Home » Social Change » Factors of Change

Factors of Change

Major changes in the physical environment are very compelling when they happen. The desert wastes of North Africa were once green and well populated.

Climates change, soil erodes and lakes gradually turn into swamps and finally plains. A culture is greatly affected by such changes although sometimes they come about so slowly that they are largely unnoticed. Human misuse can bring very rapid changes in physical environment which in turn change the social and cultural life of a people. Deforestation brings land erosion and reduces rainfall. Much of the wasteland and desert land of the world is a testament to human ignorance and misuse. Environmental destruction has been at least a contributing factor in the fall of most great civilization. Many human groups throughout history have changed their physical environment through migration. In the primitive societies whose members are very directly dependent upon their physical environment migration to a different environment brings major changes in the culture. Civilization makes it easy to transport a culture and practice it in a new and different environment.

Population changes:
A population change is itself a social change but also becomes a casual factor in further social and cultural changes. When a thinly settled frontier fills up with people the hospitality pattern fades away, secondary group relations multiply, institutional structures grow more elaborate and many other changes follow. A stable population may be able to resist change but a rapidly growing population must migrate, improve its productivity or starve. Great historic migrations and conquests of the Huns, Vikings and many others have arisen from the pressure of a growing population upon limited resources. Migration encourages further change for it brings a group into a new environment subjects it to new social contacts and confronts it with new problems. No major population change leaves the culture unchanged.

Isolation and Contact:
Societies located at world crossroads have always been centers of change. Since most new traits come through diffusion, those societies in closest contact with other societies are likely to change most rapidly. In ancient times of overland transport, the land bridge connecting Asia, Africa and Europe was the centre of civilizing change. Later sailing vessels shifted the centre to the fringes of the Mediterranean Sea and still later to the north- west coast of Europe. Areas of greatest intercultural contact are the centers of change. War and trade have always brought intercultural contact and today tourism is adding to the contacts between cultures says Greenwood. Conversely isolated areas are centers of stability, conservatism and resistance to change. The most primitive tribes have been those who were the most isolated like the polar Eskimos or the Aranda of Central Australia.

Social Structure:
The structure of a society affects its rate of change in subtle and not immediately apparent ways. A society which vests great authority in the very old people as classical China did for centuries is likely to be conservative and stable. According to Ottenberg a society which stresses conformity and trains the individual to be highly responsive to the group such as the Zunis is less receptive to the change than a society like the Ileo who are highly individualistic and tolerate considerable cultural variability. A highly centralized bureaucracy is very favorable to the promotion and diffusion of change although bureaucracy has sometimes been used in an attempt to suppress change usually with no more than temporary success. When a culture is very highly integrated so that each element is rightly interwoven with all the others in a mutually interdependent system change is difficult and costly. But when the culture is less highly integrated so that work, play, family, religion and other activities are less dependent upon one another change is easier and more frequent. A tightly structured society wherein every person's roles, duties, privileges and obligations are precisely and rigidly defined is less given to changes than a more loosely structured society wherein roles, lines of authority, privileges and obligations are more open to individual rearrangement.

Attitudes and Values:
To people in developed nations and societies change is normal. Children there are socialized to anticipate and appreciate change. By contrast the Trobriand Islanders off the coast of New Guinea had no concept of change and did not even have any words in their language to express or describe change. Societies differ greatly in their general attitude toward change. People who revere the past and preoccupied with traditions and rituals will change slowly and unwillingly. When a culture has been relatively static for a long time the people are likely to assume that it should remain so indefinitely. They are intensely and unconsciously ethnocentric; they assume that their customs and techniques are correct and everlasting. A possible change is unlikely even to be seriously considered. Any change in such a society is likely to be too gradual to be noticed. A rapidly changing society has a different attitude toward change and this attitude is both cause and effect of the changes already taking place. Rapidly changing societies are aware of the social change. They are somewhat skeptical and critical of some parts of their traditional culture and will consider and experiment with innovations. Such attitudes powerfully stimulate the proposal and acceptance of changes by individuals within the society. Different groups within a locality or a society may show differing receptivity to change. Every changing society has its liberals and its conservatives. Literate and educated people tend to accept changes more readily than the illiterate and uneducated. Attitudes and values affect both the amount and the direction of social change. The ancient Greeks made great contributions to art and learning but contributed little to technology. No society has been equally dynamic in all aspects and its values determine in which area-art, music, warfare, technology, philosophy or religion it will be innovative.

