Social Change is the occurrence of transformations in a society’s culture, values and organizations. These changes usually occur as a response to perceived problems and injustices in a given time and place. Examples include the civil rights movement, LGBTQ rights and environmentalism. These movements may be a result of scientific discoveries, technological innovations and/or personal experiences. These types of changes can have both positive and negative effects on societies. Some social changes, such as the industrialization of agriculture and the development of modern medicine, have improved health and quality of life for populations. However, these same changes can also lead to war and poverty in some societies.
Some theories of social change emphasize that all human societies move through similar processes. Lewis Morgan, for example, believed that all societies follow a path that begins with savagery, then barbarism and finally civilization. This unilinear theory is supported by other early sociologists like August Comte and Emile Durkheim. Other theorists, like the American cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, believe that societies evolve differently, with some following a multilinear path.
Regardless of what the theoretical model is, all societal changes are subject to many variables that make them difficult to predict or predictably measure. These variables include the rate at which new ideas and beliefs spread, the degree to which one social change is influenced by other social changes and whether the overall direction of a given social change is one of increase or decrease.
These models of social change are only approximations. They can only be compared to real-life situations with great difficulty. The actual process of social change is complicated by the fact that it can occur at any level of the organization. It can be a local issue, such as an environmental cause, or it can be a large-scale phenomenon such as a war or revolution.
Many of these social changes are influenced by technology, such as advances in transportation and communications. In some cases, these technological developments can radically alter the way in which people live. For example, the Industrial Revolution led to the replacement of farms with factories and decreased family sizes.
Other causes of societal changes are ideological, such as the rise of feminist and anti-racist beliefs. Religious beliefs, such as the belief in a soul and karma, can also influence social change. In addition, societal needs can trigger changes, such as the need for a higher minimum wage or a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Individuals can take steps to encourage and support social change. They can start small, by supporting a political candidate or organizing a community meeting. Many local activism efforts have snowballed into larger movements, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the ’50s that led to the civil rights movement. They can also prioritize one of the many different social issues and focus their attention on that specific area. This can help prevent people from becoming overwhelmed by all of the social change that they think they can make.