Social change has been a characteristic feature of most developing countries like Nepal. Both, gradual and planned types of social and cultural change have occurred in Nepal. For these various processes and changes, actors are found responsible.
In the context of Nepal, some of the processes and factors responsible for the social and cultural change are as follows;
Factors of Social and Cultural Change in Nepal
Environmental or Geographic Factor
The floods, landslides, earthquakes have not only displaced the people to a new location such as towns or other villages but also entirely changed their way of life such as a change in economic activity, occupational mobility, adoption of new culture in new areas (acculturation).
Technological and Scientific factors
The use of technology has also led to drastic social change in Nepal. Mechanization of agriculture has shifted people from agriculture to industrial (manufacturing) sectors and likewise in the service sector jobs. The easy and fast means of communication have not only lessened the distance between people and the nations but also provided grounds for intercultural exchange. Scientific inventions in the field of medicine, public health, transportation, the means of knowledge, dissemination, and interaction has not only made people’s lives easier and convenient but also changed people’s attitude and behavior.
Political Factors or Legislation (laws)
The state is the most powerful organization with the power to formulate new laws, cancel old ones to bring social change in society. Laws regarding child marriage, widow remarriage, divorce, inheritance and succession, untouchability are some of the examples which have brought many changes in the social structure of Nepalese society.
For e.g. The Land Reform Act 2021 B.S. brought changes in land distribution in Nepal at least to a little extent. The provision of women’s rights has resulted in increased women’s position as that ruptured the social barriers against women to work. Similarly, the law against untouchability has changed the attitude of society towards the so-called low castes people. The reservation for women in various sectors as provided by the constitution of Nepal has been vital in recognizing women’s capability and their identity.
Promoting education (increasing literacy) is one of the priority goals of the government of Nepal. Besides the government educational institution, the private institution has flourished in Nepal that has seen to impact the nation positively such as increased well-being due to employment opportunities, reduction in family size and healthy lifestyle, women independence, etc.
The growing population has created urbanization where the mass population suffers poverty, lacks inter-personal relationships (i.e. individualism has developed). The social norms and values have slowly faded away for e.g. caste-based discrimination has declined, the nuclearization of family, cohabitation, (i.e. living together), inter-caste marriage is on rising.
Processes or Mechanisms of Social and Cultural Change In Nepal
Modernization refers to the transformation from traditional, rural, agrarian society to industrial society where there are large formal organizations with the division of labor and improved of life. Modernization includes sub-processes such as technological development, agricultural development, urbanization, industrialization, and telecommunication.
Nepalese society has emerged in a new modem era with the growing use of technology in many aspects of our life from health to education, manufacturing to the service sector. The values, beliefs, and ideals of people have been changed which in turn has resulted in a change in social institutions and ways of life of Nepal.
The adoption or influence of western (European) culture among societies across the globe in areas such as lifestyle, education, values, economics, architecture, clothing, politics, entertainment, etc. is called westernization.
Westernization not only includes the introduction of new institutions, but also fundamental changes in old institutions. Westernization has brought a radical change in the Nepalese culture and lifeways. The out dining, attire, fashion, fast food, hip hop music, etc. have become a part of Nepalese culture now. In such a case, the traditional ways of life have been gradually declined.
Sanskritization refers to a process whereby people of lower castes collectively try to adopt upper castes practices and beliefs, as a preliminary step to acquire higher status.
In Nepal, Sanskritization though is one of the least discussed processes of social and cultural change. But in the later period, evidences and experiences have shown that the cultural attributes of high caste groups have been adopted by the lower caste groups by avoiding their traditional and cultural identity. The caste which enjoyed higher economic and political power but rated relatively low in the ritual ranking went after Sanskritization. Through this process, a caste group tries to orient its beliefs, practices, values, attitudes, and lifestyles in terms of another superior or dominant group, so that it can also get some recognition.
Urbanization is the societal trend where the proportion of people living in cities increases due to the population shift from rural to urban residency and also the gradual increase in the population of cities through other forms of migration. Urbanization incorporates social, political, and economic change as well. The reasons for urbanization are mainly for social (health, education facility) and economic facilities (job opportunity and businesses).
In Nepal, urbanization has led to change in land use (land for housing, not agriculture), economic activity (find jobs in manufacturing and service sectors), change in marriage patterns (emergence of living relationship, high divorce rate), weaker social ties, secularization, etc. Poverty is also growing due to urbanization.
Industrialization is the process of moving from an agrarian-based economy in which the primary product is food to an industrial economy in which the primary product is goods, services, and information. The transformation from producing goods by hand to producing goods by machine is industrialization.
In Nepal, industrialization has led to a reduction in family size so that economic burden is lessened, migration to city areas in search of employment as industrial workers has resulted in urbanization, people has been working outside their home and community which in turn has brought a change in gender roles, and the spouse and children have been accustomed to city life building a different social and cultural identity.
The term ‘Hinduization’ refers to the process in which Hindu faith, values, practice influence the faith and practices of the non-Hindu population or cultural group.
Nepal is predominantly a Hindu country, where more than 81 percent of the people are Hindus. So, the influence of the Hindu religion is seen in other non-Hindu people and communities. Many non-Hindus (ethnic groups) seem to follow the Hindu cultural rites, rituals, worship gods, and goddesses due to the close contact with Hindus. Their cultural and social way of life has been influenced, despite the country has been declared secular in the year 2063 B.S.
The process of spread of ideas/ concepts, materials or practices from one society or group to another is called diffusion. Cultural diffusion is the spread of cultural items — such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages—between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one. The causes of cultural diffusion are transportation, communication, and technology.
In the Nepalese context, the diffusion process has many effects. The Nepalese population has adopted new goods and services such as dresses, milk, wines, dating sites, birth control, etc. that spread from other parts of the globe to Nepal.
Is Culture, the Determinant of Social Change?
Sociologists have explained the determining role of culture in causing social change. The effects of culture on social change are as follows;
Culture gives the speed and direction to social change: Social change is too slow if the culture is too conservative and vice versa. The elements of culture such as people’s attitudes and values determine whether social change is to be accepted or rejected.
Culture influences the direction and character of technological change: The people’s belief and social institution corresponds to technological change but at the same time it is the belief and social institution that determines which technology to be used.
Culture shapes economy: Culture not only determines technology and its use but also shapes the economy. It means that culture such as religion for e.g. Protestantism motivates Protestants to concentrate on financial gain.
It keeps the social relationship intact: it makes people think not on their own but also on others. By regulating the behavior of the people and satisfying their primary drives pertaining to hunger, shelter, and sex, it has been able to maintain group life.