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What is Social Change and Social Problem?

Social Change and Social Problem

This chapter presents the concepts of social change and social problems and introduces the reader to the sociological study of the duo and theoretical perspectives to social change and social problems.

Social change may result from the need to address specific social problems or may, in turn, bring about new challenges for society. Therefore, human societies must possess strong adaptive capacities to navigate through these changes and address accompanying social problems. Overall, the passage emphasizes the constant state of flux in human existence and societal structures, underscoring the significance of embracing and effectively managing change.

Sociological Roots To The Study Of Social Change and Social Problem

The origin of sociology as an academic and scientific discipline is the history of the study of social change and social problems in 18th and 19th Century Europe. Western Europe at this period was swept with ravaging social changes and associated social problems occasioned by twin revolutions born out of the Era of Enlightenment: firstly the French Revolution which started in 1789 and the British Industrial Revolution (1750-1850).

The French Revolution of 1789 witnessed intense violence and the bloody terror shook Europe to its core. With the divine rights of Kings been questioned and the decline of the authority of the church and theology as the true source of knowledge and associated rise in application of rationality and empiricism, the aristocracy throughout Europe feared that revolution would spread to their own lands, and intellectuals feared that social order was crumbling in Europe with the pervasive changes and social problems recorded in France.


Social change as earlier discussed is ubiquitous and inevitable as change is the only permanent phenomenon. According to Defleur et al. (1977 cfAnele 1999) ‘social change is the alterations in the pattern of social organization of specific groups with in a society or even of the society itself’.


Social change has the following characteristics as identified by Idrani (1998) and Anele (1999):

  1. Inevitable: Social change is inevitable and unavoidable as it occurs all the time. Its process may be imperceptible and can be cumulative, i.e., one may not easily perceive the processes of social change, although it is always taking place.
  2. Ubiquitous: Social change is present in every human society. There is no society that is static and unchanging. All societies are susceptible to social change. In other words, social change is a universal phenomenon (it is everywhere and anywhere). Iti s spread both over time and space.
  3. Multi-Leveled: Change occurs both at micro-level and macro-level. The point here is that while social change often refers to noticeable changes in social phenomena, we must not lose sight of the fact that small changes in minor relationships and smaller groups canal so be significant especially in a pluralistic society e.g. ethnic unrest.
  4. Contagious: Social change is contagious like infectious diseases. The influence of change in one area or aspect of society can have an impact on other related areas. For example changes in religious beliefs can cause change in the economy, family etc.
  5. Rate: Social change has a rate; it can be rapid (revolutionary) or slow (evolutionary). 6. Detectable and Measurable: Social change is detectable and measurable. Anele (1999:18-21) provides following detection and measurement parameters: scale (involving the size of the society and degree or magnitude of alteration); brevity (involving length of change e.g. short term changes are easily observable and measured unlike long term changes that are usually measured retrospectively); repetition (changes that repeated frequently are most likely to be identified and measured unlike those occurring sparingly).


Social problems are as old as human society as it is equally ubiquitous and inevitable aspect of human existence. A condition is not a social problem unless it is seen as violating certain fundamental values and beliefs about how society should operate. Achieving widespread consensus about whether a condition contradicts these values and beliefs can be difficult to obtain. All human problems do not become public ones. A social problem is a socially constructed way of seeing certain conditions that provides a claim to change through public actions. Thus, a social problem is not separate from everyday interactions of citizens in a society. Nor is it separate from the operations, goals, and objectives of social institutions.


On the basis of the above definitions the following are identifiable characteristics of Social Problems:

  1. All social problems are deviations from the “ideal” situation.
  2. All social problems are situations which pose a threat and have injurious consequence for society
  3. All social problems have some common basis of origin- social and often political in origin
  4. All social problems are social in their results – they affect all sections of society.
  5. All social problems are caused by pathological social conditions.
  6. All social problems are interconnected and contagious.
  7. The responsibility for social problems is social – they require a collective approach for their solution.
  8. Social problems occur in all societies – they are ubiquitous and inevitable.

Relationship between Social Change and Social Problems

Social problem is a generic term applied to the range of conditions and aberrant behaviours which are held to be manifestations of social dis-organisation. It is a condition which many people of a society consider undesirable and want to correct by changing through some means of social engineering or social planning. Many social problems result from the processes of social change. As such, a changing society inevitably develops problems.

In perfectly integrated society, it is said, there would be no social problem because in such society all institutions and behaviour would be neatly harmonized and defined as acceptable by the values of society. Changing societies are in a constant process of dis-organization and re-organization. Social problems are part of the price of social change. Periods of rapid change may bring about the disequilibrium and dis-organization of formal functioning of society.

Social change considered generally desirable in society may precipitate and increase social problems. Equal rights and privileges given to women in developing countries, including India, may have been generally welcomed as a desirable change, for women can enjoy freedom and enter into economic, political and other spheres of social life.

However, such action, partic­ularly in urban industrial areas, especially in metropolitan cities, also has given rise to problems of the effective performance of women’s role in the home as wife and mother, and sub-standard family life with inadequate nurture and care of children. These and many other circumstances associated with social change give rise to varied social problems. Thus, both are closely interwoven in their relationship.

Social and cultural change is related to social problems in two principal ways:

  1. Change may be brought in by the existence of social problem;
  2. Social problem may be created by change.

These are merely two aspects of a dynamic and self-contained process, i.e., change brings in problems and problems bring change.


What are the types of social change?

Social change can be categorized into several types, including:
Technological Change: Advances in technology that reshape how people live and interact.
Cultural Change: Changes in beliefs, customs, traditions, and behaviors within a society.
Economic Change: Shifts in the economy, such as industrialization or globalization.
Political Change: Transformation in the political system and governance structures.
Environmental Change: Alterations in the environment due to human activities or natural events.

What are some examples of social change throughout history?

Examples of significant social change throughout history include:
The Industrial Revolution: A period of extensive technological and economic advancements that shifted societies from agrarian to industrialized.
The Civil Rights Movement: A social movement in the United States aimed at ending racial segregation and promoting equal rights for all citizens.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A movement advocating for women’s right to vote and gender equality.
The Information Age: A contemporary era marked by the rapid development and widespread use of technology and the internet, transforming communication and information access.

How do social change and social problems relate to each other?

Social problems are often drivers of social change. When a particular social problem gains attention and concern, it can lead to collective efforts and movements for change. Successful addressing of social problems can result in positive social change, improving conditions and promoting a more just and equitable society. Conversely, social change can also bring new challenges and problems that need to be understood and tackled.

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