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Social change

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A set of social changes proposed for climate change mitigation

Social change is the alteration of the social order of a society which may include changes in social institutions, social behaviours or social relations. Sustained at a larger scale, it may lead to social transformation or societal transformation.[1]



Social change may not refer to the notion of social progress or sociocultural evolution, the philosophical idea that society moves forward by evolutionary means. It may refer to a paradigmatic change in the socio-economic structure, for instance the transition from feudalism to capitalism, or hypothetical future transition to some form of post-capitalism.

Social development is the people that develop social and emotional skills across the lifespan, with particular attention to childhood and adolescence. Healthy social development allows us to form positive relationships with family, friends, teachers, and other people in our lives.[2]

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 through cultural, religious, economic, environmental, scientific or technological forces.

Prominent theories


Change comes from two sources. One source is unique factors such as climate, weather, or the presence of specific groups of people. Another source is systematic factors. For example, successful development generally has the same requirements, such as a stable and flexible government, enough free and available resources, and a diverse social organization of society. On the whole, social change is usually a combination of systematic factors along with some random or unique factors.[3]

Many theories attempt to explain social change. One view suggests that 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.[4]

  • Christian: In Christianity & Judaism social change is seen in terms of God's blessings on faithfulness or curses on disobedience. See Deuteronomy chapter 28.
  • 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, seeing humankind's history as a fundamental "struggle between social classes".[5]
  • Kuhnian: The philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn argues in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions with respect to the Copernican Revolution that people are likely to continue utilizing an apparently unworkable paradigm until a better paradigm is commonly accepted. A Kuhnian approach to the study of societies is provided by the critical juncture approach to social order and change.
  • 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.[6] Thus one may think of the Heraclitan model as parallel to that of a living organism, which, in order to remain alive, must constantly change. 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.

Types of change


Social changes can vary according to speed and scope and impetus.[7] Some research on the various types of social change focuses on social organizations such as corporations.

Different manifestations of change include:

  • Fabian change[8] – gradual and reformist incremental amelioration after the manner of the Fabian Society
  • radical change[9] – improvements root and branch in the style of political radicalism
  • revolutionary change[10] – abrupt, radical and drastic change, with implications of violence and of starting afresh (perhaps most popular as a political bogeyman)
  • transformational change[11] – a New-age version of radical change, and thus difficult to define
  • continuous change, open-ended change – change (allegedly) for the sake of change[12]
  • top-down change – reliance on leadership[13]
  • bottom-up change[14] – reliance on the huddled masses
  • socio-tectonic change[15][16] – postulated deep-seated fundamental social shifts

Current examples


Global demographic shifts


One of the most obvious changes currently occurring is the change in the relative global population distribution between countries. In recent decades, developing countries have become a larger proportion of the world population, increasing from 68% in 1950 to 82% in 2010, and the population of the developed countries has declined from 32% of the 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 ones has also been slowing since 1960 and is now at 1.3% annually. Population growth among the least developed countries has slowed relatively little; as of 2022, the annual growth rate is 2.33%.[17]

Gendered patterns of work and care


In much of the developed world, changes from distinct men's work and women's work to more gender equal patterns have been economically important since the mid-20th century. Both men and women are considered to be great contributors[18] to social change worldwide.[19]

