It has been understood that social change as a term shall signify such changes as affect the nature and structure of social groups and institutions and the social relations between the individual, the group and the institutions in a society.
‘Development’, ‘evolution’ and ‘progress’ are the different modes of change and whenever we speak of social change the importance of each of these modes has to be assessed, for the changes brought about by each of these processes will have distinct impressions upon the functioning’s of social phenomena.
The term ‘development’, as has been discussed earlier, means formal and structural changes in an organism. Even though society is not an entity like the living organism, the term as applied to such organism can have its valid application in social matters. Just as life grows from the simple to the complex form, society develops in the sense that its ‘energy’ accumulates collectively, such energy is ‘organized’ for functioning in a definite direction, and ‘harmony’ is achieved between the different social organs for the purpose of effecting an overall development.
‘Social evolution’ as a term has its complexities and, as has been noticed earlier, evolution in an organism means branching out from a single amoeba into different genera and species and then from the species into various forms that are caused by the process of differentiation.
In the case of a society, as Gisbert puts it in his Fundamentals of Sociology, evolutionary change means a ‘branching off of a line in various directions, which again ramify indefinitely’. A condition of simplicity changes into situations of complexity and social evolution witnesses the progressive development of social ways and customs, norms and beliefs, and associations and institutions. ‘Social progress’ does not mean mere development or evolution, for in either of these terms we have witnessed the change from the simple to the complex.
Though different writers have doubted whether or not changes in society can be regarded as progress and, when the concept of social progress is upheld, what factors determine such progress, the term ‘progress’ has been applied to social change in a few cases. Social progress definitely connotes a valuation and such valuation is made according to certain principles.
If the principle according to which, the valuation is to be made can be objectively ascertained, measuring ‘progress’ does not become a difficult affair; but such principle cannot always remain free from subjective value-judgments. When a subjective analysis confuses ‘progress’ with ‘happiness’ or material comforts, the conclusions tend to remain on the wrong side of value-free judgments and the sociologist must always guard against such pitfalls in reasoning.
Different Theories of Social Evolution:
Evolution, as understood in a living organism, necessarily stands for a process in which simple matter develops into the complex, but such development is always caused by innate qualities of such organism and not by any extraneous factor.
Darwin’s Origin of Species may have crystallized ideas about the phenomenon of development in living organisms, but the concept of it was grasped in some inadequate form or the other by some thinkers even before that. Particularly when it concerns social evolution, the thought has been current for the past century or two; but upon the nature of such evolution there has been difference of outlook between different students of social science.
Herbert Spencer maintains that social evolution is only a part of the general process of evolutionary development in all living matter in the world. Society evolves from the simple form into the complex one as it fulfills the functions of integration and differentiation in its various organs and consequently, out of the same unit of society, different social systems come into existence. According to Spencer, there are three stages in the evolution of society; the first stage is known as ‘integration’, the second as ‘differentiation’ and the final one as ‘determination’.
In the initial stages of social development, the different units of society have to be integrated and a ‘system’ has to be built up. For example, if the family is taken as a basic social unit, the first stage in social evolution was the bringing together of these families and their integration into a larger unit known as ‘society’.
In the second stage of development institutions like division of labour grew up and this process involved itself with differentiation in the sense that different classes, castes and tribes appeared. In the ultimate stage, however, the different segments of society came together and set up a new social structure based on harmony. This was the evolutionary stage of ‘determination’, for in this stage an order was established for the processes of integration and differentiation, so that harmony could be achieved.
Franz Oppenheimer has asserted in his work, ‘The State, that the State evolved in the process of applying certain principles for the satisfaction of man’s creature and basis needs. According to him, there are two ways in which man can supply his basic needs. One of them is work, which is an economic activity, and the other is robbery, that is, exploitation as a political activity; and the State arose when the political means were organized.
Early huntsmen had no state in the sense that they had not exploitative political organization. The State came into being with the Vikings and the herdsmen who learned to exploit, to divide society into classes, to hold slaves and establish the concept of the privileged class and the unprivileged people.
Oppenheimer’s analysis of the development of the State is unsatisfactory; maintaining that the State only robs and exploits is a oversimplication of its functions, since the State performs other functions too, like maintaining law and order and punishing those that violate the law. Besides that, conditions as obtained in a State might have existed even before the State as it is known came into existence; and in effect it becomes difficult to go into the question of the beginnings or the origin of a State as a social organization.
McIver and Page have stressed the importance of the process of differentiation in matters of social evolution. They hold that social evolution stands for an internal change within the social system itself and as a result of such change, functional differences can be brought about within the system. According to them, primitive societies did not have many distinctions observed on the basis of different functions and, besides the differences between tribes, clans, age groups and sex groups, not much of differentiation was noted.
