to develop civilizations.
Technological revolutions enabled societies to industrialize urbanize, specialize, bureaucratize, and take on characteristics that are considered central aspects of modern society. “Modern technology,” remarks the economic historian David Landes, “produces not only more, faster; it turns out objects that could not have been produced under any circumstances by the craft methods of yesterday.
Most important, modern technology has created things that could scarcely have been conceived in the pre-industrial era the camera, the motor car, the aeroplane, the whole array of electronic devices from the radio to the high speed computer, the nuclear power plant, and so on almost adinfinitum…. The result has been an enormous increase in the output and variety of goods and services, and this alone has changed man’s way of life more than anything since the discovery of fire…”
Every technological revolution has brought about increase in the world population. Development and advancement of agriculture resulted in the increase of population in the agricultural communities; rise of commerce gave birth to the populous towns, international trade and international contact and the industrial revolution set the human society on the new pedestal.
Technological changes have influenced attitudes, beliefs and traditions. The factory system and industrialization, urbanization and the rise of working class, fast transport and communication have demolished old prejudices, dispelled superstitions, weakened casteism, and has given rise to the class based society.
Ogborn even goes to the extent of suggesting that the starter in motor car had something to do with the emancipation of women in the America and Western Europe. Development in transport and communication has changed the outlook of the people.
Railways in India have played tremendous role in bringing about social mixing of the people. It has helped people to move out of their local environments and take up jobs in distant corners of the country. Movement of people from East to West and North to South has broken social and regional barriers.
There have come into existence new vocations and trades. People have begun to give up their traditional occupations and are taking to work in the factories and in the offices-commercial as well as Government. This has also made possible the vertical mobility.
A person can now aspire to take up an occupation with higher status than he could have ever thought of in the pre-technological days. Technology has brought about Green Revolution with abundance and variety for the rich.
The rapid changes of every modern society are inextricably interwoven or connected with and somehow dependent upon the development of new techniques, new inventions, new modes of production and new standards of living.
Technology thus is a great bliss. It has made living worthwhile for the conveniences and comfort it provides, and has created numerous vocations, trades and professions. While, giving individual his rightful place, it has made the collectivity supreme.
Technologies are changing and their social consequences are profound. Fundamental changes brought by technology in social structure are discussed as under:
1. Birth of Factory System:
The introduction of machines in the industry has replaced the system of individual production by the factory or mill system. It has led to the creation of huge factories which employ thousands of people and where most of the work is performed automatically.
The birth of gigantic factories led to urbanisation and big cities came into existence. Many labourers, who were out of employment in rural areas migrated to the sites to work and settled around it. As the cities grew, so did the community of ‘labourers and with it was felt the need for all civic amenities which are essential for society. Their needs were fulfilled by establishing market centers, schools, colleges, hospitals, and recreation clubs. The area further developed when new business came to it with the formation of large business houses.
3. Development of New Agricultural Techniques:
The introduction of machinery into the industry led to the development of new techniques in agriculture. Agricultural production was increased due to the use of new chemical manure. The quality was also improved by the use of superior seeds. All these factors resulted in increase of production. In India, the effect of technology is most apparent in this direction because India is preeminently an agricultural country.
4. Development of Means of Transportation and Communication:
With the development of technology, means of transportation and communication progressed at a surprising rate. These means led to the mutual exchanges between the various cultures. Newspapers, radios, televisions etc. helped to bring news from every corner of the world right into the household. The development of the car, rail, ship and aeroplane made transportation of commodities much easier. As a result national and international trade made unprecedented progress.
5. Evolution of New Classes:
Industrialisation and urbanisation gave birth to the emergence of new classes in modern society. Class struggle arises due to division of society into classes having opposite-interests.
6. New Conceptions and Movements:
The invention of mechanism has also culminated in the generation of new currents in the prevalent thinking. ‘Trade Union’ movements, ‘Lockouts’, ‘Strikes”, “Hartals’, ‘Processions’, ‘Pen down’ became the stocks-in-trade of those who want to promote class interest. These concepts and movements become regular features of economic activity.
