Social Change – Concept, types, agents, factors and movements

We explain what social change is, its types, agents and what factors promote it. Also, what are social movements.

social change
Social changes are observed in cultural symbols, rules of conduct or values.

What is social change?

In sociology, the concept of social change is used to name the processes of alteration of the mechanisms that make up the social structure of a nation or a community. That is, its significant and appreciable changes in its cultural symbols, its social organization, rules of conduct or value systems: everything that dictates how a society conceives itself.

It is a concept widely used in the studies of history, economics and politics, linked to changes in the human paradigm that we commonly call “revolutions” or “progress”, and which are determined by factors of various kinds.

In general, this is considered a historical process that can be studied from different perspectives. On the other hand, the term social change is also used in the language of social militancy, that is, of the conscious pursuit of the improvement of society, by those who argue that a transformation in the way society functions is essential to do so. fairer.

Social change has been a frequent phenomenon throughout human history, but Its appearance as a concept is due to the French positivist theorist Auguste Comte (1798-1857), author of a first theory to explain social transformations.

Comte’s theory, like so many others in the 19th century, owed much to the idea of ​​Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, that is, he thought that societies, as well as forms of life, follow a certain course of transformations in largely due to its adaptation to the environment.

Later theoretical schools, such as that of Marxism, preferred to see in social change not the expression of a passive and natural process, but of determining historical factors, arising from the contradictions inherent to society and from the struggle between their social classes to dominate society. economy.

Types of social change

Social changes are classified into five categories, depending on the conditions in which they occur and the type of reasons that motivate the paradigm shift. These categories are:

  • Social struggle. It occurs when a certain sector of society manages to impose its overall vision on the other, carrying out significant changes despite having the opposition of a fraction of society. A clear example of this is the approval of equal marriage (for homosexual couples) in more and more democratic societies around the world, despite the opposition of the most conservative sectors of society.
  • Social evolution. Also called social updating, it is about slow and gradual changes that occur over long periods of time, in which significant transformations are installed as new generations adhere to them, and the old generations that could oppose them disappear. An example of this type of change was the incorporation of women into the Western workforce as a result of World War II, which marked the beginning of a coming change in the place of women within the productive structure, giving rise to the emergence of new feminist currents, for example.
  • The revolution. In this case it is about abrupt, violent, radical changes that uproot a social order, to impose a status quo. These types of events usually involve large doses of violence, anarchy and human losses, and their result does not always end up producing an improvement, but can lead to setbacks (restorations) or the emergence of dictatorships and totalitarianisms. They are highly unpredictable. An example of this was what happened in the French Revolution of 1789, in which the bourgeoisie and the peasantry rose up against the feudal order in a violent way, uprooting the aristocracy from power through arms and beheading the kings to establish the Republic and proclaim for the first time the universal rights of the human being.
  • The crises. Also understood as economic restructuring or temporary changes in the economy, these are moments of breakdown of the productive or financial system, which bring with them much social unrest (without reaching revolutionary extremes) and which, nevertheless, allow the system to readjust to face the new challenges. This rearrangement does not always mean a solution to the crisis, unfortunately, and many of them tend to extend over time and become chronic. An example of this was the Venezuelan economic crisis at the end of the 1990s, a consequence of the collapse of the oil rentier economic model, and which laid the foundations for the arrival of the self-styled Bolivarian Revolution led by Hugo Chávez.
  • Derivative changes. Perhaps the least noticeable of all, consist of the small accumulation of minor changes that, in the long run, manage to influence the general model of society and promote a significant transformation. This is the case, although on a much faster and more vertiginous scale, of the incorporation of cell phones into our lives since the end of the 20th century, which eventually brought with them a new paradigm of communication, social relations and work, whose first evidences were noticed at the beginning of the XXI century.

Factors of social change

The factors of social change are the elements or conditions that can promote it, and that to a large extent determine the type of change that occurs. These factors can be classified according to their nature in:

  • Demographic factors, when they have to do with the constitution of the mass itself, that is, with the processes that affect the population, such as migration, birth rates, public health, etc.
  • Cultural factors, when they respond to the tradition of thought and values ​​of the community, be it religious, moral, sexual, etc.
  • Technological factors, when they are due to the appearance of a new technology that has a significant impact on the structure of production, or on human social relations, or on some key aspect of life.
  • Ideological factors, when they respond to the appearance in the community of new currents of thought and / or new political and / or economic models.

In turn, these factors can be classified into three types, depending on their role within the paradigm shift:

  • Generating or causative factors, those that openly promote social change, and that can be very diverse in nature: individual, collective, objective, subjective, etc.
  • Catalytic factors, that is, those that accelerate a change that had already been implemented, and that are often key for the change to reach its critical moment and take place.
  • Modulating factors, which affect the very way in which change occurs and can lead it one way or another, significantly altering its results.

Agents of social change

Agents of social change are called the people or institutions that have the power to influence the way society is structured, either because they have a lot of relevance within it, a lot of economic power, capacity for political convocation, or because they are part of a movement that brings together these potentialities.

The agents of a social change are those who play an active role in achieving the paradigm shift, although in many cases they may not be aware of it. Young generations, for example, tend to play a vital role in incorporating change into society, often without even noticing it, through their consumption habits.

Social movements

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Social movements are organized social agents that share interests.

Social movements are the formal groupings of individuals who pursue a common social goal, generally of a vindictive type or linked to social justice. These are not political parties, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or companies of any kind, but rather organized social agents who share a class identity and therefore a set of interests.

Social movements are important agents of social change, capable of carrying out actions to push society in a certain direction, such as strikes, demonstrations, popular assemblies and even political proposals determined in open meetings and other forms of citizen participation.