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Social Change

July 6, 2013
by Russ Long


Student Project:
Glance at the Globe

Students will explore the sociodemographic data found in "A Glance at the Globe."  They will then use that data to fill in the work sheet.  I recommend that students print a copy the worksheet.  Please note that there are data for several years beginning in 1985.  Students should use data for the Year 2012 to fill in the work sheet.

Please Note:  This worksheet does NOT have to be turned into the professor.   It is simply provided to help prepare for test four.

Glance at the Globe Data


I.     Functionalist Theories of Societal Change

Functionalist theories tend to assume that as societies develop, they become ever more complex and interdependent (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:420).   Herbert Spencer referred to it as a change from "incoherent homogeneity to coherent heterogeneity."

A.     Differentiation

What distinguished premodern from modern societies is differentiation (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:420).  Differentiation is the development of increasing societal complexity through the creation of specialized roles and institutions.  Premodern society was characterized by people acquiring a broad range of skills that enable them to act relatively relatively independent of one another.  Modern society, on the other hand, requires people to master a narrow range of skills and act interdependently.

B.     Evolutionary Theories

Early functionalist theories argued that all societies are gradually moving in a single direction.  They are becoming more complex and, according to the early functionalist, are becoming more adaptable to their external environments (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:421).

There is a bit of ethnocentrism here.  It is assumed that all change is "progress."  The Europeans, for example, saw their societies as more evolved that those they conquered.  The Europeans concept of self allowed then to see their involvement in the new world as necessary to help the "primitive and backward" societies move toward a more desirable (European) style of life.

II.     Conflict Theories of Societal Change

A.     The Trigger

Conflict theory tends to argue that a precipitating event is needed before change occurs.  The "trigger," as Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997:421-22) call it, is something like population growth,  contact with other cultures, technological advances, or changing environmental conditions.

B.     Contradiction and Change

"All social systems have within them the seeds of their own destruction." -- paraphrase of K. Marx

1.     Marx and Class Conflict

All societies are seen as having built-in sources of conflict that eventually lead to a sharp break with the past.  According to Marx, the trigger, inevitably involved the relationships between social classes.  Under capitalism, Marx contended that conflict was inevitable in a class-relationship that pitted the interest of the working class against the owning class.  Eventually, any type of society reaches a point when its social organization becomes a barrier to further economic growth.  Reaching this limit precipitates a revolutionary transformation of society into a new type (e.g.,  from feudalism to capitalism) or from capitalism to socialism (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:422).

2.     Dialectical Change

Marx's concept of change is a specific example of a more general theory called dialectics.  For Marx, change occurred because contradictions developed within the relationships between the two primary classes in capitalist society.

More generally, contradictions can be seen as developing within any type of social relationship.  The contradictions appear as minor irritants at first, but as the relationship progresses the irritants become profound impediments to the relationship.   Ultimately, the relationships experiences sweeping change.

III.     Rise and Fall Theories

Both the evolutionary and conflict theories discussed so far tend to imply a "progress" toward more "desirable" forms of social organization.   Rise and Fall theories depart from this assumption.  Rise and Fall theories argue (in Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:422) that as nations grow in economic power, they often seek to become world military powers as well.  That goal becomes their undoing.   Support for the military eventually weakens the domestic economy.  This, in turn, undermines the prosperity that once fueled the economic power.

IV.     Theories of Global Social Change:
Market-Oriented Theories and Modernization Theory

A.     What is Modernization?

A host of scholars, from the left to the right, connects the incredible change experienced in the modern era with modernization. Smelser (1988:387) defines modernization as a complex set of changes that take place in almost every part of society as a society attempts to industrialize.

Four General Characteristics of Modernization:

1. There is a shift from the simple to the complex.
2. Agriculture progresses from being oriented toward subsistence farming that occurs on small plots to commercial farming of large scale.
3. There is a trend toward industrialization. Human and animal power are de-emphasized and are replaced by machinery driven production.
4. Society changes from one centered on the rural to one centered on cities.

B.     What is Capitalism?

Capitalism is one of two methods that industrial societies use to organize their economic activities.  (Socialism is the other.)  It is an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned. Personal profits are derived through market competition and without government intervention  Capitalism is based on the following assumptions.

1.     Private Ownership of Property

Individuals are encouraged to own not only private possessions, but the capital to buy more possessions (see Eitzen and Baca-Zinn, 1998:356-57).

2.     Pursuit of Maximum Profit

Individuals are encouraged to maximize their personal gains. Seeking personal gain is morally and socially appropriate. It's the position of Adam Smith that this has many beneficial consequences for Americans.

3.     Free Competition

This is the element that keeps out profit seeking in check. In a competitive society, if one agent raises prices too high, then others will step in to sell goods more cheaply. Fraud is thus weeded out and the market is stabilized.