See also



  1. ^ Kavanagh, Donncha; Lightfoot, Geoff; Lilley, Simon (2021). "Are we living in a time of particularly rapid social change? And how might we know?". Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 169: 120856. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2021.120856.
  2. ^ Stine-Morrow, E. A. L.; Parisi, J.M. (January 2010). "The Adult Development of Cognition and Learning". Social development. Elsevier. pp. 225–230. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-044894-7.00474-7. ISBN 9780080448947.
  3. ^ Shackman, Gene; Ya-Lin Liu and George (Xun) Wang (2002). "Why does a society develop the way it does?": "[...] successful development generally requires a basic degree of social mobilization, structural differentiation, development of free resources, specialization and diversity of social organization, and a stable and flexible governmental system. Social, political and economic change can best be understood by combining systematic with more unique, random or coincidental factors."
  4. ^ Haferkamp, Hans, and Neil J. Smelser, editors. "Social Change and Modernity." Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992 1991. Page 2: "In our view any theory of change must contain three main elements that must stand in definite relation to one another:
    1. Structural determinants of social change, such as population changes, the dislocation occasioned by war, or strains and contradictions.
    2. Processes and mechanisms of social change, including precipitating mechanisms, social movements, political conflict and accommodation, and entrepreneurial activity.
    3. Directions of social change, including structural changes, effects, and consequences."
  5. ^ Compare: Wright, Sharon (1998). "Divisions and Difference". In Alcock, Pete; Haux, Tina; May, Margaret; Wright, Sharon (eds.). The Student's Companion to Social Policy (5 ed.). Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons (published 2016). p. 222. ISBN 9781118965979. Retrieved 30 October 2020. Marx believed the struggle between social classes would drive social change.
  6. ^ Warren, James (5 December 2014). Presocratics. Routledge. pp. 72–74. ISBN 978-1-317-49337-2.
  7. ^ Partridge, Lesley (2 November 2007). Managing Change. Amsterdam: Routledge (published 2007). p. 11. ISBN 9781136385827. Retrieved 30 October 2020. The pressures for change influence the type of change experienced – its speed and scope, and how it is introduced and planned. Change can be anywhere on a scale from radical to gradual. It may be imposed from above or initiated from below.
  8. ^ For example: Baltov, Victor Alexander (18 September 2012). "The Overseas Progressive New World Order March". Reclaiming the Strike Zone: Do It American (published 2012). p. 110. ISBN 9781477254868. Retrieved 30 October 2020. The only choice would be to accept Fabian change, whether it was desirable or not [...].
  9. ^ For example: Kaufman, Cynthia (2003). Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change (2 ed.). Oakland, California: PM Press (published 2016). ISBN 9781629632544. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  10. ^ For example: Johnson, Chalmers A. (1966). "Revolution: The Implications of a Political Concept". Revolutionary Change. Volume 47 of SP (Standford University) (2 ed.). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press (published 1982). p. 1. ISBN 9780804711456. Retrieved 30 October 2020. Revolutionary change is a special kind of social change, one that involves the intrusion of violence into civil social relations.
  11. ^ For example: Brown, Valerie A.; Harris, John A. (24 February 2014). The Human Capacity for Transformational Change: Harnessing the collective mind. Abingdon: Routledge (published 2014). ISBN 9781136263514. Retrieved 30 October 2020. Transformational change is always stochastic: it is the outcome of established systems having been disturbed by n unpredictable change.
  12. ^ Partridge, Lesley (2 November 2007). Managing Change. Amsterdam: Routledge (published 2007). p. 12. ISBN 9781136385827. Retrieved 30 October 2020. Open-ended change is characterised by a radical change, followed soon by another, and perhaps more to come.
  13. ^ Tabrizi, Behnam N. (18 October 2007). Rapid Transformation: A 90-Day Plan for Fast and Effective Change. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press (published 2007). pp. 79–80. ISBN 9781422163467. Retrieved 30 October 2020. [...] leaders who impose top-down change tend to overestimate both their ability to spread change through [an] entire organization without getting adequate buy-in and their ability to fully assess the scope of problems [...].
  14. ^ For example: Schermerhorn, John R. (1996). "Organization Culture and Change". Management (11 ed.). John Wiley & Sons (published 2010). p. 272. ISBN 9780470530511. Retrieved 30 October 2020. Bottom-up change tries to unlock ideas and initiative at lower organizational levels and let them percolate upward.
  15. ^ For example; Davey, Andrew (2004). "Editorial". Crucible. 43: 4. ISSN 0011-2100. [...] changes that happen in London are the harbingers of changes that will soon come to other towns and cities [...]. [...] One of London's most attractive yet puzzling features is the way that poverty and 'posherty' can co-exist on opposite sides of the same street. But if you think of that tarmac divide as some sort of socio-tectonic fault-line, along which various neighbourhoods have split and slid, then it all suddenly makes sense.
  16. ^ For example: Kumkar, Nils C. (21 March 2018). "The Demographics of the Mobilized: The Core Constituency of the Protests". The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and the Great Recession. Critical Political Theory and Radical Practice. Cham, Zug: Springer Nature. pp. 67–68. ISBN 9783319736884. Retrieved 22 April 2024. [...] I will use the available data from surveys and my own observations to delineate the class-generational units that form the core constituencies of the respective protest mobilizations and their corridors of experience or the large socio-tectonic shifts that affected these class-generational units.
  17. ^ "Population Growth for Least Developed Countries". Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 2022. Retrieved 30 July 2023.
  18. ^ Bandura, A. & National Inst. of Mental Health (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall, Inc., p. 118.
  19. ^ Bjørnholt, M. (2014). "Changing men, changing times; fathers and sons from an experimental gender equality study" (PDF). The Sociological Review. 62 (2): 295–315. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.12156. S2CID 143048732.

Further reading