Society is a system of social relationship which is never permanent; rather they are subject to incessant changes. The human composition of society changes over times. Thousand years ago in Asia, Europe and America the shape of society was vastly different from the shape of society thousand years later. So change is the ever present phenomenon. In other words, change is the unchangeable law of nature.
Any alternation, difference or modification that takes place in a situation or in an object through times, can be called change. The term 'social change' is used to indicate the change that takes place in human inter-relation. The dictionary meaning of the term 'change' is inter-personal. According to H.M. Jonson, "Social change refers to the change in social structure."
According to K. Davis, "By social change is meant only such alternation, that occurs in the society, that is, the structure and function of society." In the view of Jones, "Social change is a term used to describe variation in or modification of any aspect of social process, social pattern, social interaction or social organization."
According to Merrill and Eldredge. "Social change means, that a large number of persons are engaging in such activities that differ from those which they or their forefathers engaged in sometime before."
Characteristics of Social Change:
(1) Social change is universal
It means that social change is not confined to a particular society or group. It occurs in every society, sociologically, speaking an unchangeable society is considered as a dead society. Thus, no society is free from the impact of social change.
(2) Speed of social change is related to time factor
The speed of social change is not uniform. It differs from period to period. In modern society the speed of social change is rapid or faster than traditional society.
(3) Speed of social change is unequal and comparative
We can argue that speed of social change is more or less similar in each society. It is slow in traditional society whereas it is rapid in modern society. In urban areas the speed of social change is faster than the rural areas.
(4) Social change is an essential law
Essential law means a law which occurs and over which we have no control. It may be planned or not, it must occur.
(5) Social change may be planned or unplanned
Planned changes are those which occur by some deliberate or conscious effort. On the other hand, unplanned change refers to the change which occurs without any deliberate effort like earth-quake, war, political revolution and other natural calamities. Thus, social change occurs both in planned and unplanned manner.
(6) Social change may be short term or long term
Some change brings immediate change which is known as short term change, like fashion, behavior of the individual etc. But other changes take years to produce result which is known as long term change. Custom, tradition, folkways, mores etc. are long term changes.
(7) Social change lacks definite prediction
Prediction means 'foretelling' in case of social change we are well aware of various factors but we cannot predict although it is a law. Definite prediction of social change is not possible, because what will the result of social change we cannot say.
(8) Social change is a community change
Social change does not refer to the change which occurs in the life of an individual or life pattern of individuals. It is a change which occurs in the entire community and that change can be called social change which influences a community form.
(9) Social change is the result of the interaction of various factors
A single factor can trigger a particular change but never causes social change. It is always associated with other factors such as Cultural, Biological, Physical, Technological and others. It is due to the material interdependence of social phenomena.