4.     Laissez-faire Government

Laissez-faire government is a government that does not intervene in the economy.

How does a society hang together in a scenario where everyone is pursuing their own interest? Adam Smith argues the capitalist economy maintains integrity because someone will provide whatever is needed. As demand increases for a product, the potential to make profit will increase. The potential of earning profit will encourage someone to produce those commodities that are in demand.

Competition acts as an economic regulator. Competition not only regulates the supply of desirable commodities, it also ensures that prices remain fair and product quality remains high.

Capitalism regulates wage levels in much the same way as it regulates production and prices. If wages are too high, someone else will rush in to work for a lower wage. If wages, on the other hand, are too low, employees will seek better jobs. The law of the marketplace ensures a self-regulating economy. This is the philosophy behind free enterprise. The economic system of Adam Smith is not egalitarian, because through competition someone wins and someone loses. Grass roots capitalism is, however, fair when all competitors have essentially the same economic base. The capitalist economy, however, is not a static phenomenon. It undergoes continual transformation and has done so since the end of the 15th century (see Wallerstein, 1974).

C.     Positions of Market Oriented Theory

The developmental or modernizationist view of social change was the dominant paradigm during the 1950s and 1960s. It lays out the conditions under which traditional societies can become fully modern (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:171). 

Market-Oriented theory argues that unrestricted capitalism, allowed to develop fully, is the best route to economic growth. Further, they argue that the best economic outcomes result when individuals are free to make their own economic decision, uninhibited by any form of government constraint. Constraints might include efforts by Third world governments to set prices and wages (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:171).

The following material presents some assumptions associated with modernization theory.

V.     Assumptions of Modernization Theory

A.     The World is A Stable System of Interrelated Parts

Modernization theory, according to Shannon (1989:2), views the world society as a "relatively stable system of interrelated parts." Modernization theory views social change as an evolutionary type process that gradually adapted to a changing environment (Ragin and Chirot, 1984:299).

B.     All Will Develop Like Europe

Shannon (1989:2-3) contends that much of the modernization theory is based upon the European developmental experience. It suggests that all countries can become modern industrial societies.

C.     Differentiation and Modernization

The primary characteristic of modernization is differentiation. A few institutions that provided broad ranging services to the citizenry characterized premodern societies. Modern societies consist of a variety of specialized institutions.

D.     Development: An Internal Process

Modernization theory views development as an internal process in each society (generally perceived of as nation-states.) They often view each case as independent of the others.

VI.     Modernization Theory's
Prerequisites for Modernization

A.     Institutional Preconditions for Modernization

Institutional preconditions inevitably involve democracy, anti-communism, and laissez-faire government policy regarding the economy.

Modernizationist solutions to domestic economic problems advocated free-market activities that stress comparative advantage -- a philosophy that suggests that in order for countries to develop, each country should do what it does best.

B.     Psychological Change

New values have to be learned. People in developing countries have to develop traits like individualism, personal achievement, and a desire to control their own destiny. Individuals must learn to want economic growth and must be willing to become more mobile. They must learn to defer gratification. The legitimacy of the state becomes important.

VII.     Theories of Global Social Change:
Marxist Theories

Marxists argue that first-world involvement in the internal development of poor countries is not desirable. International relationships, overall, flow from a basic desire by first-world capitalists to acquire profit. Eventually, first-world capitalists have to look outside their border for new sources of profit (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:173).

The quest for profits can involve the search for raw materials (e.g., oil), inexpensive agricultural products (bananas in Central America), land, or people (e.g., inexpensive labor or slaves).

A.     A Never-ending Search for Raw Material

1.     Agriculture

Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997:173) note that to profit from the sale of agricultural products, a first-world country might look to acquire land in a semitropical area where the crop can be grown in abundance. This is the case for crops like coffee, cotton, or sugar.

2.     Exploitation of Natural Resources

Natural resources, such as petroleum, copper, and iron are needed in industrial economies. Poor countries are sources for these raw materials.

B.     Colonialism

The search for agricultural and natural resources can lead to colonialism. Colonialism is a political-economic arrangement under which powerful countries establish, for their own profit, rule over weaker countries.

C.     Use of Third-World Labor

A relatively new strategy is to move factories from high-wage countries to low-wage countries. A company may choose this strategy when rising wage rates in industrial countries begin to threaten corporate profits.

VIII.     Theories of Global Social Change:
Dependency Theory

Dependency theories represent a critique of modernization theory's assumptions that poor countries are poor because of their lack of economic, social, and cultural development. Dependency theories argue that the poverty experienced by low-income countries is the immediate consequence of their exploitation by wealthy countries on which they are economically dependent (Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:173).

