Theories of Social change

Social change vs cultural change

Social Change

Social change is any change that basically alters the established forms of social relationships, thus transforming in some measure, the social structure. It is a change that reflects in all aspects of social life, i.e., family, neighbourhood, play group, work group, religion, economic, political spheres, and leisure activities.

Social change may be partial or total, though mostly it is partial, a change resulting
from enacting a law prohibiting untouchability might be called a partial change in society. Social change can be defined as ‘’ a process by which alteration take place in the structure and function of a social mechanism ‘’. Evolution, invention of new techniques, adaptation of new ideas are examples of social change. Alteration, both in the structure and function, of a social system occur as a result of such a thing. Social change and development takes place in societies.

The wheel of social change cannot be stopped. The process of social change starts when an innovation spreads in a society. Social change is accepted easily in some societies, while others show rigidness in acceptance.

There is a great confusion about social and cultural change. Some have made a distinction between social change and cultural change, while others have considered these two terms as one and the same thing.

For Gillin and Gillin and Davison and Gettys, there is no difference between social and cultural change, since all culture is social in its origin, meaning and usage. Gillin and Gillin write, “Social changes as variations from the accepted modes of life, whether due to alteration in geographic conditions in cultural equipment, composition of population or ideologies”. For these writers, social change is a part of cultural change. Cultural change is broader than social change which envelopes social change also in its fold. For them, society is the product of culture.

However, there are sociologists who see a difference between the two. Maciver and Page write: “Social change is a distinct thing from cultural or civilisational change. Cultural change includes change in ideology, administrative system, technology, etc. Cultural change indicates changes in the accepted mode of life, habit patterns, and lifestyle, e.g. invention of T.V., new forms of music, art, dance, etc”.

Fairchild defines social change as a “variation or modification in any aspect of social process, pattern or form. It may be progressive or regressive, permanent or temporary, planned or unplanned, unidirectional or multidirectional”.

Lundberg, Schrug and Larson have defined social change as “any observable difference in any social phenomena over a period of time”. Robert MacIver and Charles H. have defined social change as “changes in social relationship”. Wilberg F. Moray defined social change as “significant alteration in social structure, i.e., patterns of society including consequences and manifestation of such structure and body mean — norms, values, cultural products
and symbols”.

For Davis, “Social change is only a part of a broader category of change called ‘cultural change’. Cultural change refers to all changes occurring in any branch of culture including art, science, technology, philosophy, etc, social change refers to change in the social structure, e.g., changes in the social institutions, modifications, family relations, etc., whereas cultural change refers to change in material and non material elements”.

Cultural Change

Before going on to discuss cultural change, let us discuss the term, culture. Culture, according to Herskovitz is the man made part of the environment. For instance, it may be very hot outside, but inside, the house is air cooled. This air cooled part of the house is man made, hence, it is a part of the culture. Similarly, everything inside your house which is man made is part of culture. Culture manifests itself in two forms – material culture and non material culture. Material culture is the concrete part of culture, , i.e., anything which is man made and is visible, can be touched and sensed, e.g., table, chair, refrigerator, chalk, pen, etc. The non material aspect of culture includes anything which is man made, but is abstract, e.g.

language, belief system, morality, etc. According to Tylor, culture is that part of a complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and capacities acquired by man as member of society. In this definition, the phrase ‘any other capabilities and capacities acquired by man as member of society’ is
very important. So, what ever we learn as a member of society is our culture, whether it is in concrete form, the dressing style, cuisine, etc., or, in the abstract form, i.e., language, conception of God, truth, etc.

Any change in the material or non material aspects of culture is cultural change. According to David Dessler, cultural change is the modification or discontinuance of existing  ‘tried’ and ‘tested’ procedures transmitted to us from the culture of Change – An Overview
the past, as well as the introduction of new procedures, e.g., inventions and popularization of automobiles, addition of new words in language, changing concept of property, morality, new form of music, art, dance, new styles in architecture and sculpture, new rules of grammar or meter, the general trend towards gender equality, etc., all of which represents cultural changes.

Almost all important changes involve both social and cultural change. Change in one aspect affects each and every other aspect. This is because one change may lead to many other changes. For instance, basic change like a change in the ways in which a society earns its living, or conducts its economic activity, and exploits the environment can affect almost all the other components of society.

This is because, society and culture are an integrated whole. For example, as the population changes, technologies expand, material equipment changes, ideologies and values take on new components and institutional structure, and functions are reshaped. Since culture is a part of society, cultural change is part of social change. Cultural change is narrow, while social change is wider in approach.