From a sociological perspective, the society is made up of different structures, which play a significant role in developing it. The different structures are interrelated. The interaction of the different systems brings about changes that either work to positively assist or retard the development of the society. For systems of the society to fully contribute to the welfare of people residing in it, there must be a balance in the way all the systems work. However, due to the innate and the environmental influences present in the society, there are many social changes that take place and that work to distort the smooth running of all the systems (Macionis, 2006). Therefore, intended interaction of the systems works to retard the development of the whole society. Social change is a term that can be used to refer to the transformation of social institutions and the cultural trends of the people.
Many characteristics can make one identify social changes. Firstly, social change can be either planned or unintentional. Secondly, it can be an all time activity or happen over a short period. Some changes produce long-term effects, while others produce short-term effects. Most of the changes that take place, for example, in the modern society include change of clothing styles, the use of computer and technology, the invention of more complex automobiles, genetic engineering among others. Some changes such as the clothing styles happen either deliberately or unintentionally and may or may not produce adverse results (Macionis, 2006). Some, like the invention of the computers, have worked to improve people’s way of living, yet they have turned out to be controversial at some point. William Ogburn used the concept of cultural lag to denote the issue of material culture changing faster than the ethics of the society.
Technological discoveries such as genetic engineering have had both a positive as well as a negative implication to the people using it. Although the scientific application of genetic engineering can be justified, the religious as well as the ethical dimension is compromised. For example, use of cloning can be religiously understood as a means to interfere with natural intentions. On the other hand, others have worked to assist the human beings to develop more, for example, the invention of the car.
The changes that happen in the society are either positive or negative. They are not always desirable or those that improve the lives of the people. Development, for example, can be referred to as any positive change that works to improve people’s living standards. For instance, the building of decent roads or transport networks for people to deliver goods to the market on time.
Modernization can be viewed as a source of social change. From a functionalist perspective, the introduction of industries would demand that different people be employed in different sectors of production according to their expertise. This would bring harmony, as people will not struggle to compete with each other (Kornblum, 2003).
On the other hand, however, the conflict perspective would tend to view industrialization as a source of conflicts or social upheavals. The changes that come with industrialization tend to create conflicts among individuals. For example, with the setting up of industries in urban centers, many people will be residing in towns and other centers. Due to the divergent views, approach, perception, and cultures of the people, conflicts are bound to arise. Therefore, these changes work to destabilize the smooth running of the society.
Social change can be understood from diverse theoretical perspectives. First is the functionalist perspective. From this point of approach, the society is seen as having many structures that work in harmony to bring about the welfare of the people. They are designed in a way that they are to maintain stability, without the different interacting structures the society cannot function as expected (Schaeffer, 2009). Therefore, in this perspective most of the social changes that are experienced in the society do not contribute to its harmony but work to disrupt its smooth running. For example, the advocates of gender equality, according to the functionalist perspective, are unfair to the systems of the society. This is due to the fact that, first, both genders have roles designed for them to perform. When there is the introduction of gender equality in the system, the smooth running of the societal structures is going to be disrupted, leading to havoc and unbalance.
From another insightful perspective, the introduction of the drug abuse in the system may lead to a dysfunctional system. This means that, it will work to disrupt the social system or cause instability in the social system. Therefore, these social changes are viewed as unnecessary (Schaeffer, 2009).
On the other hand, however, although the concept of drug abuse can be seen as unnecessary, some may perceive it as necessary, since it creates employment for police officers, rehabilitation centers, therapies, and medical doctors. Therefore, to some, drug abuse would tend to bring positive social changes in the society through the creation of employment. If drug abuse is not appreciated, then there would be many unemployed people, leading to activities such as criminal acts, prostitution and others, as people try to seek alternative methods of earning an income.
The conflict perspective holds ideas, which are contrary to the functionalist school of thoughts. The conflict views the society and the world in a continual struggle. They believe that social behavior is best understood in terms of tensions between groups or systems of the society. Tension in this case may not be held to mean violence but may be taken as anything that works to disrupt the harmony in the interacting systems of the society. In this case, an example of illicit behaviors in the society emanating from social changed can be examined. For instance, those, who may engage in drug abuse, may lose the interest of their families. The social system may detach such kind of characters from the society. The person abusing drugs is rejected by the society and he/she may lack respect from the society.
In extreme cases, they lose the trust of the individual. Therefore, this becomes the reason that makes the abuser have internal conflicts within him or herself. He/she may lack employment, money, housing, and feels a strong desire to get resources, security, and love. These kinds of changes affecting the individual can bring changes in the society, which may adversely affect it. The individual, for example, may start to indulge in illegal activities such as burglary, theft, or fraud. If the individual does indulge in the aforementioned activities, then he/she is likely to affect the economy of the society indirectly. For example, more law enforcement agencies will be employed, meaning that the resources, which would have otherwise been put to other economic development projects, are used to pay the officers.
