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What is Social Change? - Forms & Definition

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  • 0:01 What is Social Change
  • 0:25 Process of Social Change
  • 2:00 Causes of Social Change
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Social change is the transformation of culture and social institutions over time. Learn more about the definition and history of social change and test your knowledge with a quiz.

What is Social Change?

For many of us, September 11, 2001, will be forever engrained in our memory. The social changes that were implemented as a result, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), forever changed the United States government. These transformations in various social institutions are examples of social change.

Process of Social Change

The process of social change has four primary characteristics:

1. Social change happens all the time. Not every social change will be as dramatic as 9/11. One clear way we can see social change happening is through technology. It seems that even the newest technology is outdated a few days after you purchase it! Not all changes occur as fast as technology - some changes (and societies) are much slower to adapt to change.

2. Social change is sometimes intentional, but oftentimes unplanned. Industrial societies, such as the United States, actively promote many kinds of change. While many dreamed of the day when cell phones would be commonplace, very few could have imagined all the consequences that were created as a result of that one device.

3. Social change is controversial. One only has to look at the various equal rights movements to see that social change, oftentimes, involves controversy. Even the various changes set into motion because of 9/11 were controversial in nature - many of you will remember the various debates surrounding the passing of the Patriot Act.

4. Some changes matter more than others. Changes in hairstyles and clothing patterns (while embarrassing when looking at old pictures) carry little significance in the big picture. Other changes, such as the invention of the automobile, computer, and cell phone changed the way the world interacts.

Causes of Social Change

How are various social changes set into motion? Social change has many causes. A few of these include:

Culture and Change

There are three major ways that culture produces social change. Invention produces new ideas, objects, and social patterns. The invention of the personal computer is a good example. Discovery is when people take note of existing elements of the world and create new social patterns. While the personal computer was an invention, consider all of the different ways we have discovered to use it. Where would we be without the internet? Finally, diffusion occurs as these products, ideas and social patterns spread from one society to another. How boring would our food choices be without diffusion?

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