The societies change constantly. In fact, a society that does not change remains stagnant: it does not evolve. Therefore, social change must be understood and channeled. Understand this change only as an improvement, never as a detriment.
The study of changes in society has been done by various disciplines. Historians have created a narrative based on this succession of changes. Likewise, an attempt has been made to clarify the causes and consequences of such changes. On this matter, we want to give some insights in the paragraphs of this text.
If something determines the human being as a bio-psychic being, it is the continuous change to which he is always subjected . It is impossible to escape from the vital process: being born, growing, reproducing and dying, represent the general biological order changes.
On a less noticeable plane by its very nature , personality changes appear , as a consequence of the various agents that affect it and modify it. The people change, this is something that can not be denied. Biological changes, experiences and new expectations trigger modifications in the way of being.
The changes of human beings happen from childhood
Childhood can be exposed as a period of dependency , which is determined by a kind of extension of the mother’s “umbilical cord”.
The adolescence implies a lack; as its term indicates , the subject suffers from something. Having passed the first stage of life, the young man tries to shape his path; but, he realizes that he lacks the experience to do so.
After time, reached a new level in life , treasured experiences and data to live better, with better control of reactions and biological functions, maturity occurs. From now on, one enters the decline of life that ends with death.
The life process described above, from the historical perspective, is the vital sign that orders the functioning of the world . Human generations, generational change depends on that cycle. The phenomenon of life embodied in the individual, actor of social life, is transferred, in part, to the society that he creates.
The truth is that each stage implies a life cycle. Each of these cycles has certain attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors. Somehow, in each cycle, people are different. Also, their interests and way of seeing the world change. As we can see, people are in constant change.
It should be noted that societies also go through different cycles. In each of these cycles, society behaves differently. For example, they are not the same expectations of the community in the medieval period; than during the twentieth century.
Societies change constantly like people
Society does not have inescapable life cycles like individuals; however, it does experience continuous change . The sociologist Joseph Fichter defined “Social Change” as ” a variation of a previous state or fashion of existence. ”[ Sociology (1972). Barcelona: Editorial Herder, p.351, Cap. XV].
In this sense, “Social Change” does not necessarily imply a radical and profound change in reality. As will be seen later, several types of “Social Change” can be distinguished, but they all have the common denominator of transfiguring a previous scenario, a state of affairs, a fact that seems immovable.
It must be borne in mind that, many times, social changes occur slowly . They are even imperceptible to those who experience them. Sometimes, it is over time (when decades have passed since this change occurs) that social transformations become evident.
The factors of Social Change
A first statement would take into account the individual as an agent of social change . Society is capable of producing social change, other than what could be naturally. In this regard then all change would depend on the capacity and aptitude for that change that the individual has.
It should be clarified that, in the spectrum of societies belonging to the same era, the permeability to change varies from one to another . Which allows us to affirm that the factors of social change are outside of human nature, since this is essentially the same.
In reality, the catalysts for change are cultural in nature, assimilated or rejected by individuals. However, many times there are certain events that seem to be the paradigm of these changes. For example, the fall of the Roman Empire is considered to open the way to the medieval period. For its part, the French Revolution opens the floodgates of the way of thinking of modern societies.
There are many events at all times. However, it is people who allow certain events to affect them and make society change. This is an important thing to keep in mind.
In short, individuals as culture makers and carriers of it , allow themselves to permeate and change by it and, consequently, eventually lead to social change. The
However, cultures have their own internal systems of metamorphosis and change . Cultures do not depend solely on the individuals who create them. That is, individuals make culture, which in turn shapes them; but, culture depends on historical, racial, territorial, climatic factors, etc.
Are there specific causes that trigger social change?
A second extremely important point on the subject is that there is no single cause of social change. From the sociological point of view, neither race, nor chance, nor nature, nor the supremacy of some individuals (scientists, for example) constitute sufficient reasons for social changes.
Although, it should be taken into account that surely these factors partially influence it. However, many believe that they are not the factors that catapult the main consequences of these changes.
In fact, natural events and indeterminacy have been factors of change. In these times, for example, the world is experiencing the ravages of a pandemic, which goes beyond the field of health, disrupting economic and social systems.
