In this article we will discuss about the concept of cultural lag.
Concept of Cultural Lag:
The concept of cultural lag was first introduced by W.F. Ogburn in his book Social Change which was published in 1922. Since that date ‘cultural lag’ has been discussed from different angles by sociologists. Thus, MacIver has spoken of technological lag, technological restraint, culture clash and cultural ambivalence.
According to this theory, the culture of any society consists of a pattern of interrelated elements. We can easily see that all aspects of a culture will not change at the same rate at the same time. Hence, a change in any one part of the cultural pattern may create strains and disturbances in the other closely related parts.
Adjustments between these parts will have to be made eventually to restore harmony. But there will naturally be a time lag before harmony is restored. This is known as cultural lag.
In modern societies, it is technological change that sets the pace. According to Ogburn, “technological progress produces rapid changes in the material aspects of our culture, but the non-material aspects fail to adjust or they do so only after an excessive time lag. As a result, many troublesome social problems are created”.
For example, automobile was introduced long before we could sufficiently broaden our streets, which were suitable for horse-drawn carriages, and enforce strictly traffic rules in order to avoid motor accidents. There is, thus, a gap between the material aspects of a culture, represented by the automobile, and the non-material aspects, represented by broader streets and appropriate traffic rules.
Similarly, when we make a statement that man’s wisdom is lagging behind his power to make weapons of mass destruction, we actually refer to a kind of cultural lag. In this atomic change, such a lag is steadily increasing.
“In atomic cultural lag, the leading variable is the maximum area within which, at any given date, people could be killed from a given base. The lagging variable is the ability to prevent this accelerating power from damaging or destroying the kind of civilization which is valued within the accepted frame of values”.
The above illustrations indicate that cultural lag appears when technological innovations move faster than social innovations. But many instances may be cited in which the leading factor of social change, which leads to cultural lag, has been political or social-psychological. Thus, a country may adopt parliamentary form of democracy as an instrument of political action.
But, in the initial stages, this form of government may not be very effective because of the failure of the people to develop habits of thought, attitudes, and temperaments that are so necessary for making the best use of this machinery. The initial failure of democracy in some of the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa is partly due to this reason.
We may also think of some striking forms of cultural lag which emerge from the development of non-technological innovations. For instance, the progressive income tax, that is, income tax assessed at a progressive rate, may be regarded as a definite social innovation that is non-technological in character.
Since the amounts of money involved are often quite large in the case of some persons, the inducement to find some dishonest method of escaping from part or all of the payment becomes great. The higher the rates of taxation, the greater are the inducement to evasion of taxes.
The cultural lag in this case is the time interval between the innovation of progressive income taxation and the development (which is not yet completely achieved) of adequate social controls to prevent tax evasion and to maintain honest tax payments.
Limitations of the Concept of Cultural Lag:
Some sociologists hold that the concept of cultural lag may be accepted with important qualifications. To begin with, we must not assume that changes in the material aspects of culture always precede changes in the non-material aspects. There is a constant interaction between the two. In the long run, technological progress itself is largely dependent on certain non- material factors, such as social attitudes.
For instance, most, if not all, of the material products of culture originate in the minds of men, and their application and use are dependent upon a favourable social and cultural atmosphere.
Thus a desire to improve the standard of living has to be kindled first in a community before it can accept technology and industrialised way of life. The rapid material progress, which is characteristic of present-day society, is itself the result of earlier changes in our thinking and other non-material aspects of culture.
A second qualification of the theory arises out of the difficulty of determining just what kind of adjustment to change is desirable. For example, the technological advances in transportation and communication have annihilated distances between countries, so that what happens in one part of the world immediately affects other parts.
It may, therefore, be argued that, as a logical corollary of this technological development, small nations should now be abolished and combined into larger political units that tariff barriers should be abolished and marketing area enlarged in order to derive the economic gains of international division of labour.
But doubts may be raised as to whether the creation of these large political units would be socially desirable. According to E.F. Hunt, by destroying the homogeneity of small nations, we would sacrifice non-material social values which are no less important to the welfare of the people than are higher standards of living.
Another objection raised against the cultural lag concept is that it inherently involves valuation. A question naturally arises: Can the value judgment implied in the term lag be reduced to objective and verifiable facts? In other words, we must have a standard of measurement by which to identify the pacemaker and the laggard.
Where no such standard is available, we cannot speak of a lag. “Wherever one part or aspect of a productive system fails to measure up in efficiency to another part or aspect, the term lag is relevant. But wherever the question at issue is not one of comparative efficiency, the use of this term becomes dubious and may convey erroneous implications”.
Some critics of the cultural lag theory have expressed doubts as to whether the concept has any usefulness in helping us to understand social change. They argue that social change is always disturbing because it disrupts the patterns of life to which we have become accustomed, and also because such a change affects different people differently. Though it may benefit some groups, it is almost sure to injure others.
According to Professor F.H.Knight, “what the culture lag theory really amounts to is the assertion that some social changes of which the theorist approves have taken place, while others of which he thinks he would approve have not, or “wrong” changes have occurred instead; the word ‘lag’ has no proper application”.
Cultural lag theory is also criticized on the ground that the ‘reasons’ for the lag are not given the importance which they deserve. In two cases of cultural lag, the reasons for the lag may be not only different but these differences may be socially significant.
For example, we may acquire the necessary skill and expertise to make the best use of the resources of the forest, but there may be a time lag before we acquire the necessary know- how of preserving forest resources.