Cultural Factor influences the direction and character of technological change Culture not only influences our social relationships, it also influences the direction and character of technological change. It is not only our beliefs and social institutions must correspond to the changes in technology but our beliefs and social institutions determine the use to which the technological inventions will be put. The tools and techniques of technology are indifferent to the use we make of them. For example the atomic energy can be used for the production of deadly war weapons or for the production of economic goods that satisfy the basic needs of man. The factories can produce the armaments or necessaries of life. Steel and iron can be used for building warships or tractors. It is a culture that decides the purpose to which a technical invention must be put. Although technology has advanced geometrically in the recent past, technology alone does not cause social change. It does not by itself even cause further advances in technology. Social values play a dominant role here. It is the complex combination of technology and social values which produces conditions that encourage further technological change. For example the belief or the idea that human life must not be sacrificed for wants of medical treatment, contributed to the advancement in medical technology.Max Weber in his The Protestant Ethic and the spirit of Capitalism has made a classical attempt to establish a correlation between the changes in the religious outlook, beliefs and practices of the people on the one hand and their economic behavior on the other. He has observed capitalism could grow in the western societies to very great extent and not in the eastern countries like India and China. He has concluded that Protestantism with its practical ethics encouraged capitalism to grow in the west and hence industrial and economic advancement took place there. In the East, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam on the other hand did not encourage capitalism. Thus cultural factors play a positive as well as negative role in bringing about technological change. Cultural factors such as habits, customs, traditions, conservatism, traditional values etc may resist the technological inventions. On the other hand factors such as breakdown in the unity of social values, the diversification of social institutions craving for the new thoughts, values etc may contribute to technological inventions. Technological changes do not take place on their own. They are engineered by men only. Technology is the creation of man. Men are always moved by ideas, thoughts, values, beliefs, morals and philosophies etc.These are the elements of culture. These sometimes decide or influence the direction in which technology undergoes change. Men are becoming more and more materialistic in their attitude. This change in the attitude and outlook is reflected in the technological field. Thus in order to lead a comfortable life and to minimize the manual labor man started inventing new techniques, machines, instruments and devices.

Technological Factors:
The technological factors represent the conditions created by man which have a profound influence on his life. In the attempt to satisfy his wants, fulfill his needs and to make his life more comfortable man creates civilization. Technology is a byproduct of civilization .When the scientific knowledge is applied to the problems in life it becomes technology. Technology is a systematic knowledge which is put into practice that is to use tools and run machines to serve human purpose. Science and technology go together. In utilizing the products of technology man brings social change. The social effects of technology are far-reaching. According to Karl Marx even the formation of social relations and mental conceptions and attitudes are dependent upon technology. He has regarded technology as a sole explanation of social change.W.F Ogburn says technology changes society by changing our environment to which we in turn adapt. These changes are usually in the material environment and the adjustment that we make with these changes often modifies customs and social institutions. A single invention may have innumerable social effects. Radio for example has One of the most extreme expressions of the concern over the independence of technology is found in Jacques Ellul's 'the technological society'. Ellul claims that in modern industrial societies technologism has engulfed every aspect of social existence in much the same way Catholicism did in the middle ages. The loss of human freedom and the large-scale destruction of human beings are due to the increasing use of certain types of technology which has begun to threaten the life support systems of the earth as a whole.