(Sample Material) IAS Mains Sociology (Optional) Study Kit "Social Change In Modern Society"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains Sociology Study Kit

Subject: Sociology (Optional)

Topic: Social Change In Modern Society


In our society changes are bound to come. In some societies these changes are very slow while others are rapid and fast. But no society can escape from changes. A sociologist is, therefore, required to take these changes into consideration for proper study of society. In our own times we find that changes have been counting rapidly. Stability of family has been shaken and hold as well as grip of religion has considerably weekened. We also find that joint family system which was order of the day, is being replaced by single family system. Similarly we also find that rural society is being replaced by urban society and so on. It will, however, be wrong to believe that a change in society is in anyway an isolated event. On the other hand, it is link in the chain and those events which bring about the change can be seen with clarity. One of the main reasons for social change is dynamic nature of the people.

(A) Definition Of Social Change

Change is natural for every society and even if any society makes any attempt to stall social change that shall be an impossible task. According to Jones, “Social change is a term used to describe variations or modifications of any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interactions or social organisation.” According to Gillin and Gillin, “Social changes are variations from the accepted modes of life; whether due to alterations in geographical conditions, in cultural equipment, composition of the population or ideologies and whether brought about by diffusion or invention within the group”. Maclver has given a very simple definition of the term by saying that “Social change is change in social relationship”.

(B) Methods Of Studying Social Change

Social change cannot be studied in isolation and as already said each change is only a link in the series of changes which have occurred or are likely to occur. It is, therefore, essential that a social change should not be taken in its present form or of an incident of the present alone. It is connected with  the past and affects the future. The changes are influenced by every social happening. As Maclver and Page say, “To understand how social change takes place and why it follows certain trends it is necessary to investigate its relation to the three great orders, the biophysical, the cultural and technological”. A social change on the whole will change the way of life, pattern of behaviour and the very set up of society.


It is very difficult to attribute one single reason for a social change. Oswald Spenglar is of the view that birth, vigour, maturity and senile decay move in a circle and are cause of social change. Pitrim Sorokin views ideational sensate and idealistic reasons for such a change. Toynbee is of the view that inner spiritual force is the cause of all social change.

I. Theory Of Deterioration

According to exponents of this theory with the passage of time society is deteriorating and from happiness we are advancing towards dissatisfaction. They, therefore, feel that social changes come due to this ever going deterioration which is inevitable. They take the help of even mythology in support of their theory.

II. Cyclic Theory

Many of our present day thinkers have put forth cyclic theory of social change. These include Spengler, Vacher-de- Lapouge, Vilfredo Pareto, F. Stuart Chopin, Sorokin and Arnold J. Toynbee. These thinkers basically believe that social change is the result of cycle. Spengler is of the view that like day and night society too has a pre-determined course which includes its birth, growth, maturity and decline. J.B. Bury, another sociologist has also contributed to this idea. On the basis of analysis of world important civilisations, like Egyptian, Roman and Greek civilisations, he came to the conclusion that all these civilisations saw decay due to cyclical theory. Vilfredo Pareto is of the view that social change is due to political circumstances. He feels that vigorous politicians try to capture power by disturbing the existing social order but with the passage of time it becomes impossible to vigorously pursue the change and they try to use their energies for maintaining status quo. This status quo is tolerated till such time when new aristocracy does not come to the forefront to disturb the existing order. Therefore, he believes that disturbing social order and maintaining status quo is in a cyclical order and thus inevitable.

III. Auguste Comte’s Theory

Auguste Comte tried to understand social changes that occured in the early years of the industrial revolution as an evolutionary process and related the idea of progressive change through the development of intellect in particular the scientific thought. Comte has said that society has passed through three stages namely Theological, Metaphysical and Positive. In the theological stage society believed in supernatural powers and accepted the idea that these powers controlled our social behaviour. During the second stage his ideas about supernatural powers changed and from gods he came to abstraction and tried to explain social behaviour through abstraction. The society is now in the third stage, which is called positive stage in which every thing is being empirically studied and all this is going on in a cyclical order.

IV. Herbert Spencer’s Theory

Herbert Spencer linked his theory of social change with biological organism and tried to study ‘development’ in the sense of change from within. According to him society was initially militant which necessitated struggle for existence. Each one to industrialism in which there is differentiation and then comes the next stage in which we pass from differentiation to integration.

V. Social Solidarity Theory Of Emile Durkheim

Durkheim conceived society in terms of an evolutionary scheme. He talked about social solidarity by which he meant the moral beliefs and ideas which defined the commonness underlying social life. Like a social evolutionist, he opined that in pre-industrial societies, mechanical solidarity was based on agreement and identity among people, while in post­industrial societies organic solidarity derived from agreement to tolerate a range of differences, conflicts, being moderated through a variety of institutional agreements.
Durkheim tried to explain social change as the results of changes in the bond of morality, which he called social solidarity.

VI. Karl Marx’s Theory Of Social Change

Karl Marx’s theory of social change is also called Deterministic or Single Factor Theory about social change. According to this theory there is only one factor and not many factors responsible for bringing about social change. According to Karl Marx, economic factor is the only factor responsible for bringing about social change. In the words of Maclver and Page, Karl Marx believed that, “Cultural life of man, his intellectual, aesthetic spiritual life, his creeds and his philosophies and the social forms which are their vehicles, are the reflection of economic order.” Marx believed that except economic factor, all other factors are useless and superfluous and sometimes even harmful. He also believed that religion was the opium of the people and it distracted masses from hard realities of life. For Marx all ideas change with economic ideas and so also the living standard of the people. Not only this but for Marx, our social changes which are being witnessed in the society are nothing but due to continuous class struggle. A class struggle is always going on between the rich and the poor, between the employer and employee, between the exploiter and the exploited and between the high and proletariat. In his own words history of hitherto existing struggle is only class struggle. He, however, feels that in this struggle between `haves’ and `have nots’ a stage is bound to come in which the workers will unite and try to improve their present miserable conditions. According to his philosophy, capitalism was losing the seeds of its own degeneration and thus bound to collapse. He also felt that when such a situation would come, there would be a great social change. He was sure that each economic change brought with it a social change as well.

Criticism of Marxian Theory : Marx’s Deterministic Theory about social change has been very much criticised. It is said that Marx has taken into consideration only one factor namely ‘economic factor’. While there is no denying the fact that economic factors have very big role to play yet to believe that these alone are responsible for bringing such a change is over-estimating importance of economics. Who does not know that there are many other factors responsible for bringing social change as well. It is therefore lopsided and dogmatic theory which does not give complete picture about social changes also. Who does not know that religion and cultural factors also contribute their maximum in bringing about social changes. In the words of Maclver and Page, “The link between the social change and the economic process is far less direct and simple and sufficient than the Marxian psychology admits.” Marx has ignored complexities and has simplified attitudes that gather around institutions. In actual practice it is difficult to interpret relationship between social and economic changes. To quote Maclver and Page again, they opine about Marx that, “ He ignores the complexities of habituation on the one hand and revulsion on the other. He simplifies the attitudes that gather around institutions; the solidarities and loyalties of family, occupation, and nation are wholly subjected to those of economic class”.

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