These eventualities, such as the spread of an unknown virus , can produce social changes and produce mechanisms called “invention and diffusion, which will be discussed later”. In addition, certain diseases have previously caused changes in human societies. Such is the case of the Black Death, which altered much of the European demography in medieval times.
Natural factors influence social change
Natural factors cannot be totally controlled. The science and technology have provided partial solutions, but so far it is impossible to avoid the advent of hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, etc., and its consequences.
In this order, social change can be intentional or fortuitous. Not everything depends on the behavior of individuals and their decisions, made consciously. The social changes are not always the result of volitional acts nor the developed culture.
In certain cases social changes are intentional
However, the factors of change that do depend on individuals are those of a psychological nature, such as need, deficiencies and curiosity, which are present in all processes of social change.
The human life is a constant evolution, statism is an anomaly and when it occurs, voluntarily or forcibly, due to two factors:
- It is a time for rest or the turning point to regain strength and follow new paths
- Death is imminent. Staying static is synonymous with fatality. What does not change, or does not move, has died.
The leitmotif of life is to compensate for vital needs, seek transformation and overcoming bodily and biological limitations. Interestingly, this is only achieved with change. Statism does not generate anything that has to do with living.
The importance of individuals in social changes
Much has been achieved, for example, in the development of digital systems, whose binary character gives name and meaning to the Digital Age , and quantum computing is opening a new stage in the multidimensional processing of data. The human being tends to question reality and unravel the mysteries of nature.
In this context, the role of people with exceptional intellectual and creative gifts should be noted . Geniuses have a capacity above the average, and thanks to their actions, inventions, creativity, etc., they have produced substantial changes in the social fabric.
The disruptive capacity of geniuses does not depend on culture, although it may create the ideal conditions for their action.
Geniuses have existed in periods of both cultural prosperity and decline. Therefore, it would be a mistake to understand a causal relationship between genius and the culture where it occurs.
It is worth mentioning the figure of the physicist, inventor and tycoon Elon Musk, who is revolutionizing the strategies of space exploration and showing the way of future space travel and the interplanetary society that comes.
It must be said that individuals do influence social changes. But a single person is usually not so decisive. Its action is mixed with other factors of its time . It may even happen that a person’s action does not have immediate effects. His influence becomes apparent later, in the next generation.
The media and its influence on changes in a society
Other factors that generate social change dependent on individuals are mass communication systems and the media that promote them .
It should be noted that the media, and its multiple post- media dimensions (due to new communication and information technologies), are not the main agent of social change.
But, there is no doubt that ideas when they flow from one society to another can accelerate the processes of change. That is, many times they are not the actual cause of the changes.
What is its influence then? It happens that the media accelerate or catalyze changes . They make information go faster. That is why the 20th century (which has a huge media boom) is known as a 100-year period with the greatest amount of social change.
The computer media: something we cannot avoid
The power of digital social media ( digital social media ) in transmitting ideas and opinions is not a secret for anyone .
News and information flow much faster and in real time, and users themselves have become agents that produce information and content, without neglecting their importance as subjects of social change.
For better or for worse, for example, the power of social networks and globalized information could be seen in the spread of the 2019 social protests in Chile to other South American countries.
If the phenomenon is appreciated in past times, the backwardness of primitive or non-agrarian communities was due in part to the isolation of more civilized cultures. The cultural isolation and inter – human results in fewer possibilities for social change.
Isolated societies tend to less social change
Why does this happen? It happens that a society without contact with other communities receives less influences. At the same time, they do not find out about other factors such as: new technologies, modes of organization, diet or eating patterns, knowledge, etc.
From the above, it follows that our current globalized societies are more prone to change. Many people view this with concern. They feel that the excess of communication between different communities threatens the identity of each one of them.
However, we want to insist on the importance of change. The only way to progress is to change. A stagnant society is a society that never changes. Therefore, it is not so bad to have constant communication with other human groups. It is a way to get rich. In this case, you have to know what to copy or take into account that you are copying from other companies.
Changes due to population growth
The next factor of change is population concentration and growth. The increase in the birth rate, the decrease in infant mortality, the improvement in life expectancy, the rise in physical and mental conditions of people.
Although these conditions can be understood as the result of social change, they are also agents of change by themselves . The achievement of a better quality of life in the most important metropolises of the world is due, in part, to the sum of human potentialities.
