The 11 Major Factors of Social Change [Explained]

Factors or Causes of Social Change

Social change takes place in all societies and in all periods of time. But here a question arises why does social change take place? The word ‘Why’ represents the reasons, the causes, or the factors that are responsible for social change.

From the discussion of the nature of social change, we know that there are some potential factors responsible for bringing social change. Hence, it is multi-causal. Some of these factors are:

  • Biological factors or demographic factors
  • Physical or environmental factors
  • Psychological factors
  • Technological factors
  • Ideological factors
  • Economic factors
  • Cultural factors
  • Political factors
  • Legal factors
  • Planning
  • Social movement and social revolution

Let’s these factors of social change as;

1. Biological Factors or Demographic Factors of Social Change

Biological factors influence social change. Among the biological factors, the hereditary characters of the population play the main role. The powerful and great men and their birth are dependent upon heredity to a large extent and these biological factors play a role in social change. In addition to this, the biological process of natural selection & struggle for survival is constantly producing alterations (changes) in society.

The demographic factors such as the population size, composition, and density that are determined by reproduction, migration, and social mobility play a crucial role in causing social change.

Population fluctuation has both positive and negative changes in society. High population growth accelerates the process of migration, thus, bringing not only economic benefits in terms of cash remittance but also social benefits in terms of exchange and sharing of skills, knowledge, and ideas that lead to innovation and discoveries, and ultimately the social change occurs through a change in people’s attitude, behavior and way of life. These show that with the change in population, social change occurs.

However, population growth also brings negative social change. When there is population growth, it gives rise to a variety of problems like poverty, unemployment, child labor, crime, juvenile delinquency, beggary, and multiple health problems and thereby brings changes in society.

2. Physical or Environmental Factors of Social Change

Changes in the physical environment bring about important changes in society. Changes in the physical environment are not rapid, but occasional changes in the environment bring total changes in human social life. E.g. the geographical hazards such as floods, earthquakes, heavy rainfall, drought, change of seasons, etc. force people to migrate to new areas hence people have to change themselves according to that society. This brings out a change in culture, way of clothing manners, social relationships, etc.

3. Technological Factors of Social Change

Technological factors also play important role in causing social change. Technology means the systematic application of scientific knowledge to solve specific problems of life.

Technology is fast-growing. The modern age is the “Age of Technology”. Technology changes society by changing our environments to which we in turn adopt. When we make adjustments to adapt to the changing environment caused by technology, then we often modify our customs, norms, and social institutions.

For e.g. with the introduction of technology (computer, mobile phones, internet) we have changed our way of mate selection. The practice of arranged marriage has been gradually replaced by dating and love marriage. Another e.g. is the developments in the field of transportation and communication have reduced the social distance which has led to cultural diffusion and thereby brought social change.

With the invention of the steam engine by James Watt in the mid-18th century, the mechanization (use of machines) of industries and ultimately the occurrence of the industrial revolution took place. Mechanization, on one hand, has changed the economic structure of society and on the other hand, has also led to a gradual devaluation of old forms of social organization and old ideologies, norms, and values. Indeed, in the 21st century, technology has completely and irreversibly changed the way people meet, interact, learn, work, play, travel, worship, and do business.

4. The Economic Factors

Karl Marx has given an economic interpretation of social changes. With the changes in the economic system, the entire society changes in its structure & functioning. Economic conditions in countries do affect health, mortality, marriages, divorce rate, suicide, crime & emigration, etc. It can also bring social unrest & revolution & war. Of course, not all the social changes are necessarily caused by economic conditions, changes have also occurred due to educational molding in people’s attitudes, etc.

5. The Cultural Factors

All cultural change involves social change. Social and cultural aspects are closely interwoven. There is no denying that there is an intimate connection between our beliefs (which is an element of culture) and social institutions (an element of society), our values (element of culture), and social relationships (element of society). Thus, it is clear that any change in the culture (i.e. ideas, values, beliefs, etc.) brings a corresponding change in the whole social order (i.e. social change).