Education is a social change that has had a lot effects in the society. It is a key to the issue, especially in the modern society. However, different approaches can view the concept from different perspectives. From the functionalist perspective of issues perception, education contributes positively to the society as it works to ensure that there is stability in the society. Education works to maintain the norms and values are reinforced (Holmwood, 2005). These values are the ones that are pivotal in ensuring that stability is maintained in the society. For example, in a college set up, different students assist each other in their lessons. Those who are conversant with certain aspects share with those who do not. In turn, they share their expertise. This tends to enhance a sort of unity. In the end, they may end up assisting each other in other sorts of endeavors. The functionalist view tends to focus on how the society needs to be structured and maintained to enhance harmony and stability.
From the conflict perspective, social behavior is best understood from conflicts or the tension created when groups of people compete with each other. According to the conflict perspective, social order is based on exploitation and coercion. One of the main proponents of this school of thought is Karl Marx. From this point of approach, conflict thinkers would tend to view the education system as a source of exploitation for those who are weak. In this case, those students who perform exemplary well in their studies are going to assist those that are weak. If the work of the weak students is not submitted on time, they are likely to turn against those that are bright and this struggle tends to culminate into social upheavals.
Conflict perspectives have a view that the social changes, experienced in the society, are the result of the strains, which are inherent. However, there are certain critics that can be raised towards this claim (Greek, 1996). If all or most of the changes in the society, are the products of social unrests, then what about the changes, which are not grounded on strains or conflicts, such as technological advancements, and change of culture?
For both the structural functionalism theory and the conflict theory, the starting point of viewing the social changes that are experienced in the society is the structures. The view of the functionalist concerning social change deals with gradual social changes, and this forms part of its limitation. In addition, it perceives the society as a perfect place (utopian), which is not always the reality. The different perceptions held by the people coupled with differences in their culture are likely to be a source of conflicts.
Therefore, the claim that the societies’ structures are always in a state of equilibrium or harmony is not always correct. Instead, there are conflicts arising from the diverse perception, which are meant to be dealt with to form a stable society. However, the theory does not offer any solution to these strains, because it does not even recognize them. Furthermore, there is an assumption if there are to be conflicts or strains in the society, they may not emerge from within (endogenous), but may originate from external sources (exogenous in nature).
From the functionalist perspective, social change is perceived as appropriate and necessary. For instance, modernization is likely to come up with complex systems that are beneficial to all people. The complexity that comes with these changes enhances adaptive capabilities of the people. Any challenge that comes with complications helps people to adapt more (Holmwood, 2005). However, the theory emphasizes the benefits that social changes bring, while at the same time ignoring the challenges that come with the changes. It does not recognize the fact that dealing with the strains that the society faces will ultimately assist in bettering the lives of the people.
Conflict theory, on the other hand, seems to overemphasize the social changes emanating from institutionalized power relations, for example, the conflicts that emanate from the economics. Still, it does not account for the conflicts that arise from factors such as race, gender, age and those emanating from other sources, other than economic systems.
The interpretive theories focus on the definitions, which people give to the events that happen to them. If they define certain events as normal, then they are right. Therefore, from the interpretive perspective the human being is treated as the main determinant to define certain events as changes or not. For example, when certain behavior is changed in the society, people can tend to react indifferently to it, meaning that they do not perceive it as an aspect of social change.
On the other hand, however, when an event occurs, people are likely to act according to the knowledge they have on the changes that are taking place. When people perceive external events differently, redefine them and act upon them in a revised way, then social change will have been said to take place (Nicos, 2003). The meanings that people give to the events that happen to them is the pivotal focus to determine whether they qualify as social changes or not. Interpretive theories focus on the way certain actors perceive their social situations and the effects that these definitions have on the way they interact with them.
The interpretive theories perceive human beings as rational and less prone to the external events that bring about social change to their lives (Bevir & Rhodes, 2002). The structures of the society bear the most important parts of the society that contribute effectively towards most of the development. However, interpretive theories seem to neglect the contribution that the structures have in bringing about social changes in society.
In conclusion, both the functionalist and the conflict perspectives have an opposing view of the causes and the results of the social changes. The conflict perspective heavily leans on the internal changes. This results from the strains that people experience as they strive to survive in a society, which has limited resources at their disposal (Kornblum, 2003). For instance, the aspect of social inequality is a potential source of conflicts. These strains are the ones that shape the social changes. This point of view is different from the one advocated by the structural functionalist (Holmwood, 2005).
The source of social change is external. They also hold the view that when the changes take place in the society; they tend to be more of a benefit than harm to the people. Contrary to the idea held by the conflict perspective, that the arising of conflicts brings about a classless society with the destruction of resources, the functionalist view the changes that happen in the society to be more beneficial than harmful.