In another case, there may be a time lag in broadening the streets necessitated by the introduction of automobile because of the opposition of some vested interests.
The ‘reasons’ for the lag in the two cases are different and should be brought out, because the two reasons are qualitatively distinct and sociologically significant. Such distinctions are not, however, brought out in the theory of cultural lag, as enunciated by Ogburn.
Maclver is, therefore, of the view that more refined analysis is necessary. “The complexity of modern social organization as peculiar significance to the various ways in which the inter-dependent parts of the inclusive system fail to function harmoniously together…”.
Hence, Maclver gives distinctive, names “to the very different phenomena with which we have to deal within this broad area of lack of coordination amongst the various part of the social system.
What is generally known as ‘industrial bottleneck’ illustrates the concept of technological lag. This lag appears when any one aspect of an inclusive system of technology fails to keep in step with other aspects, resulting in impairment of productivity of the whole system. There may be many kinds of technological lag.
This may occur when the management of a company fails to maintain over-all efficiency when it expands its, scale of operations, particularly when it becomes a part of a combine or trust. The example we gave of a lag between our knowledge of exploitation of forest resources and that of preservation of forest resources illustrates the concept of technological gap.
Technological Restraint of Cultural Lag:
There is no guarantee that discovery of efficient technological device will be easily adopted. Its adoption or application may be opposed by various interest groups. This state of ^fairs is characterised by Maclver as technological restraint. Some examples may be cited.
One reason for opposition may be that its adoption would affect adversely the vested interest involved in the pursuit of the existing method or procedure. In all countries, innovations in administrative procedure receive stiff opposition from the entrenched civil service.
Such opposition may stem from the apprehension that honour, power or pecuniary benefit may be affected adversely by the adoption of new procedure or a new technological device.
Computer, for example, is undoubtedly of immense help in any kind of work situation. But the introduction of computer has not been easy in any work place, be it a government department or a semi-government or private enterprise. Trade unions oppose its introduction on the ground that it would restrict employment opportunities. Sometimes opposition may stem from cultural consideration.
For example, when tube well was introduced in India about seven or eight decades ago, many conservative Hindu families did not use or drink water from tube wells on the ground that water came in contact with leather (in the form of washer) and thereby became ‘impure’.
Many innovations and discoveries have been opposed in the past on religious grounds, on the ground that those discoveries contradicted the statements in the scriptures. The case of Galileo is well known. Even Darwinian Theory of evolution received opposition from the Established Church on the same ground. Maclver observes that in its resistance to technological advance, culture fights a losing battle.
“It has become increasingly clear that culture cannot successfully oppose the advance of civilisation, but that instead its task is to accept and to direct that advance, controlling it to serve cultural ends. Only thus can the maladjustments of culture and civilisation, which must constantly arise in the course of technological advance, be progressively reconciled”.
Maclver defines culture clash thus:
“We do not include under culture clash the conflicts of creeds and ideologies so frequent in every modern society. We refer only to conflicts between two entire culture patterns, each of which embraces a whole way of life. Such clashes arise pre-eminently from the coming together within a single community of groups that have been bred in separation before they become thus conjoined. Usually one of the cultures concerned is an imported culture, while the other is indigenous or at least has long been established in its present home. The two are brought rather abruptly into contact, and under these conditions one of them appears to be a threat to the very existence of the other, especially if the former is associated with a dominant group”.
When Islam came to India about one thousand years ago with an entirely different cultural pattern, the indigenous population embracing Hindu way of life could not absorb it, as it had done in respect of earlier immigrant groups such as Sakas, Huns, etc. The natural outcome was culture clash which has, unfortunately, gone on for the past several centuries.
It appears that such culture clash would have considerably abated in the course of sharing joys and sufferings of common living for centuries, had there been no intervention of economic and political forces. Vested interests of both economic and political nature have grown around this division between the two communities and tend to fan the fire of separatism under the facade of culture clash.
The phenomenon of cultural ambivalence is a socio-psychological phenomenon which arises in the cases of individuals who are subjected to contradictory pulls, each representing a particular normative pattern.
In a society there is usually a ‘trend to consistency’ (in Sumner’s words) in respect of the prevailing mores, and an individual does not generally find any difficulty in accommodating to the mores of society, thanks to the processes of indoctrination and habituation to which he has been exposed since his early childhood.
“But when the individual is subjected, especially in the formative stage of life, to the counter demands of clashing culture patterns, he may fail to achieve an adequate personal accommodation. He undergoes a process of cultural denudation or, seeking vainly to reconcile in his behaviour the opposing demand, he becomes more or less schizophrenic. We have then the phenomenon of cultural ambivalence”.
While discussing the causes of maladjusted behaviour among young people today, a UNESCO Report contains the following analysis which emphasises that conflicting cultural values leave a young person in an ambivalent state of mind with regard to the role he must play in society:
“This generation has grown up in an ever more swiftly changing world. Social relationships are conditioned and characterised by the large-scale organisation of industrial economy, by technical development, automation and bureaucracy, by the strict laws of supply and demand, and by the functioning of depersonalized mass units. In contrast to non-industrialised society, where moral principles and customs are sometimes pre-determined and understood to which everyone is expected to conform, the great social changes introduced by industrialised society bring in their train the breaking up of these norms. In this urban civilisation with its new freedom for the individual, each person must find and create his own way of life. Freedom from old feudal and class distinctions has presented man today with the problem of freedom to establish a new standard of morals and values. The relationship of young people to God and the Church is typical of this process today”.