For example: societies change after the Industrial Revolution . The reason? It happens that most of the population goes to live in cities. These urban entities grow and become metropolises. Thus, huge urban communities appear, such as the following:
- Guangzhou (China): with 16.9 million inhabitants.
- Bombay (India): 16.8 million inhabitants.
- Osaka (Japan): 17.2 million inhabitants.
- Mexico City : 19 million inhabitants.
- Sao Paulo (Brazil): 20 million inhabitants.
- New York (USA) : 20.5 million inhabitants.
- Tokyo (Japan): 37 million inhabitants.
How does living in such huge urban communities affect people? In this regard, a classic text on this subject is that of George Simmel : ” The metropolis and mental life.” In this short essay, he emphasizes that urban man is different, life is adapted en masse. In addition, it tends to the following traits:
- Intensification of nervous life.
- Tendency to introspection.
- It seeks to create groups (the first political parties arise in cities).
- Greater speed in actions and way of acting.
This is how the largest number of people in a metropolis creates changes in societies . Without a doubt, it is an important factor that must be taken into account in this matter.
The economic factor: the Marxist vision of changes in society
Together with the previous factor, the economy is of paramount importance . In addition, it is related to the psychological elements already mentioned: deprivation and human needs.
There are several variables that intervene in the constitution of society from an economic perspective. Not only regarding the availability of monetary resources, but also in the way how wealth is generated . For this reason, the Marxist interpretation of history speaks of the variation of the modes of production:
- Slave production mode (antiquity).
- Feudal mode of production (medieval)
- Capitalist mode of production.
- Socialist mode of production.
A country with better opportunities for access to vocational training implies greater permeability between social sectors, because education allows access to better wages. Productive work generates wealth and adds to the gross territorial product.
Those societies with profound differences in the distribution of wealth are susceptible to social changes, because the hope of individuals who do not see their economic needs and deprivations satisfied is being undermined.
The crises economic might lead to social change, represented by a new order in the distribution of taxes, wealth, individual rights and the political system itself.
Having said the above, the transformation of the political structure of a society , the process of change produced by the political factor, is added to the list of factors of social change.
Obstacles to social change
A first statement highlights the individual as the main agent of social change and at the same time the main obstacle. In general terms, younger societies show a better disposition to change than older ones.
Although it should be noted that youth is not a condition without which changes are not precipitated. For the rest, youth is not only a question of age, it is more a question of attitude. Great human beings have generated important social changes at ages above 40 years .
In any case, the social breakdowns that are transformed into better living conditions for the masses are supported by inhabitants who are mentally open to change. Conservative societies tend to mitigate the transformations that take place within them.
The natural factors that favor social changes can also hinder them when they overwhelm humans.
There are natural elements such as adverse weather, the lack of natural resources that facilitate human life, etc., that hinder interhuman relationships . It is not by chance that great civilizations have developed alongside river extensions.
Traditions, ideas and customs that stop changes
However, the great obstacle to social change are traditions and doctrinal ideas that, by definition, are closed to new considerations.
It is very difficult for a society anchored in the traditional family system , made up of the father, mother and children, to open up, for example, to other models, such as that of homosexual couples.
Although today the concept of family is broader, with the recognition of international organizations , there are still societies where only the traditional model is recognized.
The same has happened with many inventions of enormous relevance to humanity. Throughout the historical evolution, factors such as religion, strict moral criteria, conservative ideas, have hindered and delayed scientific-technological progress.
Types of social change and their mechanisms of action
In sociological preaching there is no exemplary explanation of social changes. Societies do not go through certain more or less constant rhythms, such as from agriculture to primitive production and industry, successively; from dispersion to concentration; from the dictatorial to the democratic.
However, although sociology does not recognize the existence of evolutionary cycles (and there are no laws that systematize these processes), it is evident that basic processes do occur, although they do not occur in all societies.
The sociologist Ralph Linton describes three fundamental mechanisms for social change to occur: a) discovery, b) invention, and c) diffusion. [See: Study of Man (1963). Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, pp. 298-315].
- The discovery is all accomplished in any instance to enhance the capabilities of knowledge of individuals
- The invention is the implementation of what has been discovered. In order to transition from discovery to invention, it takes more than intentions, it is essential that it be a socially unknown thing or something.
