Despite the fact that human society seems to continue with its traditions, beliefs, attitudes and cultural patters there is always an under current of change taking place from time to time. The primitive society has not continued to be primitive. Gradually it has given place to changing culture, social structure and functions. Life for the individual has a selfish meaning of survival and satisfaction of various biological and psychological needs. The society also has many needs and aspirations. People in society get into different occupations and formation to satisfy their needs and ego and their positions as members of society.
We have already considered the structure and functions of society. In day to day life society is not static. It is continuing to perform for the productivity, utility and consumption and enjoyment of the society itself. What is further interesting in the society and structure in that there is a continuous change of needs, perceptions, experiences, functions of the society. For example, the aborigines were hunting for food and living either in the open or under trees or in the caves. In fact, primitive man did not have a family life. The formation of family, the customs of living as husband and wife, the institution of marriage, etc., were developments or changes of social structure and functions, language, the spoken word, the written script become means of communication between individuals and these are also social change.
Society has been getting transferred in every part of universe from the agrarian to industrial occupation. Likewise, we have been seeing many kinds of institutions like government, political organization, religious organization, etc., which are also the result of social change. Social change is the significant alteration of social structures, the patterns of social actions and interactions and the resultant changes in behaviour of a society as a whole, characterising it from time to time of particular patterns, along with its cultures, values and symbols, etc. It takes place according to the needs of the society from time to time.
Social change denotes an observed difference from antecedents or previous stages of the social structure, institutions, habits or equipments of a society, etc. Along with such change there are corresponding changes in values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviour in a community or a group. It is, therefore, rather difficult to demarcate or differentiate the social change from cultural change. However for a rational and analytical understanding of this concept we can consider social change as the change that occurs in the structure and functions of the society. It takes place mainly due to the needs of the society because the society for its harmonious existence as a group, institutionalizes its own functions, its leaders, its communication, its economics and so on.
The following are some of the examples of social change to understand the change of social structure and functions.
In the beginning, the primitive man lived in small clusters or even alone and did not have much chance for interaction with the rest of the world. Later, movements and migrations increased, lands were discovered and different ethnic groups were formed.
There was no family tie or life as husband and wife in the beginning. The union of man and woman was just like among the animals. Later family system was developed. There have been various marriage customs and systems in different religions in different parts of this world. Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, remarriage, divorce, etc., have been subsequent changes, in society. Similarly inheritance of property, support of the older generation by the off springs, adoption of children and such institutions have been developed. Socialization through the ages in different parts of the world has brought out a number of changes in the way in which people behave with one another inside and outside family in the community.
Patriarchal systems and matriarchal systems have also been due to social changes and institutionalization.
Apart form the security of the family and neighborhood the societies developed forms of government, leadership, defense organizations, armaments, equipments for supply, etc. Education has been an important social change in all societies. Communication through language and transport has also been by itself a social change and also a vehicle of social change. Even in education we have found different systems coming up from time to time. In Hindu culture we hear about the srutis. Later scripts and languages were formed. In ancient days there were Gurukula systems of education in India. Now we have schools, colleges, universities, etc.
We have been witnessing various forms of political organization and movements. We have seen various systems of government administration. All such changes have either been found necessary to adjust for the changing needs of the situation in the society or evolved by thinkers and planners.
An important factor for social change in every society is innovation. Invention or any new idea propounded or put forth by wise persons or experienced or matured persons carries conviction and it is accepted by others for the advancement of the society. Science and technology have made remarkable contribution to social change.
It is necessary to repeat for the sake of remembrance that social change occurs according to the current needs of the society, with regard to the function of individuals and groups and that it is a dynamic process with varying grades of speed depending on the necessitating forces. It must also be remembered at the same time that some social change may mean a reversal of trend or going back to the previous stage after finding that a particular change was less acceptable in practice than the previous stage.
Let us now consider cultural change. Culture as we have already understood is a totality of patterns of behaviour, beliefs, norms, values and attitudes, etc. Culture represents ways of life and the factors influence the pattern of life. We have also considered earlier that culture consists of material and non-material components.
With changing needs, changing perceptions and experiences and also changing beliefs, attitudes, tec., there will be change of culture. Cultural change is, therefore, the change in the way of life of a community which is dependent on the change of perceptive learning and experiences. For example, the caveman changed over to building huts with thatches and then to building of homes with brick and mortar, concrete, wood, iron, etc. All these things were due to the increase in inventions. Early man had no idea of cooking food. Today we talk of various recipes and menus, different food-stuffs and nutritional values and so on and we keep on changing our food habits. These are cultural changes. We make frequent changes in dressing. This is also a cultural change. By and large, introduction of new ideas by way of discovery, invention, etc., will bring out cultural change. We have also non-material changes like fine-arts, marriage systems, functions, ceremonies and education, etc.
It must be appreciated that social change and cultural change are very much inter-linked because both have to do with the structure and functions of the society and the ways of behaviour to lead a meaningful, purposeful and harmonious life.
For the first impression it may appear that social change and cultural change are synonymous. It is true that they are complementary to each other. But from analytical point of view social and cultural changes come about closely through innovation and diffusion. They also happen through social movements, migrations and legislation.
By and large social change, though dynamic, is a gradual process. From generation to generation changes have taken place in keeping with the emerging needs, past experiences, values, attitudes ad inventions and innovations.
Even anthropologically the emergence of mankind is by a process of evolution from the lower order of animals to mammals, primates and ultimately the cave man or aborigines. In sociology we have been able to trace periodical changes in society with regard to its composition and structure and its functions. We have referred to this as social change. Such social change has usually been in graded phases or in a more or less continuous fashion. There have also been reversals of change and sometimes, in history we refer to cyclical changes.