Social Transformation

It is argued by some scholars that no century in recorded history has experienced so many social alterations and such radical ones as the twentieth century. In social scientific literature the term social transformation is increasingly used to describe societal changes and generally indicates a critical stance towards older notions of the idea of development. The approach of social transformation does not consider the western model as the one that should be imitated by all other nations. Rather, it admits that current forces of change are also creating a crisis for the old industrial nations. Some scholars consider social transformation studies as a field of research that can lead to positive steps for social and political action to protect local and national communities against negative consequences of global change.

In general, the concept of societal transformation in the social sciences refers to the change of society's systemic characteristics. This incorporates the change of existing parameters of a societal system, including technological, economic, political and cultural restructuring. More specifically, this firstly influences productive infrastructure which can bring about new technological changes and new patterns of participation in the international division of labour. Historically, this has meant an alteration of the requirements of global information technologies. Secondly, new structures of economic organization are developing. This may imply a change in ownership rights, as well as in investments, production, distribution and supply. Thirdly, the distribution and use of political power take qualitatively different forms. This involves changes in the structure and performance of state institutions and other bodies of decision-making and control. Finally, a society's value-normative system can change, often in a way that allows the emergence and stabilisation of pluralist institutions.1

  1. "Social transformation affects all types of society in both developed and less-developed regions, in the context of globalisation of economic and cultural relations, trends towards regionalisation, and the emergence of various forms of global governance.
  2. Globalisation is leading to new forms of social differentiation at the international and national levels. Polarisation between rich and poor, and social exclusion are problems affecting most countries as well as the relations between them.
  3. The issue can no longer be defined in terms of development, since it is no longer possible to draw clear lines between developed and underdeveloped areas, nor to put forward a universally-accepted goal for processes of change.
  4. The study of social transformation refers to the different ways in which globalising forces impact upon local communities and national societies with highly diverse historical experiences, economic and social patterns, political institutions and cultures.
  5. Any analysis of social transformation therefore requires analysis both of macro-social forces and of local traditions, experiences and identities.
  6. The response to social transformation may not entail adaptation to globalisation but rather resistance. This may involve mobilisation of traditional cultural and social resources, but can also take new forms of 'globalisation from below' through trans-national civil society organisations." 2


1 Genov, N. 1999. Managing Transformations in Eastern Europe. UNESCO-MOST, Paris.

2 From Castles, S. 2000. Development, social transformation and globalisation. Given at a Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies workshop 23-25 June 1999.

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