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More on Social Change Two Theorists with some interesting ideas Daniel Chirot – professor at University of Washington – How Societies Change Alvin Toffler – “futurist” the Great Wave; Future Shock. Chirot Culture “The store of knowledge any society possesses” Cultural “memories” .

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More on Social Change

Two Theorists with some interesting ideas

Daniel Chirot – professor at University of Washington – How Societies Change

Alvin Toffler – “futurist” the Great Wave; Future Shock



Culture “The store of knowledge any society possesses”

Cultural “memories”


Causes of change:

  • Response to changing environment
  • Example: shift from hunting/fishing to agriculture because population got too large to be sustained by existing resources
  • Note: scarce resources

Another example of environmental influences was

  • Failure to change – subject to catastrophes – drought, invasion, flood
  • Civilizations had to deal with continuing rebuilding so could not grow
  • W. Europe not subject to these disasters, so was able to thrive
  • (Think about effect of disasters on resources….)

Technological component to societal change

Invention of deep plow

Efficient use of moist heavy soil

Contributed to 400-year expansion of Europe


Machinery (Industrial Revolution)


Petrochemicals – airplanes, etc.


Environmental influences brought about the invention of the STATE – about 3000 years ago

  • “the single most critical innovation in human organization”
  • People in greater concentrations of population had to develop ways to govern and be governed
  • AND to cope with SCARCE RESOURCES

State – invented in concentrated population areas – agriculture

State = 1. stable government

2. Social diversification

Elaborate bonds of kinship and mutual dependence



We are still built to be hunter-gatherers

Many of our deepest beliefs and cultural attributes still come from these venerable civilizations, even though most of the world no longer really according to such arrangements

(fight/flight mechanisms, for ex.)


First specialists were SHAMANS – natural healers, understood supernatural forces (chiropractors?!?)


2nd oldest specialists were war leaders

Before state, were impermanent

After state, became permanent

1st rulers of states were priest-warrior kings


Societies became stratified – 3 ways

Prestige - knowledge


Class position based on birth


Culture of elite – priests, warriors, nobles, officials, kings

(Who is today’s elite = technological knowledge)


Problems of administration – how do elite control the masses? How to get things done?

  • 2 most important issues:
  • Get resources/revenue for state
  • Wage war (to get resources/revenue)

“Technology of Administration” needed to be developed – social, not mechanical skill

King in capital needed to control people in outlying areas – how to get people to give up their revenue to the king


For large empires to work, there had to be

  • Sufficiently high population densities (from improvements in agriculture, technology
  • Bureaucrats – good records and systems
  • Adequate transportation
  • Effective weapons

Peasants – bound by tradition, incapable of changing?

Why some changes resisted, some welcomed?

“ethic of survival” – people were “close to the margin” – could not afford to try something new (crop rotation)


Which sectors of society change first?

Peasants or elite?

Diffusion of innovation

From “early adopters” to “resistors”


Transition to agricultural states took place in unusually crowded places from which it was difficult to escape problems – needed to adapt, more exchange of ideas


General rule of social change – the longer there has been social stability, the more difficult to carry out reform

Established groups – economic social status, political – consolidate positions, learn to defend

Establishment more set in its ways

Only catastrophe weakens established interest groups to reduce resistance


Most innovative were merchant cities – trade and commerce

Competition and trade led to many more social and political mutations

People on coasts vs. those in interior

Cultural change as “slow drift toward inefficiency”


Alvin Toffler - The Third Wave (1980)

  • Toffler’s assumption
  • Change is not chaotic or random but forms a sharp, clearly discernible pattern
  • Changes are cumulative, adding up to a giant transformation
  • Change comes in waves – history is a succession of “rolling waves of change”

First wave – rise of agriculture – about 8000 BC –

Before this were hunter-gatherers, living in small, often migratory groups, feeding by foraging, hunting, fishing, herding – “primitive” peoples

No societal structure; no “kinship” recognized; lived “hand to mouth”


1st wave as process of civilization

  • Land as basis of economy, life, culture, family structure, politics
  • Life organized around village
  • Simple division of labor
  • Few castes and classes
  • Power rigidly authoritarian
  • Birth determined position in life
  • Each town self-sufficient, decentralized

First wave, agricultural revolution

Slow changes

Life not substantially different in 1500 AD than it was in 1000 AD

Agricultural revolution almost exhausted by end of 17th century

When industrial revolution began in England (1650-1750)


Industrial Revolution – second wave

Touched every aspect of human life

Tractors, typewriters, refrigerators

Wristtwatch, ballot box

Note conflict between 1st wave and 2nd wave in settlement of US: first settlements agricultural, then farms pushed further west….


