Factors of social change
A group of theorists focus on the causal factors behind social change, rather than the direction of change. According to them, there are certain forces, social or natural, or both, which bring about social changes. They point to the presence of certain forces and circumstances which determines the course of social change.
Each and every theorist has pointed out different factors underlying change. A brief discussion on the main factors of change has been given below.
a) Biological factors: the biological factors of social change include flora, fauna and human beings. The human biological environment includes the factors that determine the numbers, the composition, the selection, and the hereditary of the successive generations. The human element in society is always changing, thereby, continuously inducing regular changes. For example, a change in the population, both in number and composition, affects society at large. In societies where the number of female children is greater than the number of male children, one can observe the existence of polygamous marriages (one man with two, or more, wives). In societies where there are more males than females, polyandrous marriages (one women with several husbands) are prevalent.
b) Physical factors: the physical factors of social change include floods, famines, earthquakes, natural disaster, etc. You might have observed the impact of these physical factors in changing the life of a community. Physical factors govern social conditions because every culture develops in some sort of physical setting. If the physical setting changes, a society is bound to change. For example in poles and in deserts there is not much scope for art and learning as all the available time is spent in arranging materials to keep oneself alive. The situation is just the opposite in areas where there is ample scope for development of art and culture due to a settled lifestyle and agrarian economy.
c) Technological factors: the technological factors of social change include changes in production technology, the means of communication, and transportation, etc. The technological inventions in the form of factory machines, home appliances, multimedia, online business, banking, shopping, etc., have dramatically changed our working and life. We can see how the internet has revolutionized society. With the help of technology we now perform age old activities in less time, with better efficiency, and effectiveness. Hence, technological factors are one of the important sources of social change.
d) Economic factors: the economic interpretation of social change has been explained by Karl Marx. Marx heavily emphasized the importance of economic factors in his theories of Historical Materialism and Economic Determinism. According to him, the sub structure (economic system) of Change – An Overview society determines the super structure (religion, legal framework, political system, etc.). Marx stated that the character of a society depends on economic activity, and the means and modes of production which transforms itself in to the norms of society, i.e., the norm of barter, trade, exchange, property, etc. The change in these norms introduces further changes throughout the
fabric of society.
According to him social revolution takes place when there is a conflict between the existing relations of production, or the existing property relations and the new modes of production. He is of the opinion that, throughout history, there have been two conflicting classes in different epochs of history, i.e., masters and slaves in primitive societies, feudal lords and serfs in feudal societies; and, now, factory owners and workers in capitalist societies. He pointed out that the inherent weaknesses of one system gives birth to a new system. This way social change is a continuous phenomenon because it is based on the dialectic principle of thesis (opinion), antithesis (contra-opinion) and synthesis (a mix of opinion and contraopinion). Hence, society keeps changing on account of this dialectic process and changes in economic system.
e) Cultural factors: the influence of cultural factors on social change has been explained by Ogburn in his Cultural Lag theory. According to him, the various elements of culture do not change at the same rate. Some parts change more rapidly than others, and, that since there is a correlation and interdependence of parts, a rapid change in one part of our culture requires readjustments through other changes in various correlated parts of culture.
He stated that nonmaterial culture is often slow to respond to rapid inventions in material culture. This is easy to witness as people are reluctant to give up old values, customs, and beliefs in favour of new ones. When nonmaterial culture does not adjust itself readily to the material change it falls behind the material culture, and the result is a lag between the two. This lag between non material and material culture has been called Cultural Lag. Ogburn concluded that the problem of adjustment in modern society is to enable the
non material aspect of culture to catch up with the material aspect. That means that man, in order to remove the gaps between the two parts of culture, should adopt his ways of thinking and behaving to the state of his technology.
f) Legal factors: law is an important formal means of social change. Legal regulations either may, or may not, confirm to the pattern of society. If the law does not conform with society, it faces opposition. But if the law is stringently upheld, it induces a change in social organization. For example, child marriages have been a customary practice in many communities in India, but after the introduction of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, child
marriages have reduced, and the same happened with the sati system, now almost unheard of in India, after the introduction of Sati Prohibition Law. The law relating to marriages, widow remarriages, girls share in property, right to information, etc., has changed society.