The fundamental changes that occur over time in the structure of society, its culture and social behavior, are called social changes.

Before we can understand in what sense this term is used in sociology, it is necessary to make some clarifications.

First, the notion of "social change" and "social development" is not identical. Social development characterizes only a certain type of social changes that have an orientation towards improvement and perfection. But there are many other changes that cannot be recognized as changes in the direction of improvement. For example, the emergence, formation, regress, transitional state, etc. These are simply change that do not directly carry a positive or negative meaning. The concept of "social change" encompasses a wide range of social changes irrespective to their orientation.

Secondly, social changes cannot be understood as generally new changes in society. In the sociological sense, we are talking about changes in social systems, social communities, social processes, institutions, organizations, their interactions.

Thus, social change is the transition of a social object from one state to another, any modification in the social organization of society, its social institutions and social structure.

Such changes can be carried out at the level of interpersonal relations (for example, changes in the structure and functions of the family-traditional, nuclear), at the level of organizations and institutions (education and science are constantly subject to changes in terms of their content, organization); at the level of large and small social groups (in Russia, in particular, now, the social structure of the population is changing); at the social and global levels (migration processes, technological development of some countries, the crisis status of others, etc.).

Further, it is necessary to highlight on the notion of "social progress" and its relation to the notion of social change. It is difficult to object that, in general, the development of society is proceeding along the increase of progressive social changes. It is important to note here such indicators as better working conditions, greater freedom for the individual, political and social rights, more complicated tasks for modern societies, and greater opportunities for solving them. Finally, the unprecedented development in the last two centuries of science and education, engineering and technology.

In general, the total complex of social changes on a historical scale from primitive to modern society can be characterized as progressive development. Thus, social progress is a process in the social sphere in which it or its separate elements or changes move to a higher stage, a stage of maturity, or there is a quantitative increase in the positive characteristics inherent in the corresponding social phenomena.

However, social progress is contradictory, and it is inapplicable toward certain areas of social life. This includes the field of art as a social institution. Art does not stand still, it constantly becomes a subject for social changes. At the same time, the notion of progress is inapplicable when the artistic, aesthetic aspect of the development of art is discussed. How can you apply it, for example, when comparing A. Dante and A. Pushkin, P. Tchaikovsky and S. Prokofiev. One can speak only about the definite progress of the technical means of creating, preserving and distribution works of art - from the goose feather to computers.

Similarly, the evolution of some other institutions and phenomena should be evaluated. For example, religion.

The contradictory nature of social progress reveals above all in the fact that the development of many social structures and processes leads at same time to their promotion in one direction and to retreat the return back in other directions. While some factors improve themselves, the other worsen. Many social changes have such a contradictory nature.

It should be noted that it is not enough to record the very fact of social changes, it is important to understand whether they lead to human well-being, its prosperity or to a decrease in the level and quality of life.

An important means of interpreting the changes and development of society are evolutionary theories, theories of cyclic development and the theory of social change.

The founders of the evolutionary theory are A. Comte, G. Spencer, E. Durkheim. The essence of their doctrine was to recognize the objective progressive nature of social development and the straight-lined movement to a perfect state. However, the concept of linear progress of society proved to be incapable of explaining the notion of movement and crises, the disintegration of society and whole civilizations, and finding universal parameters for social progress. History has shown that there are many scenarios for changes. Anthropologists have demonstrated that not only the Western societies, as well as many European nations in their development, have undergone an unequal sequence of stages.

In the theories of cyclic development of O. Spengler and A. Toynbee, the development of society is understood not as a straight-lined process of movement toward a more perfect state, but as a kind of closed cycle of ascent and decline, repeated as it is completed. All social communities, classes, and institutions of society change according to a cyclic scheme. A clear example of the cyclical nature of social change is the change in people generations. The limited nature of these concepts is the denial of the universality and progressive nature of social development.

In an effort to overcome the limitations of these two concepts, modern scholars hold the view that evolution is not unidirectional, but goes in many directions.

The leading representative of the structural and functional approach in sociology, T. Parsons, argues that societies tend to become increasingly differentiated in their structures and functions. The differentiation of society is the most important criterion of evolution. In the opinion of another scientist, R. Bell "evolution should be defined as the process of increasing differentiation that provides the social system, the body with a greater ability to adapt to the environment, which in a certain sense makes them more autonomous in relation to their environment ...; .. This does not mean that evolution is inevitable or that simpler forms must disappear. "

In addition to the T. Parsons’ theory of social changes, it is also necessary to note the socio-cultural, industrial-technological, socio-economic theories of social changes.

1. Sociocultural theories put at the head of the changes occurring in worldviews, religions, value systems, the mentality of social groups, societies and eras. These changes ultimately determine all other changes taking place in society. To this group belongs, for example, the concept of sociocultural dynamics of P. Sorokin.

