Theories of Social change

Theories of Social change

Having discussed the meaning, characteristics, and types of change, let us now discuss various theories of change. The main theories of change are discussed below.

a) Theory of Deterioration:

some theorists identify social change with deterioration. They are of the opinion that man lived in perfect state of happiness in the golden age. However, deterioration began to take place, and now, man has reached an age of comparative degeneration. A similar notion is available in ancient Oriental and Indian mythologies, among others.

According to Indian mythology, man has passed through four ages – Satyug, Treatayug, Dwaparyug, and Kalyug. The Satyug was the best age. In Satyug, man was honest, truthful, and perfectly happy. Thereafter, degeneration began to take place. The modern age is the age of Kalyug, in which man is deceitful, false, dishonest, selfish, and, consequently, unhappy. The claims of these theorists are understandable, as we can observe deterioration in every walk of life today.

b) Cyclical Theory:

according to this theory, human society goes through cycles. According to Spengler, society has a predetermined life cycle which includes birth, growth, maturity and decline. Modern society is in its last stage. It is in its old age. But since history repeats itself, society, after passing through all the stages, returns to the original stage, and the cycle  begins once again.

c) Linear Theory:

There are a group of theorists who subscribe to the linear theory of social change. According to them, society advances in a linear fashion moving actually to an even higher state of civilization, and in the direction of improvement. This can be witnessed in the institution of marriage which in the course of time has passed from promiscuity to group marriage to polygamy to monogamy. Similarly, society has taken a linear course of
development transcending the primitive hunting and food gathering state to the settled agrarian state to capitalist industrialism. Similarly, the institution of family has taken a linear course of change from the extended joint family system to joint family to nuclear family. Hence, as per linear theory, society changes in a linear direction.

d) The Theory of Social and Cultural Dynamics:

This theory was propounded by P. Sorokin. Sorokin has attempted to include both cyclical and linear change. In his view, culture may proceed in a given direction for a time, and,
thus, appear to conform to a linear formula. But, due to internal forces within the system, there will be a shift of direction, and a new period of development will be ushered in. The new trend my be linear or oscillating or may conform to some particular type of curve. At any rate, it also reaches limits, and another trend takes place.

However, Sorokin identifies two types of culture, one sensate culture, and the other as ideational culture. In sensate culture, human interaction and symbolic expression are primarily designed to gratify the senses. Its philosophy is based on what can be learned, or perceived through the sense. The other cultural type is ideational, appealing most to the mind, or, the soul. Ideational art is abstract. Its philosophy is based on faith and religion. Sorokin believed that all societies alternate between sensate and ideational culture. The alternation is not regular or cyclic but it occurs repeatedly.

Hence, sensate culture begins to develop as an inevitable reaction to a highly organized ideational culture and vice versa. As, for instance, Indian society, which is spiritual in nature, is now becoming materialistic; and western society, which is materialistic, is bending towards spiritualism. The theory is questioned by those who ask: why is it natural for a society to change from its main cultural theme, and, why is the change between only two alternatives, sensate and ideational. Despite the criticism this work stands as a landmark.

e) Theory of Cultural Lag:

Ogburn suggested that technology is the primary engine of progress, but tempered by social responses to it. Thus, his theory is often considered a case of technological determinism. Ogburn posited four stages of technical development: invention, accumulation, diffusion, and adjustment. Invention is the process by which new forms of technology are created.

Inventions are collective contributions to an existing cultural base that cannot occur unless the society has already gained a certain level of knowledge and expertise in the particular area. Accumulation is the growth of technology, because new things are invented more rapidly and old ones are forgotten, and some inventions (such as writing) promote this accumulation process. Diffusion is the spread of an idea from one cultural group to another, or from one field of activity to another, and, as diffusion brings inventions together, they combine to form new inventions. Adjustment is the process by which the non technical aspects of a culture respond to invention, and any retardation of this adjustment process causes cultural lag.

f) Lewin’s three-step change theory:

according to Lewin, the first step in the process of changing behaviour is to unfreeze the existing situation, or status quo. The status quo is considered the equilibrium state. Unfreezing is necessary to overcome the strains of individual resistance and group
conformity. Unfreezing can be achieved by the use of three methods.

First, increase the driving forces that direct behaviour away from the existing situation, or status quo. Second, decrease the restraining forces that Change – An Overview negatively affect the movement from the existing equilibrium. Third, find a combination of the two methods listed above. Some activities that can assist in the unfreezing step which includes: motivate participants by preparing them for change, build trust and recognition for the need to change, and actively participate in recognizing problems and brainstorming solutions within a group.

g) The Lippitt seven-step theory of change:

the Lippit seven- step theory focuses on the role of the change agent throughout the evolution of the change.

The seven steps are listed below.
i) Diagnose the problem.
ii) Assess the motivation and capacity for change.
iii) Assess the resources and motivation of the change agent. This includes the change agent’s commitment to change, power, and stamina.
iv) Define progressive stages of change.
v) Ensure the roles and responsibilities of change agents are clear and understood. Examples of roles include the motivator, facilitator, and subject matter expert.
vi) Maintain the change through communication, feedback, and group coordination.
7) Gradually remove the change agents from relationship, as the change becomes part of the organizational culture.

h) Prochaska and Diclemente’s theory of change:

the Stages of Change Model was developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. The idea behind the SCM is that behavioural change does not happen in one step. Rather, people tend to progress through different stages on their way to successful change. Also, each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate. In each of the stages, a person has to grapple with a different set of issues and tasks that relate to changing behaviour.

i) Evolutionary Theories

All evolutionary theories assume that there is a consistent direction of social change  carrying all societies through a similar sequence of stages from the original to the final stage of development. Also, evolutionary theories imply that when the final stage is reached, evolutionary change will end. August Comte, a French scholar sometimes called the founder of sociology, saw societies passing through three stages of growth:
i) the theological stage, guided by supernatural wisdom
ii) the metaphysical stage, a transitional stage in which supernatural beliefs are replaced by abstract principles as cultural guidelines and
ii) the positive, or scientific , stage, in which society is guided by evidence based scientific laws.
j) Functional and Conflict Functionalists accept change as a constant which does not need to “explained.”

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