The authors argue that poor countries are "locked-in to a downward spiral of exploitation and poverty." Andre Gunder Frank (1972) calls this the development of underdevelopment. Dependency results when foreign businesses make important economic and political decisions for their own advantage and without regard to the best interests of the local population. Except for a few local businessmen who serve the interests of foreign capital, the local population becomes impoverished (Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:173).

Is There a Third World?

Many have problems with the all-encompassing term 'third-world,'  'developing nations,' or the 'periphery.' After all, countries link El Salvador, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone are lumped into the same category.  Obviously, these three countries share no cultural characteristics and are physically far-removed from one another.  One might suggest that it's ridiculous to categories these countries the same.

On the other hand, El Salvador, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone as well as a host of other developing countries do share a common relationship to the advanced industrialized countries of the world (the first-world, developed nations, or the core). The term “third world” may be appropriate when one discusses the common relationship that all poor countries have with rich countries.  Historically, the common relationship was colonialism.  More recently, old colonial affairs characterized by military oppression have transformed into neocolonial relationships.  In the present, military control has given way to a situation where rich countries control poor countries through international markets.  The core determines prices for commodities and uses the poor countries as dumping grounds for hazardous waste (see Henslin, 1999:245).

The market oriented theories have generally ignored the role of the military and of political power. Dependency theories contend that power is central in enforcing unequal economic arrangements. Local leaders opposed to inequitable economic arrangements are suppressed. Unionization is outlawed. A popular government opposed to outside influence can be overthrown by the military. Often the police and the military act, not for the needs of the masses, but rather for the economic elite (Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:174).

A.     Critique

Dependency theory is successful in explaining the lack of development experienced by some countries (like those in Central America), but cannot account for the development that occurred in areas like East Asia (Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:174).

IX.     Theories of Global Social Change:
World System Theory

Immanual Wallerstein (1974, 1979) coined the term World-System.   The World-System represents a system of international stratification.   Its proponents argue that "we must understand the world capitalist system as a single unit, not as individual countries" (Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:174). Unlike dependency theory, World system theory argues that there is room for poorer countries to advance within the context of the world economy although this happens rarely.

A.     The world economic system: Four overlapping elements:

  1. The world system is a world market for goods and labor
  2. The world system calls attention to a division of the world's population into economic classes
  3. The world system is an international system of formal and informal political relations among the most powerful countries, whose competition with one another helps shape the world economy
  4. It includes a carving up of the world into unequal economic zones with the wealthier zones exploiting the poorer zones.

B.     The Three Zones of the World System are:

1.     The Core

Core countries are the most advanced industrial countries and control most of the wealth in the world economy (Appelbaum & Chambliss, 1997:174).

2.     The Periphery

The periphery consists of low-income, largely agricultural, countries. Core countries manipulate it for the economic advantage of the core.

3.     The Semiperiphery

The Semiperiphery refers to countries that occupy an intermediate position in the world economy. They extract profit from the periphery and are simultaneously exploited by the core. The existence of the middle (the semiperiphery) is critical, because poor countries can hope to advance at least to this stage. With the possibility of advancement within the world system, revolutionary tendencies are mitigated.

X.     Collective Behavior

Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997:422) define collective behavior as a voluntary, goal-oriented action that occurs in a relatively disorganized situation, in which society's predominant social norms and values cease to govern individual behavior.   Collective behavior consists of a groups reaction to some situation.

The study of collective behavior is especially concerned with the behavior of people in crowds (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:423). 

A.     Crowds

Crowds are temporary gatherings of closely interacting people with a common focus.   People in crowds are prone to being swept up in group emotions and loose their ability to make rational decisions.  The group-mind is viewed as irrational and dangerous.

XI.     Theories of Collective Behavior

A.     Contagion Theories

Contagion theories argue that human beings revert to herd-like behavior when they get together in large crowds.  People in crowds mill about, like a group of animals, stimulating and goading one another into movement (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:423).  The acts of individuals are copied by other individuals.  A skilled leader can manipulate crowds.

B.     Emergent-Norm Theories

Emergent-norm theories suggest that it is values and norms, and not unconscious process, that prompt groups of people to act in unisonEmergent-norm theories argue that even in seemingly chaotic crowd behavior, norms emerge that explains a crowd’s actionsWhile it may appear to an observer that the group is acting in a single purpose, the individuals within the crowd may have differing reasons for taking part (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:424).

XII.     Forms of Collective Behavior

A.     Riots

A riot is a prolonged outbreak of violent behavior by a large group of people that is directed against people and property.  They are spontaneous, but are motivated by a conscious set of concerns.  During a riot conventional norms are suspended and replaced by other norms developed by the group  (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:425).

B.     Fads and Fashion

1.     Fads

Fads are temporary, highly imitated outbreaks of mildly unconventional behavior    (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:425).  Fads can include "the grunge look," wearing Levis with holes in the knees, or cramming people into a phone booth.