Tension between 1st wave and 2nd wave reached peak in 1861

Civil War – “would the rich new continent be ruled by farmers or industrializers”?

Today only remnants of 1st wave are in Africa and S. America ?


Industrial Revolution “ violently” split lives – ripped apart underlying unity of society, creating

“economic tension, social conflict, and psychological malaise”

Split production and consumption (from family to large impersonal company)

Sector A (production for self ) huge in Wave 1; Sector B (production for others) small


Industrialism broke the union of production and consumption, and split the producer from the consumer

First – marketplace as center of life;

Then, economy becomes “marketized”


Today, concern with money, gods, things, not a reflection of capitalism, but uf industrialism

Dual personality of producer and consumer – producer: defer gratification, be disciplined, work hard, be a team player, be obedient

Consumer: seek instant gratification, pursue individual pleasure


3rd Wave – starting mid 20th century – Service Economy,

Don’t make anything –sell things and provide services

Also highly dependent on computers - hardware and software

Examples of major companies in US


Fed Ex



2nd industrial wave still here (we still need things)

But its effect on economy is diminishing

# jobs in industrial sector diminishing –

# jobs in service sector increasing

Quad Cities – mid 1980s – lost ag industry – what replaced it?


Elements of First/Second/Third Waves

Energy sources:

1st – “living batteries” men and animals

2nd – irreplaceable fossil fuels

3rd- “intellectual capital”



1st – “necessary inventions” – winch, wedge, catapult, lever, hoise

2nd – electromechanical

3rd – computers


1st – handcraft methods of production

2nd – “mass production”

3rd – production for “niches”



1st – by human/animal

2nd – by train, highways, complex mass distribution methods

3rd – by email, fax



1st – large, multi-generational, immobile

2nd – nuclear, smaller, more mobile, more fragmented

3rd – more diverse demographically …



1st – home school, one room school, less needed or sought (needed on farm)

School year is vestige of 1st wave

2nd – mass, overt curriculum to create workers; children started in school younger and stayed longer

3rd – individualized, distributed, online, for special training needs



1st – individuals, no real business format

2nd – huge companies, conglomerates, “immortal beings”

3rd – fast-changing; more flexible; still trend toward consolidation



1st – face to face, writing, limited, reserved for rich and powerful

2nd – massive amounts of information to masses; post office; internal and external; telephone and telegraph; identical messages to masses “facts”

3rd – “paperless society”??? More personal, individual, email


Work and Home /Men and Women

  • 1st – at home in fields, every one together – work and home together
  • 2nd – work in factory, divided from home; great degree of specialization; care of children and home divorced from “real work”; hard work “not for women”
  • 3rd – people now working from home; type of work that both men and women can perform

Second Wave Societies

  • Standardizaton
  • Specialization
  • Synchronization
  • Concentration
  • Maximization
  • Centralization

Third Wave Societies

  • Personalized
  • Diversification
  • Asynchronized
  • Dispersed
  • Minimized
  • Decentralized

So where are we?

The first wave is dying (death of the family farm) except in 3rd world countries

The second wave has passed its prime and is on the decline (decline of unions and of steel and auto companies and of conglomerates)

The third wave is in its prime (service economy booming; computers ubiquitous; personalization key)


So what is the fourth wave… is it here already?


“Virtual” everything?

Micro everything?

What will be effect on work, family, communications, education, production, distribution….?


Whatever it is, it is right around the corner

1st wave 8000 BC to 1650 AD (almost 10000 years)

2nd wave 1650 to 1950 (300 yrs)

3rd wave 1950 to present 2000 (50 years)

4th wave ??? Starting now?