• +1 415-843-4508
  • info@socialcareideasfactory.com
  • San Francisco, CA 94107
What is Social Change?

What is Social Change?

Sociologists define social transformation as the transformation of culture, institutions, or functions. Most changes are not instantaneous. Change is often slow in society. Many parts and forces are at work in society, which makes it difficult to disrupt the status quo. These types of changes are common in all societies. This is something you don’t have to be a historian to understand. Take a look at a modern society, and think back to what it was like hundreds of centuries ago. Society is often difficult to recognize.

What theories explain how social change works? What are the causes?

Theories for social change

Although it is inevitable that societies will undergo some changes over time, the reasons why this happens are not clear. Sociologists have experimented with many models and ideas throughout history. There are three major theories of social change: functionalist, evolutionary, and conflict.


In the 19th century, evolutionary theory of social changes gained popularity. Sociologists embraced Darwin’s theory and applied it to their lives. Auguste Comte is known as the “father” of sociology. He believed in the evolutionary model. This theory states that society evolves to “higher levels.” Just as organisms change from simpler to more complex, so does society. Societies that fail to adapt quickly enough will be left behind. Many sociologists concluded that Western societies were superior because of their “advanced state”.

Social evolutionists believed that every society must experience the same progression. Modern theorists believe that evolution is multilinear. Societies can develop in many different ways.

Functionalist theory

Functionalist social change theory teaches that society is a body. Each part is an organ. Each part cannot survive by itself. Emile Durkheim was a leader in the social sciences. He believed that harmony is essential for all parts of a society. Societies that aren’t united can be described as “no more than a pile sand”, which is vulnerable to falling apart. All parts of a system must adapt when one is hurt. Why? Functionalist theory teaches that society is always striving for stability. Although problems are temporary, they require attention from other parts of the society. This is social change.

There are critics to functionalism. Many people point out that functionalism tends to overlook the fact that elite society often creates harmony and stability. This theory fails to consider race, gender, and class. The 1940s and 1950s were the peak years for functionalism, with a decline beginning in the 1960s.

Conflict theory

Conflict theory asserts that society is inherently unequal and competitive. This theory was developed by Karl Marx. Marx believed in the evolutionary model up to a point. However, he didn’t believe that each phase would lead to something better than the previous. The rich and powerful often control society by exploiting vulnerable people. This creates conflict and spurs people to take action. As a result, social change is possible. Over the years, the conflict model has evolved. It is also found in feminist theory, queer theory and critical race theory.

What causes social change?

But how do you know what causes social change? Three main factors drive social change:


A glance at the history of our world shows that conflict can lead to social change. Dissatisfaction and anger are fueled by inequalities that arise from class, race, gender and religion. Groups can come together to address the problem. It is possible to overthrow or restructure governments. Sometimes, change can happen quickly. Other times, it happens slowly.

Demographic changes

Social change occurs when the demographic makeup of a society is changed. Societies’ demographics change often when there are more people living longer and birth rates rise. The dispersal of resources and the availability of resources is affected by a larger population. Society is also affected by an increase in immigration and emigration.

Cultural changes

Cultural changes are influenced by new inventions, discoveries and the spreading of ideas. The internet has had a profound impact on our culture. It has changed not only the culture of individual countries, but also the world. It has changed the way we communicate and also the structure of many industries. The culture of a society is also affected by discoveries. Think about how much America was changed by the discovery of America by Europeans. This is a great example of how social change can not be beneficial for everyone. Culture can also be influenced by new ideas regarding gender, race and religion, work, education, etc.

Get a free online course in Social Change (UNICEF).

Examples for social change

Social movements are often the catalyst for social change. Every country in the world has witnessed countless such examples throughout history. The following are some of the most well-known (many of them ongoing and/or changing):

  • Reformation
  • The end of the transatlantic slave trading
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The feminist movement
  • The LGBTQ+ rights movement
  • The green movement

What is the importance of social change?

When societal structures and cultures undergo significant changes, it is called social change. The Reformation in 16th century Europe and the American civil right movement are two examples. Social change is often slow. This is particularly true in a global society. What is the importance of social change? Here are 10 reasons.

#1. #1.

The state of gender equality can seem overwhelming and even depressing. Social change is not something that can be achieved overnight. As more people, groups, or institutions join the cause, it becomes more impactful. These actors are able to propel the world forward, culture by culture and country by country. To make a lasting social impact on a large scale, actions like closing the gender gap in pay; improving education access; and improving women’s healthcare are all important.

#2. #2. Social change can improve worker rights

Over the course of history, every industry has been victim to greed. The United States is a prime example of how social changes can affect labor and worker rights. The US has seen the rise of unions, child labor laws and the minimum wage over two centuries. There have also been laws regarding family and medical leave. As workers fight for their rights, this area of social change continues. They demand higher wages and better legal protections. When they boycott companies that use unethical methods, consumers also play a role.

#3. #3.

One of the most vulnerable groups in the world is the LGBTQ+ community. This community is more likely to be victims of violence and suicide as well as discrimination. Many social movements, both past and present, center on LGBTQ+ rights. Social change is represented by legalization of same-sex marriage, legal protections against discrimination, and shifts in cultural perspectives. It provides equality for individuals and protects them.

#4. Social change improves racial equality

Many societies deal with racial disparities. Individuals and groups can be discriminated against based on their race. Social movements, like the United States civil rights movement, focus on changing laws and protesting current conditions. It is important that social change addresses the perceptions of race in society. As important as legislative actions can be education and awareness.

#5. #5.

Research shows that workplaces with more diversity are more productive. It would be a good thing for business and the economy in general if every workplace made an effort to promote equality and inclusion. Social changes include closing gender pay gaps, creating legal protections for workers and following nondiscriminatory practices. These are key to diversity and success in the workplace.

#6. #6.

Humanity is the only living being to have had such an impact on the environment. Research has shown that humans are causing unprecedented damage to the environment, including water and land. This impacts the safety and wellbeing of all life on Earth, including humans. The green social movements are pushing back with earth-friendly initiatives like supporting endangered species. They encourage individual responsibility as well as raising awareness about climate change issues.

#7. #7.

History has shown that power can be corrupt. Human rights violations are often committed by governments against their citizens. Social change can bring attention to these injustices and dismantle harmful structures. This will help society transition into better systems. These changes can be made quickly or violently by civil war, conflict, or other means. The change can be slower through elections and legislative.

#8. #8. Social change tackles the root causes of problems

Social change is marked by lasting impact. It’s not enough to just treat the symptoms. Social movements that are most effective address the root causes of problems rather than just the symptoms will be more successful. To address homelessness, for example, it is important to understand why people are homeless. Short-term solutions will not address the root causes of homelessness. It is also necessary to take long-term steps. Permanent changes can be made by looking at the roots, which will save society time, energy, money, and other resources.

#9. Social change empowers citizens

Individuals who work together towards a common goal often bring about social change. They identify what is wrong or inefficient about society and take steps to fix it. Many activists can point to a particular movement or person in the past that inspired them. Citizens are empowered by social change. This is a testament to the fact that hard work and passion can pay off, even in times of significant resistance.

#10. Social change makes life better for future generations

Many social movements are based on the realization that social change can be slow. While those fighting for change today may not see the fruits of their efforts, future generations will. Climate activists are acutely aware of this fact. They know that it takes time to heal the planet. It is selfless to fight for the well-being of people who are not yet born. It creates a society that is ready for success in the future.