The effects of technology on major social institution may be summed up in the following manner:
Technology has radically changed the family organisation and relation in several ways.
Firstly, small equalitarian nuclear family system based on love, equality, liberty and freedom is replacing the old, authoritarian joint family system. Due to invention of birth, control method, the size of family reduced.
Secondly, Industrialisation destroying the domestic system of production has brought women from home to the factories and office. The employment of women meant their independence from the bondage of man. If brought a change in their attitudes and ideas. It meant a new social life for women. It consequently affected every part of the family life.
Thirdly due to technology, marriage has lost its sanctity. It is now regarded as civil contract rather than a religious sacrament. Romantic marriage, inter-caste marriage and late marriages are the effects of technology. Instances of divorce, desertion, separation and broken families are increasing.
Lastly, though technology has elevated the status of women, it has also contributed to the stresses and strains in the relations between men and women at home. It has lessened the importance of family in the process of socialisation of its members.
Technology has effected wide range of changes in our religious life. Many religious practices and ceremonies which once marked the individual and social life, have now been abandoned by them. With the growth of scientific knowledge and modern education, the faith of the people in several old religious beliefs and activities have shaken.
The most striking change due to technological advance, is the change in economic organisation. Industry has been taken away from the household and new types of economic organisation like factories, stores, banks, joint stock companies, stock-exchanges, and corporation have been setup. It has given birth to capitalism with all its attendant evils.
Division of labour, specialization of function, differentiation and integration all the products of technology. Though it has brought in higher standard of living, still then by creating much more middle classes, it has caused economic depression, unemployment, poverty, industrial disputes and infectious diseases.
Effects on State:
Technology has affected the State in several ways. The functions of the State has been widened. A large number of functions of family, such as educative, recreation, health functions have been transferred to the State.
The idea of social welfare State is an offshoot of technology. Transportation and communication are leading to a shift of functions from local Government to the Central Government. The modern Government which rule through the bureaucracy have further impersonalised the human relations.
Technological innovations have changed the whole gamut of social and cultural life. The technological conditions of the modern factory system tend to weaken the rigidity of the caste system and strengthen industrializations. It has changed the basis of social stratification from birth to wealth. Urbanization, a consequence of technological advance, produces greater emotional tension and mental strain, instability and economic insecurity.
There is masking of one’s true feelings. Socially, the urbanites are poor in the midst of plenty. “They feel lonely in the crowd”. On all sides, one is confronted with “human machines which possess motion but not sincerity, life but not emotion, heart but not feelings”. Technology has grown the sense of individualism. It has substituted the ‘handi work’ with ‘head work’.
It is clear from the above explanation that technology has profoundly altered our modes of life and also thought. It is capable of bringing about vast changes in society. But is should not be considered as a sole factor of social change. Man is the master as well as a servant of the machine. He has the ability to alter the circumstances which have been the creation of his own inventions or technology.
Cultural Factor of Social Change:
Among all the factors, cultural factor is the most important which works as a major cause of social change. Culture is not something static. It is always in flux. Culture is not merely responsive to changing techniques, but also it itself is a force directing social change.
Culture is the internal life forces of society. It creates itself and develops by itself. It is men who plan, strive and act. The social heritage is never a script that is followed slavishly by people. A culture gives cues and direction to social behaviour.
Technology and material inventions may influence social change but direction and degree of this depends upon the cultural situation as a whole. “Culture is the realm of final valuation”. Men interpret the whole world. He is the master as well as the servant of his own inventions or technology.
To employ Maclver’s simile, technological means may be represented by a ship which can set sail to various ports. The port we sail to remains a cultural choice. Without the ship we could not sail at all. According to the character of the ship we sail fast of ‘slow, take longer or shorter voyages.
Our lives are also accommodated to the conditions on ship board and our experiences vary accordingly. But the direction in which we travel is not predestinated by the design of the ship. The port to which we sail, the direction in which we travel, remains totally of a cultural choice.