Division of labour in these communities was an undeveloped practice, and associations and organizations did not exist in these societies. The community as such existed on the basis of a simple solidarity and McIver and Page observe that the ‘undifferentiated character’ of the primitive society saw in it ‘the prevalence of a simple form of communism.
Thus, the community devised a system of sharing the hunter’s spoils and, even with regard to matters like sex that are treated as personal and intimate by us, customs and practices prevalent in those days allowed a kind of sharing by the community. If there was any differentiation in such society, it was based on natural distinctions of sex and age, and the multitudinous aspects of differentiation as exist in modern complex society were at best latent, if not totally absent.
According to McIver and Page, associations and organizations in a modern complex society are so many that they immediately strike a contrast with the simple, institution- based primitive society. Historically speaking, diffusion of ideas from the beginnings of the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Persia, India and China perhaps caused the evolutionary development of human thoughts and, therefore, of human society.
But the generic lines of evolutionary development will be best understood if attention is focused upon the following features of such development:
(a) Society has evolved from simple communal customs into various differentiated associations. Codes apply to these associations and each association is developed by an institution comprising of specialized procedure and practice. Thus, political, economic, religious and cultural usages in a community collectively develop into community practices; and from that stage, different forms of procedure evolve as differentiated communal institutions. Finally, these institutionalized procedures become embodied in differentiated associations like the State, the economic organization, the school, the cultural association and the like.
(b) The Associational stage in society is so radically different from the levels that obtained in the primitive society that it has introduced an entirely different form of social relationships. There are voluntary and involuntary associations, and each great association structurally and functionally differs from the other.
For example, in the second stage of development as shown above, only one set of political institution exists for the whole society, or one set of religious institution is appreciated. But in the third and the associational stage, several political organizations and diverse ideas regarding the State are entertained, just as the religious organization diversifies into various forms of religious associations. The Church, for instance, began as a religious institution in the second stage of development of society; but in the final stage it has advanced into the form of different religious associations.
(c) When social events are studied historically, they present the earlier types of social units and the later types of the same. The differentiation between these types helps us to classify and characterize the diverse social systems as they evolved historically as also to understand the causes in the evolutionary processes that brought about definite results.
Hence, there is a historical pattern in social evolution and, if effects are noticed in the evolutionary process, there must be causes that explain such differentiation. This particular view of McIver and Page is not totally different from the observations made by M. Ginsberg in his Studies in Sociology.
Ginsberg says that evolution is a process of change culminating in the production of something new but exhibiting an orderly continuity in ‘transition’. McIver and Page also admit that in the evolutionary process certain factors cause the change which is but an orderly expression of a new form that has culminated from an older one.
However, Ginsberg would not admit that social evolution implies the change from the simple to the complex as McIver would put it. His idea of evolution is that while the process of transition introduces something new, such novelty is but a continuity of some social element that is permanent. Evolution truly speaking means a change that comes from within but, as Ginsberg points out extraneous factors also condition social evolution, and his view is that evolutionary changes in society are best understood when the subjects of society, that is, the individuals are taken into account.
He maintains that ‘the real subjects undergoing development are men of societies who speak and think and are religious’. If this view alone is taken, it would not mean that social evolution stands for substituting the simple organism by the complex one; it would rather mean that evolutions occur in thoughts and ideas and in the interaction of human social relations.
But then human interactions and social relations cannot exist in complete detachment from social customs and institutions. Every social event is the effect of complex action and reaction of human relations just as human social relations are the effect of the complex functioning of the social structure. Ginsberg says that ‘if individuals make society, it is equally true that society makes individuals’.
It follows, therefore, that a mere concentration upon human actions and reactions for the proper gauging of social change will be an inadequate approach; it must be accepted that social change as a concept is an evolution of the individual as well as of the society itself.
Social Change and Progress:
Every event of social change cannot be regarded as progress, for progress must connote the taking of a step forward. If at the root of evolution we have the stages of integration and differentiation, progress would stand for a development in a particular direction which is regarded as a step forward according to definite criteria of value- judgments.
While evolution has no definite direction other than the one which is inherent and irresistible in itself, progress must stand for a march in a forward direction according to some accepted principle that is formulated by a particular principle of judgment.
Ginsberg maintains (Idea of Progress) that progress ‘is a development or evolution in a direction which satisfies rational criteria in value’. In order to measure progress, it is necessary to apply the test of ethical advancement made by society which, of course, is an irrelevant factor so far as evolution is concerned.
Writers like Comte and Spencer would maintain that any evolutionary development of society must necessarily mean that it has progressed. Herbet Spencer particularly insists that social evolution cannot have any meaning other than that of progress. But these views are not accepted now by more modern writers. McIver states in his Society that ‘evolution is a scientific concept and progress an ethical concept’.
Even Hobhouse observes that evolution of any form does not necessarily imply that it is changing into the better form; and, therefore, we cannot conclude that evolution necessarily implies that society is progressing.
