Social Change: Meaning and Nature of Social Change!


Any change that alters basically the established forms of social relationships, thus transforming in some measure the social structure, is social change. It is a change that reflects in all aspects of social life, i.e., family, neighbourhood, play group, work group (industry or hospital etc.), religion, economic and political spheres, leisure activities etc. Social change may be partial or total, though mostly it is partial.

A change resulting from enacting a law prohib­iting untouchability might be called a partial change in society. Total change hardly happens. We always find partial change in caste system, family or marriage systems. Societies do change, it is inevitable but total structure hardly ever changes. Changes are not necessarily good or bad. Sociologists do not necessarily consider social change per se to be good or bad.

According to Kingsley Davis (1949), “By social change is meant only such alterations that occur in social organisation, that is, structure and function of society.” M.E. Jones (1962) states: “Social change is a term used to describe variations in, or modifications of, any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interaction or social organisation.” Horton and Hunt (1968) defined it as “changes in the social structure and social relationships of the society”.


As sociologists we are not concerned with all types of changes that occur in society all the time. Our direct concern is with social relationships. It is the change which alone we shall regard as social change.

Thus, any modification that occurs in the web of social relationships, which alters the long established pattern of social structure and social institutions, may be termed as social change. For sociologist, alterations in the properties of social structure (or social systems) through time constitute the focus of the subject of social change or social dynamics.

Nature of Social Change:

Social change is not a uniquely modern phenomenon. Some kinds and degrees of change are universal in human experience. No society is static whether it is primitive or modern. The speed of change may differ from society to society. This speed may be so slow that it may appear that the society is static but it is not so.

The so-called modern contemporary society is changing rapidly and constantly. These changes are neither temporally nor spatially isolated, that is, changes occur in sequential chains rather than as ‘temporary’ crises. Change takes place in chain-reaction sequence, i.e., change in one part of society brings changes in other parts also. But, the rate or speed and direction of change are not always uniform in all aspects of society.


Some aspects change faster than the other. Material aspect of society (civilisation) changes faster than the non-material aspects (ideology, thinking pattern or social relationships). Causes and effects of change may also differ from society to society. The direction or patterns of social change may be linear, circular or fluctuating up and down.

It is such a complex phenomenon that no prediction or measurement about its speed, direction and causes can be made in accurate and precise terms as we see in natural sciences. As an astronomer can predict the orderly relations among planets in a solar system, sociol­ogist cannot precisely predict about human relations. Whether a marital relation between a woman and a man will last for life long or will just end in divorce after sometime.

The proportion of contem­porary change (planned or unplanned—latent consequences of deliberate innovations such as information technology) is much higher than in former times. The range of material technology and social strategies is expanding rapidly and its net effect is additive or cumulative.

Contemporary change is probably everywhere and its conse­quences may also be everywhere. Besides, increasing the expectations of life, it has brought many social problems in its train to humanity. In the modern world social change has taken on some special qualities and magnitudes. The modes of life and social institu­tions characteristic of the modern world are radically different from those of even the recent past.


During a period of only two or three centuries human social life has been wrenched away from the types of social order in which people lived for thousands of years. For more than any generation before us, we face an uncertain future.

But though we are largely immune from the natural disasters such as flood, famine and diseases like plague in the technologically developed countries today, we have to deal now with the social forces we ourselves have created. These forces bring social change into our lives in a continuous way.