It should be noted that technology alone cannot bring vast changes in society. In order to be effective “The technology must have favourable cultural support”. When the cultural factor responds to technological change, it also reacts on it so as to influence the direction and character of social change.
It may be noted that culture not only influences our relationship and values but also influences the direction and character of technological change. For example, different countries like Great Britain, Soviet Union, U.S.A. and India may adopt the same technology, but in so far as their prevalent outlook on life differs, they will apply it in different directions and to different ends.
The atomic energy can be used for munition of war and for production purposes. The industrial plant can turn out armaments or necessaries of life. Steel and iron can be used for building purposes and for warships. Fire can be used for constructive and destructive purposes.
For a better understanding of the relationship between culture and technology, let us analyse here the concept of “cultural lag”.
The concept of ‘cultural lag’, has become a favourite one with sociologists, it is an expression that has a particular appeal in an age in which inventions discoveries and innovations of many kinds are constantly disturbing and threatening older ways of living. In this context, it will serve also to introduce the principle that cultural conditions are themselves important agencies in the process of social change.
The concept of ‘cultural lag’ was first explicitly formulated by W.F. Ogburn in his treaties entitled ‘Social Change’. Lag means crippled movement. Hence, ‘cultural lag’ means the phases of culture which fall behind other phases that keep on moving ahead.
Ogburn’s idea of ‘cultural lag’ is perhaps one of the most important concept influencing the fact of discussion regarding technology and social change. Ogburn distinguishes between “material” and ‘non-material’ culture.
By ‘material culture’ he means things which are ‘tangible’, visible, seen or touched like goods, tools, utensils, furniture, machine. But the ‘non-material’ culture includes things which cannot be touched or tangible such as family, religion, skill, talent. Government and education etc.
According to Ogburn, when changes occur in ‘material culture’, those in turn stimulate changes in ‘non-material’ culture, particularly in what he terms the ‘adaptive’ culture. According to Ogburn, material culture changes by a process which is different in pace from changes in non-material culture.
The larger the technological knowledge of a society, the greater the possibility of a new combinations and innovations. Thus, material culture tends to grow exponentially. Because society cannot develop methods of controlling and utilizing new technology before the technology is accepted and used. There exists a “cultural lag” in creating controls and altering social relationship related to new conditions brought about by new technology.
Cultural lag is due to man’s psychological dogmatism. He is wedded to certain ideologies regarding sex, education and religion. On account of his dogmatic beliefs and ideologies, he is not prepared to change his social institutions. The failure to adopt social institutions to the changes in the material culture leads to cultural lag.
But Maclver points out that “unfortunately it is often adopted without adequate analysis and consequently it has not been developed in a clear and effective manner. According to him, the distinction is not a workable one. Nor again should be assumed that, it is always the ‘material’ or that the main problem is one of adapting the ‘non-material’ to the ‘material’ culture.
Maclver also observes that the term ‘lag’ is not properly applicable to relations between technological factors and the cultural patterns or between the various components of the cultural pattern itself. He has used different words like, ‘technological lag’, ‘technological restraint’, for the resulting imbalance in the different parts of culture.
Kingsley Davis, in his ‘Human Society’ holds that the aspect of culture cannot be divided into material and non-material and that this distinction in no way helps us to understand the nature of technology. Other sociologists, Sutherland, Wood Ward and Maxwell, in their book ‘Introductory Sociology’ point out that Ogburn is guilty of over simplifying the processes of social change.
Social change is a complex phenomenon. The rate, speed and direction of social change is not the same everywhere. So it cannot be explained by simply saying that change first takes place in material culture and thereafter in non-material culture. Ogburn has taken an over simple materialistic view of society.
In spite of various shortcomings, Ogburn’s theory of cultural lag has been proved to be beneficial for the understanding of the cultural factor in bringing about social change. It has been acknowledged by all that there is an intimate connections between the technological advance and our cultural values.
