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Friday, December 30, 2011

What is Social Change? and "No" it is not your Facebook update...

What is Social Change?

Understanding what Social Change means:

Everything changes, observed by Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It was he you pointed out that a man cannot step twice into the same river – for he is not quite the same man, nor is it quite the same river. This principle applies to every phenomenon known to us, from the dance of sub atomic particles to the expansion of the universe, from the gross and decay of living organisms to the development of individual personality. Societies, as we are only too well aware in the modern world, also change. By placing particular emphasis on the transformation that accompanies the shift from traditional, pre-industrial society to modern, industrialized society. Yet, although society change is a central concern of sociology, the question of how, why, and it would specific way societies change remains one of the most intriguing and difficult problems in the discipline.

Social change is the alteration in patterns of culture, social structure, and social behavior over time. No society can successfully prevent change, not even those that try to do so, although some societies are more resistant to change than others. But the rate, nature, and a direction of change differ greatly from one society to another. Over the past 200 years, the United States has changed from a predominantly agricultural society into an industrial and then to postindustrial one. In the same period, the society of the BaMbuti Pygmies of the central African forest has changed hardly at all. Why? What caused the great civilization of the past to flourish, and with lead up to their doom? Why did civilization arise in India long before it appeared in Europe? Why did industrialism emerging Europe rather than in India? Does social change take place in a haphazard manner, or are recurrent patterns to be found in all societies? Are all human societies moving towards similar social forms and a common destiny, or will they differ in the future as much as they have in the past?

Neal Houston, PhD

These are important questions, and they are as old as sociology itself. The man who first coined the term sociology, Auguste Comte, believed that the new science could lay bare the processes of social change and thus make it possible to plan the human future in a rational way. Almost without exception, the most distinguished sociologists of the 19th and 20th century have grappled with the problem of social change. As yet however, sociology has failed to fully meet the challenge. Many theories have been offered, but none have been able to win general acceptance. As Wilbert Moore (1960) comments: "The mention of theory of the social change will make most social scientist appear defensive, furtive, guilt ridden, or frightened."

Why does the study of social change present such a problem? One reason is that social change involves not only the past and present but also the future – and the future, of course cannot be known without certainty. A second reason for the difficulty is that social change usually involves a complex of interacting factors – environmental, technological, personal, cultural, political, religious, economic, and so on. To discover the cause or causes of change is therefore very difficult indeed – especially since we cannot rerun history or conduct laboratory experiments in large-scale social change to test our theories. And because each society is unique, we must be hesitant about using the experiences of one society as a basis for confident predictions about change in another. Nevertheless, these problems are not possible to overcome, and sociologist already have a good, through partial and tentative, understanding of the processes that social change involves. (Etzioni-Halevy 1981; Lauer,1982)

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