2.     Fashion

A fashion is a somewhat long-lasting style of imitative behavior or appearance.   (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:425).  A fashion reflects a tension between people's desires to be different and their desire to conform.  It's very success undermines its attractiveness, so the eventual fate of all fashions is to become unfashionable.

C.     Panic and Crazes

1.     Panics

A panic is a massive flight from something that is feared.  The 1938 radio show "War or the Worlds" is an example (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:426).

2.     Craze

A craze is an intense attraction to an object, person, or activity (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:426).  An example is the cases where people flock to a region where someone is said to have seen a deity's face.

D.     Rumors

Rumors are unverified information that is transmitted informally, usually originating in an unknown source (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:426).

Example:  Allport & Postman (1947)

A white student is asked to study a photograph with one man menacing another.  The student describes the picture to another who passes the information on to a third and so forth.  At some point the information being passed along begins to reflect the commonly held beliefs of the students.  As the information spread, the message came to reflect a picture when a black man was menacing a white man, but in fact the opposite was true.

XIII.     Social Movements

A social movement is defined as a large number of people who come together in a continuing and organized effort to bring about (or resist) social change.  They rely at least partially on non institutionalized forms of political action (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:426).

A.     Reformist Movements

Reformist movements seek to bring about change within an existing economic and political system (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:427).

B.     Revolutionary Movements

Revolutionary movements seek to alter fundamentally the existing social, political, and economic system in keeping with a vision of a new social order (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:428).

C.     Rebellions

Rebellions seek to overthrow the existing social, political, and economic system, but lack a detailed plan for a new social order (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:428-9).

D.     Reactionary Movements

Reactionary movements seek to restore an earlier social system -- often based on a mythical past -- along with the traditional norms and values that once presumably accompanied it (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:429).  The term reaction is used because often these movement rise as a reaction to some kind of unwelcome social change.

E.     Communitarian Movements

Communitarian movements seek to withdraw from the dominant society by creating their own ideal communities (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:429).

F.     Anarchy

XIV.     Why Do Social Movements Arise?

A.     Micro-Level Studies

What motivates individuals to become active members of social movements?  This material contends that personal identification with others is a far more important indicator of who will likely join a social movement.  Psychological factors are poor indicators of participation in social movements.

1.     Psychological and Personality Types

Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997:430) argue that psychological factors are poor indications of whether one becomes involved in social movements.  Personality type is also a poor predictor.

2.     Personal Identification with Others

Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997:430) contend that the motivation for involvement in social movements appears to be less related to personal gain and more related to an identification with others.

B.     Organizational-Level Studies

Appelbaum and Chambliss (1997:430) suggests that some social movements are deliberately organized to create social change.

1.     Social Movement Organizations (SMOs)

SMOs are formal organizations that seek to achieve social change through non-institutional forms of political action.  NAACP is an example (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:430).

2.     Resource Mobilization

Resource mobilization focuses on the ability of social movement organizations to generate money, membership, and political support in order to achieve their objectives (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:430).

3.     Grassroots Organizing

Grassroots organization attempts to mobilize support among the ordinary members of a community (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:431).

4.     Conscience Constituents

Conscience constituents are people who provide resources for a social movement organization but who are not themselves members of the aggrieved group that the organization champions (Appelbaum and Chambliss, 1997:431).

C.     Macro-Level Studies

This section differentiates between the impact that individuals have on change from that associated with evolving institutional structures.  It acknowledges the influence of the individual, but  is more concerned with the influence of larger structures. When change occurs in structures, like the global economy, the lives of individuals are greatly altered. The changing economy transforms the character of social relations between people. Huge social structures anchored in history ultimately dictate the character of day-to-day social relations.

1.     Individuals Change Social Patterns

The actions of individuals, specific organizations, and specific social movements have impact on society. Napoleon, Jesus, Lenin, and Gandhi are individuals that have had great impact on society.

Although individuals have impact on society, we tend to exaggerate what an individual can do. The actions of individuals happen within power structures, culture, and institutions inherited from the past. These exiting conditions make it difficult for an individual to change society substantially. Usually, when we perceive individuals leading a population through dramatic change, the time is "ripe" for change.

2.     Broad Social Trends Change Social Patterns

Broad social trends include shifts in population, industrialization, urbanization, technology, and bureaucratization. Modernization can explain much of the change. Modernization refers to the process where a society moves from traditional, less developed modes of production (like agriculture) to advanced industrial modes of production. Trends, such as population growth and urbanization, have tremendous impact on other features of society like social structure, culture, and all the institutions that tie society together.


Appelbaum, Richard P. and William J. Chambliss

1997 Sociology: A Brief Introduction. New York: Longman.