Hence, we may note here that our culture, our thoughts, values, habits are the consequences of technological changes; the latter also is the consequences of changes of the former. Both technology and cultural factors are the two important sources of social change. The two are not only interdependent but also interactive. Man does not simply want a thing but he wants a thing which may also be beautiful and appealing to his senses.
Dowson and Gettys, in introduction to Sociology’, rightly remark, “Culture tends to give direction and momentum to social change to set limits beyond which social change cannot occur.
It is the culture which has kept the social relationship intact. It makes people think not of their own but also of the others. Any change in cultural valuation will have wider repercussion on the personality of the individual and the structure of the group. Every technological invention, innovation, new industrial civilization or new factor disturbs an old adjustment.
The disturbance created by mechanism was so great that it seemed to be the enemy of culture, as indeed all revolutions seem. The wealth-bringing machine brought also, ugliness, shoddiness, haste, standardization. It brought new hazards, new diseases, and industrial fatigue.
That was not the fault of the machines and power plants. It was due to the ruthlessness and greed of those who controlled these great inventions. But human values or cultural values reasserted themselves against economic exploitation. Culture began, at first very slowly, to redirect the new civilization. It made the new means of living at length more tractable to the uses of personality and new arts blossomed on the ruins of the old.
To conclude, social systems are directly or indirectly the creation of cultural values. So eminent sociologist Robert Bierstedt has rightly remarked, “What people think, in short, determines in every measure… what they do and what they want”. Thus, there a definite relation is a definite relation between changing beliefs and attitudes and changing social institutions. So Hobhouse says, there is “a broad correlation between the system of institutions and mentally behind them”.
Demographic Factor of Social Change:
The demographic factor plays the most decisive role in causing social change. The quantitative view of demography takes into account the factors that determine the population: its size, numbers, composition, density and the local distribution etc.
The population of every community is always changing both in numbers and in composition. The changes in population have a far-reaching effect on society. During the 19th century, the population of most countries of Western Europe fell down. During the same time also, the death rate of these countries declined. This double phenomenon is unprecedented in the history of man.
Population changes have occurred all through human history. It is due to various reasons such as migration, invasion, and war, pestilence, changing food supply and changing mores. There was depopulation and overpopulation in times past. The swift and steady decline of both the birth rate and death in the past 70 years or so witnesses to a great social transformation.
In a society where the size or number of female children is greater than the number of male children, we will find a different system of courtship, marriage and family disorganisation from that where the case is reverse. Women command less respect in that community where their numbers are more.
It has always been recognised that there exists a reciprocal relation between population and social structure. The social structure influences population changes and is affected by them. It is beyond doubt that economic conditions and population rates are interdependent. Increasing 254 Social Change interaction results from an increase in the size and density of population. Increase in population also leads to an increase of social differentiation and a division of labour.
With the changes in size, number and density of population, changes take place in composition. The most important reasons for the contemporary population explosion are the tremendous technological changes on the one hand and a most spectacular advance in controlling the diseases by science and preventive medicines on the other hand.
Advancement in science and technology is indirectly boosting the world population by delaying the death rate. For example, take the case of ‘Malaria’. This disease was responsible for the death of million of people in India and other countries.
But it has now been completely eliminated by destroying the malaria carrying mosquitoes with the use of pesticides. Surgery too has advanced so much today. The vital organs of human body such as kidney and heart can be transplanted or replaced when worn out.
The growth of population has given birth to a great variety of social problems such as unemployment, child labour, wars, competition and production of synthetic goods. It has led to urbanization with all its attendant evils.
Countries with growing population and relatively limited resources have an incentive to imperialism and to militarism. These attitudes in turn, encourage a further increase of population. Increase in population threatens the standards of living and thus inspires a change of attitude.
Due to unprecedented growth of population in the 19th century, the practice of birth control took a new development. This practice (use of contraceptive), in turn, had many repercussions on family relationships and even on attitudes towards marriage.
