Social change refers to an alteration in the social order of a society. The base of social change is change in the thought process in humans. It may refer to the notion of social progress or sociocultural evolution, the philosophical idea that society moves forward by dialectical or evolutionary means. It may refer to a paradigmatic change in the socio-economic structure, for instance a shift away from feudalism and towards capitalism. Accordingly it may also refer to social revolution, such as the Socialist revolution presented in Marxism, or to other social movements, such as Women's suffrage or the Civil rights movement. Social change may be driven by cultural, religious, economic, scientific or technological forces.
Change comes from two sources. One source is random or unique factors such as climate, weather, or the presence of specific groups of people. Another source is systematic factors. For example, successful development has the same general requirements, such as a stable and flexible government, enough free and available resources, and a diverse social organization of society. So, on the whole, social change is usually a combination of systematic factors along with some random or unique factors.
There are many theories of social change. Generally, a theory of change should include elements such as structural aspects of change (like population shifts), Processes and mechanisms of social change, and directions of change.
- Hegelian: The classic Hegelian dialectic model of change is based on the interaction of opposing forces. Starting from a point of momentary stasis, Thesis countered by Antithesis first yields conflict, then it subsequently results in a new Synthesis.
- Marxist: Marxism presents a dialectical and materialist concept of history; Humankind's history is a fundamental struggle between social classes.
- Kuhnian: The philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn argues in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions with respect to the Copernican Revolution that people are unlikely to jettison an unworkable paradigm, despite many indications that the paradigm is not functioning properly, until a better paradigm can be presented.
- Heraclitan: The Greek philosopher Heraclitus used the metaphor of a river to speak of change thus, "On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow" (DK22B12). What Heraclitus seems to be suggesting here, later interpretations notwithstanding, is that, in order for the river to remain the river, change must constantly be taking place. Thus one may think of the Heraclitan model as parallel to that of a living organism, which, in order to remain alive, must constantly be changing. A contemporary application of this approach is shown in the social change theory SEED-SCALE which builds off of the Complexity Theory subfield of Emergence.
- Daoist: The Chinese philosophical work Dao De Jing, I.8 and II.78 uses the metaphor of water as the ideal agent of change. Water, although soft and yielding, will eventually wear away stone. Change in this model is to be natural, harmonious and steady, albeit imperceptible.
- Resource-based economy: Jacque Fresco's concept of a resource-based economy that replaces the need for the current monetary economy, which is "scarcity-oriented" or "scarcity-based". Fresco argues that the world is rich in natural resources and energy and that — with modern technology and judicious efficiency — the needs of the global population can be met with abundance, while at the same time removing the current limitations of what is deemed possible due to notions of economic viability. Fresco's work in The Venus Project deals with physical reality and natural law rather than economic abstractions. The Venus Project's website says this: "The Venus Project is neither Utopian nor Orwellian, nor does it reflect the dreams of impractical idealists. Instead, it presents attainable goals requiring only the intelligent application of what we already know."
One of the most obvious changes currently occurring is the change in population distribution. In the recent decades, developing countries became a larger proportion of world population, increasing from 68% in 1950 to 82% in 2010, while population of the developed countries has declined from 32% of total world population in 1950 to 18% in 2010. China and India continue to be the largest countries, followed by the US as a distant third. However, population growth throughout the world is slowing. Population growth among developed countries has been slowing since the 1950s, and is now at 0.3% annual growth. Population growth among the less developed countries excluding the least developed has also been slowing, since 1960, and is now at 1.3% annual growth. Population growth among the least developed countries has not really slowed, and is the highest at 2.7% annual growth.
See also 
- Gene Shackman, Ya-Lin Liu and George (Xun) Wang. Why does a society develop the way it does? 2002. Available at http://gsociology.icaap.org/report/summary2.htm
- Haferkamp, Hans, and Neil J. Smelser, editors Social Change and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992 1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6000078s/
- Shackman, Gene, Xun Wang and Ya-Lin Liu. 2011. Brief review of world population trends. Available at http://gsociology.icaap.org/report/demsum.html
- Eisenstadt, SN (1973). Tradition, Change, and Modernity. Krieger Publishing Company.
- Giddens, A (2006). Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Haralambos, M and Holborn, M (2004). Sociology: themes and perspectives. London: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
- Harper, CL (1993). Exploring social change. Engelwood Cliffs: New Jersey.