2. Industrial-technological theories interpret social changes as to some extent derived from changes in industrial technology, for example, "stages of economic growth" (U. Rostow), the information society. (O. Toffler).

3. Socio-economic theories of social change, to which, in the first place, Marxism refers, take as a basis for change the dialectical interaction of productive forces and production relations.

Each of these theories has its advantages, but none of them gives a universal explanation for all social changes.

By its nature, internal structure and grades of influence on society, social changes can be divided into evolutionary and revolutionary social changes. The first group consists of partial and gradual changes, which are implemented as sufficiently stable tendencies to increase the qualities, elements in social systems. All the spheres of life are subject to evolutionary changes - economic life, various societies, everyday life, etc.

The evolutionary changes can be organized consciously, in such cases we are talking about the social reform (for example, the peasant reform of 1861 in Russia).

The reform may have a spontaneous nature, but it is always a process of gradual accumulation of some new elements, properties, as a result of which the entire social system or its important parts change. As a result of the accumulation process, new elements are born, appear and strengthen. This process is called innovation. Then comes the conscious or spontaneous process of innovations’ selection, through which the elements of the new are fixed in the system and the others are "discarded".

Revolutionary social changes differ from evolutionary ones in an essential way: first, because they are radical changes, a radical rejection of existing values ​​in the name of reorientation to others; secondly, because they are not private, but general and even universal changes; thirdly, they tend to rely on violence. Usually supporters of revolutionary changes assure that they are the ones who uphold the genuine values ​​of the whole society. And their opponents believe that they protect traditional values ​​from people who want to undermine them.

Social revolutions are the subject of bitter disputes in the social sciences. The sharp rejection of these ideas by various segments of the population is obvious.

Nevertheless, historical experience shows that revolutionary changes often contribute to a more effective solution of urgent economic, political and social problems. This is evidenced by social revolutions in the world of the last three centuries: The French Revolution in 1789 The American Revolution in 1776 and the October Revolution in 1917 in Russia.

Revolutionary social changes are possible in the future. However, at first, they probably would not be violent, and secondly, they will not concern simultaneously all spheres of the societies’ life activity, but only certain social institutions or areas of social life – science, technology, and management.

In modern society, the concept of modernization, as a form of social change, is used to ensure the historical process of transition from a traditional (agrarian) society to a modern (industrial) society. First of all, the modernization of society assumes its industrialization. Industrialism is a lifestyle that encompasses deep economic, social, political and cultural changes. Societies are becoming modern precisely in the process of comprehensive industrial transformation.

In the modern world, the modernization process is multifaceted. A number of developed Western countries are at the stage of post-industrial development, far outstripping all other societies. In such countries further transformations are carried out on the basis of using "a qualitatively different resource - the creative potential of the individual". At the same time, countries that have not reached the post-industrial and even developed industrial status, are striving for further industrial modernization. A number of sociologists examining social changes in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central America, South Africa and other regions note that in essence there is only one dominant development path - the one that Japan and the Western countries have been followed. Therefore, societies should contact on the basis of modernization.

Sociologists, standing on the positions of the theory of the world system, consider the development of modern societies in the context of the international, geographical division of labor. For example, the sociologist I. Wallerstein distinguishes three components of the global economic and political community: the Center, the Periphery and the Semi-periphery. The center dominates in economy and exploits other social systems. The periphery consists of regions supplying the center with raw materials and become subject to considerable exploitation by the Center. The semi-periphery consists of regions that are in the middle between the exploiting and exploited sectors of the world economy.

According to the theory of the world system, the countries of the third world cannot repeat the Western countries path of development Western countries, because specialization of production and export of raw materials worsen the long-term prospects of national states. This specialization disfigures the economies of these states, since it meets the needs of the world market, and not the internal interests of the country's development. Consequently, primarily external forces and processes determine the course of development of these countries. The process of social stratification in dependent countries leads to the emergence of a small elite, whose economic interests correspond to the interests of foreign investors.

Thus, we can say that if the theory of modernization is based on similarities in the process of political and economic development of the world countries, then the theory of the world system focuses on differences.

In the late 90s, the understanding of the social changes taking place in the world is associated with the process of globalization. Globalization establishes various types of links creates a "global ecumene", devoid of borders, transforming the world into a single system of interconnectedness, mutual influence and interdependence that has universal characteristics. Global processes increasingly rising influences on local social systems, and despite obvious resistance, even the most closed regimes are forced to more or less identify with the global system. The disintegration of the USSR showed that even world powers cannot withstand the onslaught of the global economy. The reality is that social changes in the 21st century will be marked by globalization.

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