With a change in population, there is also a change in a pattern of ‘consumption’. Societies having large number of children are required to spend relatively large amounts of money on food and education. On the other hand, societies with large proportions of elderly people have to spend relatively more amount on medical care.
In some cases, population changes may initiate pressures to change political institutions. For example, changes in the age, sex or ethnic composition of a people of then complicates the political process of country.
Besides, there is a close relationship between the growth of population and the level of physical health and vitality of the people. Because there are many mouths to feed, none gets enough nutritious food to eat, as a result chronic malnutrition and associated diseases become prevalent.
These, induce physical incompetence, apathy and lack of enterprise. Due to these people’s low level of physical well-being, they are socially backward and unprogressive. They show their indifference to improve their material welfare. An underfed, disease-ridden people are lethargic people.
Moreover, if the growth of population is checked, it would mean a higher standard of living, the emancipation of women from child-bearing drudgery, better care for the young and consequently a better society.
Demographers have shown that variation in the density of population also affects nature of our social relationship. In a low population density area, the people are said to exhibit a greater degree of primary relationship whereas in the area of high density of population, the relationship between people is said to superficial and secondary. In the opinion of Worth, high density areas witness the growth of mental stress and loneliness of life.
The importance of demography as a factor of social change has been realised by various sociologists and economists. An eminent French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, went on to the extent of developing a new branch of sociology dealing with population which he called “Social Morphology” which not only analyses the size and quality of population but also examine how population affects the quality of social relationships and social groups.
Durkheim has pointed out that our modern societies are not only characterised by increasing division of labour but also specialisation of function. The increasing division of labour and specialization of function have a direct correlation with the increasing density of population. He stresses on the fact that in a simple society with comparatively lesser number of people, the necessity of complex division of labour is less felt.
This society, according to Durkheim, is based on “mechanical solidarity”. But as the groups grow in size and complexity with the increase in population, the “services of the experts” are more required. The society, according to him, moves towards “organic solidarity”. There is, so to say, a drift from mechanical to organic solidarity.
M. David Heer, in his book “Society and Population”, has developed a “theory of demographic transition”. The theory was popularised just after the end of World War-II. It has provided a comprehensive explanation of the effects of economic development both on fertility and mortality decline.
Schneidar and Dornbusch, in their book “Popular Religion”, have pointed that decline in mortality rate evokes several changes in social structure. They have stressed on the point that due to decline in mortality rate in USA since 1875, negative attitude towards religious beliefs have been cultivated by the people.
They also point out that in a society wherein children die before reaching the age of five, parents may not develop a strong emotional attachment to their children and also in a high mortality society, arranged marriages are common, but in a low mortality society love marriages become the dominant feature. Again when mortality rate is high, individual tends to have a weaker orientation towards the future and stronger orientation towards the present.
Thomas Robert Malthus, an English cleargyman, mathematician and economist, was one of the earliest demographers. In his work, “An Essay on the Principles of Population”, published in 1978, he mentioned that under normal conditions, population would grow by geometrical progression, whereas the means of subsistence would grow by arithmetical progression. The imbalance or lag or gap between the two would create a lot of problems for society.
That is why, Malthus has pleaded for two types of checks which can keep the population down. He spoke of hunger and disease as positive check, and late marriage and enforced celibacy as the preventive check.
From the above analysis, we find that demographic factor has been contributing to the great transformations in society’s socioeconomic and political structure throughout human history. For example, most countries in Asia where more than half world population is now living, is characterised by high birth rate. These countries in general and Indian society in particular, are passing through a critical period of great poverty, unemployment and moral degeneration.
The gap between the living standards of general masses of these countries and that of the developed countries is widening. The gap is cruelly frustrating the third world country’s hopes for development.
With the current rate of population increase, it is expected that the total requirements for future health, education, housing and many other welfare needs are bound to increase. This will certainly bring the drastic changes not only in the microstructures, but also in macrostructures of Indian society.