Social Change

Essay by supersaadiUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, June 2010

download word file, 36 pages 1.0

Social Change

Since its very beginning, sociology has had an abiding interest in social change, as the classical contributions of Comte, Spencer, Marx and Engels, Weber, and even Durkheim attest. But the study of social change has been, and indeed can only be, interdisciplinary. Anthropologists and archaeologists have long been interested in social change. They have formulated numerous evolutionary theories of society intended to fill in details of the broad outline of human social evolution over the past 10,000 years. Such study must also take into account the work of historians, and especially general theories of history.

In this chapter, I look at forms of social change under the following headings: theories of social evolution, the course of long-term evolution, social evolutionism and historical sociology, revolutions and state breakdowns, social movements, the development of the modern world-system and the institutions of modernity, globalization and economic development, and late modernity and postmodernity.


Social evolution is a process of social change that exhibits some sort of directional sequence. In the second half of the nineteenth century, there were many well-known evolutionary theorists in both sociology and anthropology, including Herbert Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, Edward Burnett Tylor, L. T. Hobhouse, William Graham Sumner, Albert Galloway Keller, and Edward Westermarck, among others. Outside sociology and anthropology, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also developed an evolutionary model of society based on economics and the class struggle (Sanderson 2007).

After a period of several decades in which evolutionary theories were heavily criticized, in the 1930s and 1940s evolutionism revived in the work of V. Gordon Childe (1936, 1951), Leslie White (1943, 1959), and Julian Steward (1955). Childe and White emphasized technological development as a critical force behind social evolution and developed broad evolutionary schemes. Steward focused on ecological determinants of cultural evolution...