Change is constant, but a very broad concept. It’s altered and affected by cultural and geographical elements and most notably the realisation of self-values and beliefs. It’s complex, yet highly significant, but what is social change and how can it be achieved?
There are a myriad of definitions when it comes to social change and all include alterations in social behaviour and interactions, human relationships, and attitudes. According to Jones (1962), “Social change is best described as variations in, or modifications of, any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interaction or social organisation.” M.D. Jenson, similarly refers to social change as “modification in ways of doing and thinking of people.” Giddens (1989) notes that “there is a sense in which everything changes, all of the time” (p. 43), significant change means “modification of basic institutions during a specific period” (p. 45).
Krznaric (2007), argues, “There are no generally applicable models of how social change happens. Every context has its own history and its own peculiarities.”
When thinking about social change, I often reflect and associate it with childbirth.
You find out that you’re pregnant – The problem or issue at hand; You go through several months filled with ups and downs – turmoil, adjustment, reflection, adaptation and psychological elements associated with the change process; Birth – change is accepted or implemented; Parenthood – never ending cycle of behaviour change, a period of constant reflection and fine tuning. No matter how you define social change, the process to achieve any level of change often begins with the recognition that something is fundamentally wrong and usually unfair. It’s that feeling of outrage that nags at your core and takes you to the point where you find yourself thinking – This needs to change.
The process of achieving change is one of many layers and one that requires a process of self-reflection and cultural neglect. Let’s use my upbringing as an example: I grew up in a very religious and conservative household, my mother is a devout Christian – anti-abortion, homophobic and a Trump supporter. This may all seem very unimportant, but it’s crucial to understand the driving factors behind her ideologies. My mother was raised in fairly poor surroundings on a small island in the West Indies by two parents, who were devout Christians, she was taught to serve her husband, cook, clean, bear children, but most importantly, live and die for the church – a shared view of a wider values based community.
According to Krznaric (2007), worldviews reflect our conditioned thinking, being a product of years of education, family influence, media propaganda, and social life. These worldviews, it is
argued, provide a framework that shapes or guides our actions. The role of the environment and culture in shaping and influencing our behaviors and values play a key role when it comes to driving any level of change. It is because of these roles in society and our upbringing that we start interpreting the abstract rules of society – expectations are rules. Cohen (1992), emphasizes that cultures are bounded, and it becomes very much ‘Us vs. Them,’ the relationships between roles or positions and relationships between human beings are often used interchangeably. In sociology readings, individuals are not important, the positions they occupy and the relationships between those positions is what’s important.
Relationships are the cornerstone of social change, the actors involved, the roles they play and the influence they possess., change is in understanding these relationships and how they can be used effectively to drive change. Relationships are the reasons why volunteers abroad are so successful and why interracial couples are on the rise- interactions with people unlike yourself, gives you a different perspective from your familiarity.
Social change is a shift in relationships of familiarity.
In every era, in every country, movements emerge that attempt to transform society. Why do some succeed, while others falter? To build powerful social movements, three core elements must align: political opportunity, organisational infrastructure and engaged individuals.
Baringhorst defines three core elements to every campaign or movement:
1. Gaining awareness
2. Generating credibility
3. Generative cognitive and behavioural changes in a targeted group of people.
With the influx of technology and media, its become more possible for individuals actors to lead the cause, without the dependence on the media to raise awareness of specific causes. The #MeToo campaign, which was started over a decade ago, is a perfect example of social campaigning moving to achieve social change, or in part spark conversation and ultimately touches on every key point as defined by Baringhorst, but according to a recent article in CNN1, online interest is only driven by the amount of time and attention the media gives to any given subject. Just look to #Charlottesville, #Ferguson and #BringBackOurGirls as examples of high profile movements that are no longer mentioned, but still very relevant.
Another timely example, is the earthquake that shook Haiti, 8 years ago this month, and as highlighted by the Huffington Post,2″Nearly immediately Facebook and Twitter launch communication and fundraising support campaigns. The American Red Cross collects $7 million dollars in 24 hours by allowing people to make $10 donations using their cell phones.” This is a great indication of evolution and refinement, associated with social change. The shift to non-reliance and the approach of taking matters into one’s own hands is a growing trend with regards to social change. Individuals are no longer dependent on mass media to disseminate messages for them, but rather are turning to mobilizing groups through the use of technology and the narrative arc as presented in the popular press will keep changing, and changing, and changing.
Achieving social change, is the culmination of campaigning, power, media influence and storytelling and most importantly – patience.