Social change – What it is, definition and concept

Social change is the variation of the social structure. This structure is made up of a series of elements, so the magnitude of the change will depend on the intensity of the variation of these elements.

A social change supposes the alteration or variation of the elements that make up the social structure. Elements such as values, norms, ways of relating, governing, etc. If all this remains stable, it is said that there is social harmony. On the contrary, if these elements change, such as social values, norms or more traditional customs, a social change is taking place.

These social changes take place over time.

They can be carried out in a very short period, as is the case with revolutions. Or be carried out in a much broader period, as is happening in recent years, which has little to do with the western society of the last century with that of the present.

The generational change is highly palpable, something that did not happen years ago, whose changes were slower. Hence, for centuries, political and social life has remained practically the same.

Causes of social change

The causes of changes in a society can be highly variable. There may be changes in religion, politics, ideologies, demographics and technology, assuming a change in prevailing traditions and values.

Let’s summarize each of them:

  • Religion: There have been social changes inspired by the appearance of a new religion or, rather, with the appearance of new branches. This happened with the emergence of Protestantism and its many internal currents. The emergence of new ideas within religion causes social changes. But it does not only happen when a new interpretation of faith emerges. But also with the intensity with which one lives. Western society is experiencing significant secularization on a global level. It also happens in Islamic countries, where more and more radical groups are emerging. This entails a profound social transformation.
  • Politics: The way of practicing it, the form of government of a certain country, everything influences social change. It is not the same to live under a totalitarian or authoritarian system than under a democracy. Or under an absolute monarchy and another parliamentary one. Day-to-day life and the way of doing politics can also lead to social change. The policy focused on maximizing the vote and the economic and electoral benefits is not the same; than a depoliticized society or a reasonable and sensible political class.
  • Ideology: Probably, the great change in the social and political paradigm came from the irruption of the revolutionary ideologies of the 19th century. These ideologies raised the figure of the common people and the most humble figures of society, at the cost of the loss of privileges and benefits of the elites and the ruling classes. What led to communist, socialist and even social democratic states.
  • Demography: Variations in birth and death rates, caused by health advances, have led to great social progress. The global population has grown almost exponentially in recent years, which represents a change in the ways of life of societies.
  • Technology: Industrial revolutions and their advances brought with them very relevant changes such as the steam engine, large industrial conglomerates, delimited working hours or the division of labor. The most recent advances brought by the most modern technology are bringing true contemporary social changes.
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Consequences of social change

The consequences derived from social change can be very diverse.

We can say that the net balance of social changes is positive. Democracy as a form of government has grown a lot and its expansion is increasing; life expectancy is higher than ever; extreme poverty has been reduced at a dizzying rate; many countries grant equal rights to all people without discrimination; illiteracy is extinct in a large number of countries.

As we can see, we can say that social changes have resulted in us being in the best moment that humanity is living. But not everything is good, there is great inequality among the world population. Countries immersed in constant wars; widespread and normalized poverty among the majority of the population of some countries; child exploitation; undemocratic regimes, etc.

It should also be noted that social changes have not always brought positive consequences.

In some cases there has been a general involution of society. As has happened in some Middle Eastern countries with the rise of Islam in the 20th century. Or with the decline of civilizations that have brought other less desirable ones. Or with the end of governments that have given rise to totalitarian regimes.

Facts that led to social change

The list of historical milestones that brought about substantial changes in society is immense. But, in order to better understand the concept, we are going to mention some facts that were enormously important.

It is worth mentioning that these do not have any relationship or connection, they simply represented a great change:

  • Discovery of fire and invention of the wheel.
  • Emergence and spread of Christianity.
  • Emergence of anthropocentrism.
  • The French Revolution.
  • The emergence of revolutionary ideologies.
  • Industrial Revolution.
  • The eight-hour workday.
  • The rise of the totalitarianisms of the 20th century.
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As we can see, they are totally unrelated episodes, which reflects that social changes can be produced by events of any nature.

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