According to him, progress can be made only when the individual in society strives for ethical advancement. Social progress, therefore, is not a phenomenon marked by spontaneity; it is the product of conscious efforts made by social individuals.
The concept of progress is based on the vision of an ideal society in which every individual will have the opportunity of developing his innate qualities, in which the very basis of social relations will be principles of liberty and equality, and in which the institutions will aim at comprehending the foundations of collective good. These are, however, matters of value-judgments and the concept of progress cannot be understood without applying the test of values. Evolution, as a term, does not depend upon these values.
Some modern sociologists, however, feel that the science of sociology is not concerned with ethics and, therefore, the term ‘social progress’, which cannot be understood unless it is related to ethical values, will not be the concern of the sociologist and will consequently have no scientific value. They maintain that no scientific observation and rational conclusion shall be based on any ethical value.
If the method followed by the sociologist in the study of society is that of positive science, and if the principles of causation are to be objectively investigated into, it will be an anomaly if facts are correlated to values. However, social facts cannot be regarded as isolated phenomena; every social event has a practical side to it and another concerning values. McIver and Page observe that social facts can also be regarded as ‘value-facts’ since social valuation is much concerned with them.
Therefore, the authors maintain, that science appreciates value-judgments, first, in order to test the accuracy of factual evidence in support of a value-judgment and, secondly, for testing the validity of conclusions regarding the good or the bad in so far as these conclusions are supported by reasoning from statements of facts.
For example, valuations obtainable in any social institution may be studied scientifically in order to test their validity, but the sociologist shall not apply his own personal judgment to such valuations which are ingrained in the social facts themselves. In this way, a value- judgment can be objectively made in upon the term ‘social progress”, but the social scientist must begin his work by looking upon evolution as a value-free fact.
Thus, one may objectively determine the degree of progress made by a particular society only after one has disinterestedly studied the growth of its associations and institutions and the psychological elements in social relations between individuals in it.
An objective study of social progress can be facilitated by considering the factors that hinder and obstruct advancement in material as well as psychological terms. Any rigid attitude towards scientific development of material conditions will have both material and psychological implications.
If science and technology is looked upon with suspicion and if there is a blind adherence to outmoded custom, material development in the society will not be achieved, while social mentality in general will remain unliberated.
But if technology is applied to the processes of developing and utilizing natural resources, material advancement will undoubtedly take place; and at the same time, man will have enough scope of cultivating constructive thoughts about developing his families. His social and moral consciousness grows in degree and he learns to propagate the idea of integrating efforts in the direction of realizing the common good.
Hence, we can conclude that the society in which scientific development is hindered will not progress, while the one which encourages such development will have chances of making progress; and this observation about social progress can remain scientific in so far as it is based on social facts and not merely upon ethical considerations.
However, there are problems connected with the adoption of a scientific attitude towards the study of social change, whether such change speaks of evolutionary development or of mere progress. Social change as a phenomenon is so complex by itself that the analysis of no single factor can lead us to a definite conclusion.
In trying to explain any phenomenon scientifically, any of the following mistakes can be made:
(a) The scientist may think that any one of the many factors relating to such phenomenon is the dominant factor; and
(b) He may assume that social forces can be quantitatively measured.
For example, if it is to be considered why the middle classes in India grew under the British rule; it may be wrong to conclude that this class grew and developed only because it applied itself to the task of promoting the standards of British-oriented professions and occupations; besides that, there might have been other factors too which contributed to the growth of that class.
Similarly, if the social scientist allows himself to conclude from a number of social facts in the same manner in which quantitative conclusions are made following a study of a number of guinea pigs, he will not acquire for himself a proper perspective of the complex pattern of social facts.
The truth is that in the primitive society, the people unified social authority with their techniques and culture, and the basic personality structure of every individual was ascertainable. The simplified study of the primitive individual may then be possible, but modern complex society has introduced so many factors for the interplay of social relations that the scientist’s task does not remain simple.
Technological advancement has in modern times broken up the primitive unity of social authority, technique and culture. Culture has been detached from other biophysical factors and within the same society different cultures and subcultures may coexist. In the modem social system, specialization and the diversity of numerous groups and associations have given to society such multifarious facts that the sociologist cannot afford either to isolate one social factor for study or derive conclusions from a number of social facts.
Thus, he must realize that several factors combine to produce social changes and, as these factors make the combination, they interrelate themselves within the larger environment of society. The study of social change must, according to McIver, take into account the attitudes that depend on a particular cultural background and the objectives to which such attitudes are related, the system of means for fulfilling such objectives, and the physical and biological conditions that prompt the changing objectives and the human nature that follows them.
The scientist must first study the interrelationship of the various factors, analyse the logical order in which they fall, and finally build up an observation upon the manner in which they make up the casual process in which social change is effected.