Social change refers to any modification, difference, or alteration that occurs in an object or situation in the course of time. Any changes that occur in human interrelations and interactions can also be termed as social change. Since society consists of several relationships, any changes that occur in the social relationship systems can also be labelled as social change. According to Lundberg,

“Social change refers to any modifications in the established patterns of inter-human relationship and standard of conduct.”

The five theories of social change include the following: 

Evolutionary Theory

The introduction of the Darwinian Theory of biological evolution led society and culture to be regarded as undergoing changes akin to the evolutionary changes. It believes that society and culture are governed by the same laws that guide organisms and biological growth. Herbert Spencer (1890) added that sociology is,

“the study of evolution in its most complex form”.

There are three main types of evolutionary theory: 

  • a. Theory of Unilinear Evolution
  • b. Universal Theory of Evolution 
  • c. Multilinear Theory of Evolution 

Cyclical Theory

Cyclical theory can be regarded as the variation of unilinear theory which is propounded by Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee. They asserted that the cycles of rise, fall, and decline determine the changes occurring in societies and civilisations as well. Spengler believes that all societies have a predetermined life cycle including birth, growth, maturity, and decline. 

Economic Theory

The economic theory is highly influenced by Marx and Marxism and hence, is also known as the Marxian theory of change. It believes that the state of productive forces determines the economic structure of society. Dorthy S. Thomas (1925) adds, “it is not difficult to establish correlation between social changes and economic changes, though it is harder to interpret them”.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory believes that since powerful groups can maintain the status quo, institutions and practices can continue. Since social change is essential for correcting social inequalities and injustices, social change is highly necessary. Percy S. Cohen (Modem Social Theory, 1968) adds, “This theory is plausible, but it is not neces­sarily true. The contention that group conflict is a sufficient condition for social change is obviously false. It is arguable that structured conflict, when it involves a fairly equal balance of forces, actually obstructs change which might otherwise occur.”

Technological Theory

Technology is considered to be one of the important factors of social change. Technological development is also believed to produce human civilisation and any change occurring in technology will consequently change the social relationship arrangement as well. 

Gillin and Gillin add,

“Social changes are variations from the accepted modes of life; whether due to alteration in geographical conditions, in cultural equipment, composition of the population or ideologies whether brought about by diffusion or inventions within the group.”

M.E. Jones states,

“Social change is a term used to describe variations in, or modifications of, any aspect of social process, social patterns, social interaction or social organisations.”