Social Change: Meaning and Definitions

Any society could not stay in constant position in terms of language change, population growth and decline, fashion come and go and food consumptions. It has been occur due to natural disaster, scientific innovation, assimilation, migration, human evolution, climate change, and transformation of knowledge. Social change is continuous process. Social change simply refers to alteration of human behavior, practice of norms and values. Social change might occur due to industrial revolution, social movement, and scientific invention, democratic and feminist movements around the world. Social change mainly occurs due to social relation and interactions. Change is law of nature, it could be observed everywhere. We need to understand that today is different than yesterday. In sociology we have to look at changing processes of social structure   i. e. family, and religion will not remain same. Social change should understand in the system of social relationship and it should understand in terms of social processes and interactions.

Definitions of Social Change

“Social change is a term used to describe variations in or modifications of any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interaction or social organization”.

– M.E. Jones

 “Social change refers to any modification in established patterns of inert-human relationships and standards of conduct.”


“Social change may be defined as a new fashion or mode, either modifying or replacing the old, in the life of a people, or in the operation of a society”.

-H.T. Mazumdar

“Social change is meant only such alteration as occur in social organization, that is, structure and function of society”


We concluded that social change refers to modification, transformation and diffusion of societal structures including norms, values, status, and behavior. We have to seechanges in arts, artifacts, language, technology, food, dress and knowledge. In fact, social change occurs due to adaptation of new ideas and knowledge that changes the human relationship. Social change is complex process. It is also continuous process from one generation to next.

Characteristics of social change

  1. Social change is continuous process: In society everything endlessly changes due to different factors such as scientific invention, education, migration, diffusion, and evolution process which directly and indirectly influence the everyday relationship and interaction. Change has been occurring down of history. Society cannot preserve in museum to save in constant position. It is fluid, thus change occurs at any time.
  2. Social change is universal process: Social change presents everywhere or around the world. No any society would be stay in constant position. It would be seen in rural and urban, agricultural or industrial, primitive or modern, simple and modern; however the degree of change might be vary time to time, place to place and society to society.
  3. Social change is environmental: Social change depends on physical and cultural environment, for instance, April earthquake 2015 brought fundamental change in Nepal particularly in human behavior, their relationship and interaction.
  4. Social change is temporal: Changing process happen through time. Time is important factor of social change. According to MacIver it is a becoming, not a being, a process, not a product. For example, the scientific innovation, development, migration and modification everything takes time to be changed.
  5. Degree of change is not uniform:  Degree of change is different place to place, time to time, society to society. Sometime rate of change is high and sometime low that depends on nature of society like rural or urban, traditional or modern, primitive or civilize, high caste or low caste. For instance, “Raute” society would like to stay in nomadic and isolated life whereas other societies like to change fundamentally, thus changing rate is differ society to society and culture to culture.
  6.  Social change may be planned and unplanned: Social change process may be planned and unplanned. If any change occur or undergoes with natural course which is unplanned that might be continuous, accidental or sudden i.e. flood, draught, famine and earthquake. Planned changed undergoes with specific planning, direction and certain rules and regulations of society. It might be deliberately designed; there are possibilities of control by certain group of people. It might be annual, 5 years and twenty years.
  7. Social change is multi-causal: social change should occur by different factors such as physical, demographical, environmental, technological and cultural. These factors closely interlink and interdependent upon the other.
  8. Social change might be short-long term process: Some societies take long time to change its characteristics and some societies take short-time. Some social change brings immediate result and other may takes decade long process, for instance, change in food, dress and other consumption suddenly changed in Nepali society; however change in religious practice have been taking long process.
  9. Social change creates chain reaction: Societal parts are interrelated or interdependent one another, for instance educational change within the family bring the changes in social status, economic status, consuming pattern and other kind of life style.
  10. Prediction of social change uncertain: There is no inheritance law and uniformity (time, place, context and people) so that everyone is unknown what would be happen in the due course of time.

Factors of Social Change

There are three factors of social change (i) Biological factors (ii) Geographical and physical factors (iii) cultural factors.

  • Biological factors: Biological factors include the plants, animals and human being. The non-human biological factors such as animals and plants influence the life of human being. It limits the social possibilities. To fulfill his/her demand he modifies them, meet their demand such as food, shelter and cloths. The interaction between human and non-human factors influenced the social structure. According to C. N. Shankar Rao, “The biological factors influence the numbers, the composition, the birth rate, the death rate, the fertility rate and hereditary quality of the successive generation (500). Biological factors such as size and composition of the population also influence the social structures. The change in geographic climate, food, drought, drying river, and change in soil condition consequently change the social life. The rapid increasing and decreasing of plants and animals creates the day-to-day problems in the life of human being that may effects their fertility and mortality rate which has close connection in size, density, migration and immigration. Such change may cause food shortage, poverty and health problems. It is also influenced by the non-human factors.
  • Geographical factors: geographical factors include climate, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, animal life, minerals, rocks, stones and so on. Social change is condition by physical factors. Societal activities are governed by the physical factors, for instance, there is no life in the polar and dessert areas so that there is no urban setting. The slow or continuous or sudden geographic change impacts on human life. Different factors such as floods, hurricanes and earthquake influence the human life. The natural calamities suddenly changed the way of life, for instance, April 25th earthquake suddenly changed human life of Kathmandu valley and its vicinities. Sometimes human technologies modifying the landscape and physical structure that causes displacement or new settlement and disturbs their traditional ways of living, customs, arts and other kinds of social relationship. The geography alone cannot determine the civilization where human activities including their exploitation determine what kinds of civilization would be formed.
  • Cultural factors of social change: i) culture gives direction of social change ii) culture shapes the economy. iii) culture put the social relation intact.

Culture consists mainly through the norms, values, ideas, ideologies, morals, art, artifacts and traditions. These components directly and indirectly influence the human behavior to run their day-to-day life. The value system of one culture consequently influences the other culture while they assimilate one another that change the way of behavior, consuming, thinking and acting.  

Application and Experiences of Social Change

Social change is inevitable in any society which could not exist in constant form. As other phenomena business and management systems are also modified according to interest, need and expectation of people. Change in business and management is possible through the professionalism in term of production, distribution and investment. The invention of modern science and technologies not only bring the fundamental change in social relation but also bring the change in the everyday actions and activities of business and its networks. The business network would be possible through the implications of different means and methods of state policies and plannings for instance, communal ownership change into commercial, barter economy change to cash economy. In fact, the ancient economy of Nepal based Dharmashastra, Manusmitri and other religious code of conduct which is completely changed after the systematic plans and policies of the state. Still some traditional business in Nepal influenced by dharma, rititithi, sawal, sandesh and urdi which has been running under the societal norms and values; however such business and management system simultaneously decline due to the influence of modernity, globalization and privatization policies. Modern organization employ new ideas and strategies to run their business, hire the experts and professionals that grow the productions and transition—which creates the ample opportunities within the people. The modern organization and business companies have been influenced by the different kinds of tax and tariff policies. The modern business policies should stop caste, ethnicity and religion base exclusion because it hinders the development activities and new creation in business management. Without ratifying the wages or economic exploitation there would not be possibility of changes in the everyday life of lower class. The individual competition for limited resources such as money, materials and other resources resulted conflict. The conflict within the institutions also brings transformation particularly about production, distribution, ownership and allocation of duties. The working classes get the special privileges after struggle of workers within the organization that ensure the minimum wages, working hours, and other roles and responsibilities.      

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