Sociologist Max Weber has proved that cultural values affect economic institutions. He mentioned that protestant ethics led to economic gains among the protestants as this religious sect teaches one to engage in economic activities.

6. Political Factors

The state is the most powerful organization with the power to formulate new laws, cancel old ones to bring social change in the society. Laws regarding child marriage, widow remarriage, divorce, inheritance and succession, untouchability bring many changes in the social structure of a society. The type of political leadership and individuals in power also influence the rate and direction of social change.

In many societies, political leadership controls the economy as well as promotes technological change so as to provide comfort to its people. Political agencies such as the chiefs, lords, kings, and governments affect the course of development. It is the political organizations (i.e. government) that stimulate economic growth and welfare to its people.

7. Legal Factors

In the ancient and in the medieval periods, the state never issued any statutes or laws and the King had no power to promulgate a law. But gradually, with the demand of time and situation, laws were promulgated in order to maintain peace and harmony in the nation. With changing times and situations, these laws had to be amended and this change in law was instrumental in setting new social norms and values.

8. Psychological Factors

Most sociologists regard psychological factors as important elements in social change. The cause of social change is the psychology of man himself. Man is by nature a lover of change and therefore, he is always engaged in trying to discover new things and is always anxious to experience new things in life. As a result of this tendency, the mores, traditions, customs, social relationships, etc. of every human society are continuously undergoing change. In this process of change, new customs and methods replace the old traditions and customs while some modifications or undergo adaptation.

9. Ideological Factors

Some other factors of social change include the emergence of new opinions, ideas, and thoughts. The development of science and technology as well as the change in ideas and opinions have contributed innovative and critical outlook in us. Unlike, in the past, any activities or actions that we engaged in are based on rational thoughts (i.e. ideas and logic).

So, we merely do not follow any customs or habits just because our age-old traditional authority tells us to do. So, this change in customs and habits is ideational which means that ideas influence social change. Ideas and ideologies are powerful motivational factors for social change. It is true that no material or social factors can produce change unless there is also a change in ideas within society. Ideals of self-betterment, freedom, equality, and democratic participation have served to bring reformation movement and revolutions in society.

E.g. Changes in the attitudes towards dowry, caste system, female education, etc. have resulted in widespread social variations & modifications. In fact, a majority of the social revolutions take place as a result of the evolution of new ways of thinking. Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx, etc. influence the population & have a socio-economic impact causing social change.

10. Planning

Social change may result from goal-directed large-scale social planning. The possibilities for planning by government bureaucracies and other large organizations have increased in modern societies. For e.g. the governments carry out planning through the formulation of laws and their implementation such as for old-age pensions, guaranteed medical care, unemployment allowance, etc. that have produced significant changes in modern societies.

However, there are so many large-scale changes occurring in societies that are unplanned. For e.g. the innovations (inventions) occurring in universities and the research departments of governments and private firms, which produces social change that is often time unplanned.

11. Social Movement and Social Revolution

A social movement refers to collective efforts to establish a new order of life that ultimately brings changes in the existing social system of that society, state, or country. A social movement originates when either people are discontent and unhappy with the existing social system or social order when people try to establish a new order of life or a new style of living.

Looking back to world history, there have been several social movements and revolutions; some of them that changed society largely were the French Political Revolution, Industrial Revolution, the Russian revolution, the Chinese revolution, etc. In the Nepalese context, the People’s Movement I, People’s Movement II, Indigenous people’s movement, Dalit movement, Women’s Movement, etc. were landmarks in changing the social and political life of Nepalese people.

These movements have brought positive changes in the constitutional provisions such as the provision of women’s rights, indigenous rights, and rights to disadvantaged/Dalits. The provision of women’s right to parental property, 33% percent reservation for women and quota for Janajatis, Madhesis, Muslims, and Dalits in public services and governance structure, etc. have not only began to provide identity and freedom to these groups but also have boosted morale and dignity at large.

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