Theories on Social Change

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Evolutionary theory

— explains that societies start from something small/simple and eventually grows into a bigger more complex society. The change may be unilinear or multilinear. Supporters of the unilinear theory believes that the movement of change goes in one direction- that is a step up; or change towards improvement/progress. Multilinear on the other hand, believes that the change may move in many different directions and may not always mean a change towards improvement.

Cyclical theory

— follows after the “rise & fall†concept. Like any living thing, it also follows a cycle of birth, growth, maturity and death and back to rebirth. The change happens when the society faces a challenge. How they deal with the challenge/s defines their survival or death. According to Arnold Tonybee, a British historian, societies can study and learn from other societies.


Critics however argued that this theory could not explain why some societies are able to triumph over their challenges and some did not or why a society may be able to rise above a certain crisis but not other crises.

Functionalist theory

—  this theory’s views the society as being made up of different parts with each part having a different purpose/duty.

This view as stated by Talcott Parsons sees changes as “dysfunctions that disrupt the smooth working of societyâ€.  This theory however was questioned by sociologists like C. Wright Mills because his theory which simulates stability could not be applied to societies where there is constant social change.


Conflict theory

— this theory explains that social change is brought about by social strife between powerful/ influential factions in a society. This theory brings about change often. Therefore it is a sign that a society is alive; dynamic.


Albeit the fact that social change brought about by this theory is usually a violent one, this process can also bring about social revolution that brings about freedom from tyranny.



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