- The spread is the transmission of cultural content from one society to another.
Through the mechanisms described above, situations of change and processes of evolution, lag and revolution are produced .
The evolution is the gradual transformation of the cultural elements that make up a society. Two characteristics emerge from here, namely:
- a) It is part of the existing cultural content, which is intended to correct, change or improve
- b) The evolutionary fact becomes gradually and consequently.
Evolutionary events occur without almost causing violence on society. The progressive and gradual nature of evolution makes the changes practically imperceptible for most individuals, except when they are viewed in a historical sense.
All evolution stems from the discovery of new forms or ideas and their practical applications.
If today the common citizen can store huge amounts of data on his computer and navigate the so-called information highway (Internet), it is precisely because of the development of the idea of digital computing and the interconnection between these same systems.
To the extent that societies allow themselves to be permeated by the theoretical and practical aspects that exist in discovery and invention, accept their gifts and spread in them, evolution arises to a greater or lesser extent. Evolutionary change is more or less slow, it all depends on its mechanisms.
All evolutionary change is related to the degree of acceptance or imposition that is generated in a society .
It is then possible, in the case of less permeable societies, that what Ogburn and Nimkoff call “ lag ” to happen . For them, this term is defined as “ the tension that exists between two correlative parts of the culture that change at different degrees of speed ”. [Ogburn, W. and Nimkoff M. Sociology (1958). Madrid: Editorial Aguilar, p. 752].
To this end, in the phenomenon of lag, the notion, invention or discovery of one society or another, whose knowledge or diffusion has been partially or totally achieved, does not come to be accepted by society.
This produces cultural backwardness, since it is assumed that what is discovered or invented is good for the objectives and values that the laggard society seeks. And it is that the lag comes from that lack of acceptance or the little strength that the novelty possesses to impose itself on the population or society.
From the cultural point of view, there is no lag properly speaking, if the new contradicts the values that the society in question pursues, although they are questionable for many.
However, when you persist in the conservation of retrograde ideas to the bare table, with your back to the qualitative and positive aspects of the novelty , you can speak of lag.
Having defined the characteristics of evolution and lag, as the first and second types of social change, the third should be defined: the revolution.
The revolution is a comprehensive and rapid process that involves all areas and most of the values of a given society.
In most cases, revolutions are characterized by two periods: the first, of great and antagonistic changes with the pre-existing state of affairs; the second, of synthesis between the ideas and values of the new and old order.
The episodes of violence are not essential components of the revolutionary processes of change, although this has been the most common. The degree of acceptance that revolutionary ideas have in society, or also the potential for force that they can display, comes to play a fundamental role.
For this reason, the evaluation of a revolutionary process should be done with sufficient historical distance. For example, The French Revolution was a revolutionary process that originated profound social changes, not only in France, but in America. Its consequences are still under study today.
Social change in light of these times
A summary list of global social changes would have to include technological globalization , which has eliminated the physical distances that separate human beings around the planet.
Beyond the technological gaps between first and third world societies , there is no doubt that there has been an atomization of the individual power of the so-called netizens, influencers and users on the Internet.
Currently, new ways of acting in the face of production processes are being consolidated , such as teleworking , the Internet of things, the robotization of manual work, remote and autonomous driving (without a driver) of cars …
A series of fundamental technological changes that go beyond the consequences of the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg, in the middle of the 14th century, and cover all fields of knowledge.
Today remote assistance is possible in the execution of surgical interventions , it is possible to expand consciousness through the visualization of imaginary and projective virtual worlds of future realities. The Digital Age includes innumerable revolutions of social, technological, philosophical, scientific, cultural order …
Societies evolve, change, gradually or by leaps and bounds . On this point it is impossible to determine from social psychology , which is the best way for social change.
There are external, natural, contextual, cultural, human, technological determinants, which vary in the form of numerous combinations. It is worth saying that all these determinants are usually combined. Social changes are not an isolated factor, but the sum of many circumstances.
It is discussed in these times if the pandemic that afflicts humanity will determine a before and after in the ordering of societies, from major issues such as the economy to the intimate, subjective life of people.
You try to visualize the future , but you don’t have enough data to do it. Only a historical look can clear up doubts about the social consequences of this pandemic.
Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.