The causes of social change below affect or characterize every aspect of society across the world.  On a macro scale, they shape all of our major social institutions (economics, politics, religion, family, education, science/technology, military, legal system, and so on.  On a micro scale, they shape our values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.  In sum, they influence our ways of life.


1. Technological and Economic Changes


a) Agricultural advancements


Examples include irrigation, the plow, cotton gin. 

Lead to surplus food, which lead to population growth and urbanization.   People were able to work outside of the farm.


b) Industrialization 

The process of moving from an agrarian based economy in which the primary product is food to an industrial or post industrial economy in which the primary product is goods, services and information


The process of changing from a manual labor force to a technology driven labor force in which machines play a large role

Lead to changes in:


a. Work – people work outside of the home/community, which lead to changes in gender (value of, child care, value of labor).  


b. Work became centered and organized around machines.  Alienation.


c. Weapons production – guns, nuclear weapons.


d. Information Society.   Information overload.

Characteristics of industrialized societies:


·        Smaller percentage of workforce employed in agriculture


·        Increased division of labor, specialization of occupations


·        Increase in education of workforce


·        Increase in economic organizations (businesses)


·        Stronger link between government and economy – interdependent


·        Technological change – new goods and services produced and new occupations result; control of environment and the need to do so.


·        Geographical mobility


·        Occupational mobility


·        Population change:


·        Demographic transition; move from (1) high birth rates and high death rates (with smaller population sizes) to (2) high birth rates and low death rates (with extreme population growth) to (3) low birth rates and low death rates (with populations maintenance). 


·        People have fewer children as society industrialized because role of family changes and technological advancements allow control of reproduction.


·        Families change from extended to nuclear families due to geographic and occupational mobility. Family is no longer mainly seen as an economic unit.



All of the major causes of global social change below are tied to changes in technology and economics.




2. Modernization
:  The process of moving from an agrarian to industrial society


Characteristics of modern societies


·        Larger role of government in society and bureaucracy to run governments


·        Large, formal organizations and division of labor based on specialization of skills and abilities into occupations.  Bureaucracy plays in again here.


·        Forming of social institutions to regulate behavior.


·        Laws and sanctions to regulate behavior.


·        Control over and management of environmental resources: oil, water, land, animals, etc... The ability to mass produce food, energy, etc...


·        Larger role of science in society to produce knowledge to advance society.  Larger role of education and universities. 


·        Improved quality of life – higher per capita GDP, ability to buy good and services, more recreational time, better public health, housing


·        Self-efficacy


·        Ability to adapt, expect, and desire continuous change. Example: change of governments; replacing goods and services such as cars, phone service, marriages; change in occupations and careers. 




3. Urbanization:  When large populations live in urban areas rather than rural areas


Usually results from economic opportunities: either people move to a city for jobs, or rural areas become the sites of large businesses which leads to population growth.


75% of the US population lives in urban areas.  43% if world population lives in urban areas.


Cities offer social benefits as well as economic benefits:  transportation, schools, diffusion of new products and services, health care, cultural resources


Characteristics of urban populations:


·        More diversity

·        Independence

·        Weaker social attachments – higher crime

·        Secularization

·        Mass communication systems


If urbanization occurs to fast, infrastructure can not support population (transportation, public health issues, housing, schools, emergency services, jobs). This can result in poverty and class conflict.  Class conflict and poverty may also result if large urban areas experience loss of jobs. 



4. Bureaucratization:  Process by which most formal organizations in a society (businesses, government, non-profits) run their organizations via the use of extreme rational and impersonal thinking, an extreme division of labor, and record keeping


All tasks and functions broken down into small parts which become positions in the organizational hierarchy.  Roles attached to positions.  Pay and benefits attached to positions not persons.

People can rotate in and out of positions but organization survives with little change.


Although bureaucratization allows us to be highly efficient and effective and produce surpluses of goods and services, it also can lead to extreme inefficiencies:


·        People in the organization become machine like – just performing the specific aspects of their role; no more, no less.  People interactions with the organizations become machine like – example, voice systems.


·        Wasting of workforce skills

·        Inefficient transactions – have to speak to 10 different people before you get to the right person. 

·        Mass amounts of paperwork –jobs becomes largely processing paperwork.


·        Miscommunication


·        Power is held by a few at the top of the hierarchy which can become problematic if they seek to protect their individual power in the organization.  Bureaucrats.


·        Temptation to cheat – corporate crimes.  Often because of a lack of checks and balances which gets lost in the maze of offices, departments, positions, supervisors, managers, administrators, etc… or because of extreme power/position in the organization and ability to exploit it.

·        Goal of departments becomes to survive in the organization and protect their own resources, rather than work together to provide a product.





5. Conflict and Competition 




War:  due to religion, ethinic tensions, competition for resources


Gender and Women’s Movement: equal pay, property: Today; day care,  ocupational segregation

Race and Civil Rights Movement: collective political power, ownership of production: Today – prejudice.  % who will vote for black candidate.  Chris Rock.


Class: Unions – minimum wage, 40 hour work week, overtime.  Today -- health insurance, education vouchers


Sexuality:  Homosexuality becoming less stigmatized, but still denied civil and human rights.



Positive Outcomes: solidarity,  safety valve, social change, “welfare enhancing”


Negative Outcomes: inequality, violence




6. Political and Legal Power


a) Elected officials:


Redistribution of wealth: income and property taxes.  Today: Sales tax, tax “relief”


Pass laws: affirmative action, ability to sue insurance companies, increase minimum wage (leads to change in unemployment, part-time employment, health insurance premiums and coverage)



b) Unelected officials


corporate power (jobs, goods and services and cost of, culture, donations to political campaigns

interlocking directorates, inner circle/power elite




7. Ideology



a) Religious beliefs. 

Rise of capitalism in U.S. due to religious beliefs and Protestant work ethic.

Religious beliefs sometimes lead to revolution and civil wars which lead to new countries.



b) Gender:  names, jobs, welfare

c) Ideology often legitimizes inequality.


a) religion legitimizes gender and sexual inequality.


b) Meritocracy legitimizes class inequality.  For example, Americans tend not to problematize social class due to idea of meritocracy and institutionalization of meritocracy.



8. Diffusion: Rate at which populations adopt new goods and services.


Much of the material in this chapter can be applied to marketing (celebrity drink milk campaigns), public health (birth control in less developed countries)


See book for more info on this cause of social change.

9. Acculturation


Examples: Asian Americans, American Indians (Lumbee vs. Cherokee)


Can prevent social change by preventing acculturation – example, China and the Cultural Revolution; Afghanistan, Iraq


10. Evolution: See book