In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Change

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Communication Texts
  • Manuals and Resource Books
  • Journals
  • Definitions
  • History of Communication and Development Policies
  • History of Communication and Development Rights
  • Development Communication History
  • Modernization and Growth
  • Communication and Modernization
  • Dependency and Underdevelopment
  • Cultural Imperialism and Dependency
  • Globalization and Localization
  • Information and Communication Technologies for Development
  • Multiplicity and Cultural Identity
  • Participatory Communication
  • Future Prospects
  • Devcom (Development Communication) Approaches
  • Methodologies for Research, Evaluation, and Planning
  • Case Studies

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Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Social Change
Jan Servaes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 February 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0063


In the social and communication sciences, social change has traditionally been associated with “development problems” that occurred in “developing countries.” It is only since the late 1980s and early 1990s that social change has become a global issue. The study of communication for development and social change has therefore been through several paradigmatic changes. From the modernization and growth theory to the dependency approach and the multiplicity or participatory model, the new traditions of discourse are characterized by a turn toward local communities as targets for research and debate, on the one hand, and the search for an understanding of the complex relationships between globalization and localization, on the other hand. The early-21st-century “global” world, in general as well as in its distinct regional, national, and local entities, is confronted with multifaceted economic and financial crises but also social, cultural, ideological, moral, political, ethnic, ecological, and security crises. Previously held traditional modernization and dependency perspectives have become more difficult to support because of the growing interdependency of regions, nations, and communities in the globalized world. The conclusion we can draw from late-20th- and early-21st-century reconceptualizations and reorientations of development and social change is that while income, productivity, and gross national product (GNP) are still essential aspects of human development, they are not the sum total of human existence. Just as this has important implications for the way we think about social change and development, so too does it present opportunities for how we think about the role of communication in development and social change processes.

Introductory Works

In general, social change (or development) could be described as a significant change of structured social action or of the culture in a given society, community, or context. Such a broad definition could be further specified on the basis of a number of “dimensions” of social change: space (micro, meso-, macro), time (short, medium, long-term), speed (slow, incremental, evolutionary versus fast, fundamental, revolutionary), direction (forward or backward), content (sociocultural, psychological, sociological, organizational, anthropological, economic, and so forth), and impact (peaceful versus violent). The literature on social change and development is rich and plenty. Vago 2003 and Weinstein 2010 could be used as comprehensive general introductory overviews. Sanderson 1995 provides a broad historical analysis mainly from a materialist evolutionary perspective. Boudon 1991 is the author’s own assessment of social change theories based on his appreciation for the concept of “disorder.” Hettne 1990 and especially Nederveen Pieterse 2010 focus on the different “disguises” in which development theory has manifested itself. The more critical issue-based contributions are Booth 1994 and Sklair 1991. Both books are also important from a historical perspective, as they introduced the late-20th-century perspectives that are still part of early-21st-century discussions.

  • Booth, David, ed. 1994. Rethinking social development: Theory, research, and practice. Harlow, UK: Longman.

    This collection presents a research agenda for development and provides a critical overview of its problems and possibilities. Chapters deal with a comparative sociology of state-economy relations; a reconstitution of concepts of heterogeneity, actor, and structure; the social construction of rural development and indigenous agriculture; and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as users and subjects of social inquiry.

  • Boudon, Raymond. 1991. Theories of social change. Cambridge, MA: Polity.

    In Boudon’s view, social life is in a fundamental sense marked by “disorder.” Patterns of social change continually diverge from the outcomes that social actors attempt to achieve. From this empirically documented position, Boudon critiques the existing theories of social change in sociology, identifying their nomological, structuralist, or ontological bias. First published in French.

  • Hettne, Björn. 1990. Development theory and the three worlds. New York: Wiley.

    An overview of the different development theories and models, with an assessment of their relevance from a social scientific perspective and the future of the debate on social change. Separate chapters discuss the “voice” of the third world, dimensions of another development, and transcending the European model.

  • Nederveen Pieterse, 2010. Development theory: Deconstructions/reconstructions. 2d ed. London: SAGE.

    A systematic and comprehensive overview of all the theoretical approaches associated with development: discourse analysis, political economy, culture and development, alternative development, postdevelopment, human development, information and communication technology (ICT) and development, international development cooperation, globalization, intercultural development, social development, critical holism, and reflexive development.

  • Sanderson, Stephen K. 1995. Social transformations: A general theory of historical development. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Outlines a general theory of social evolution from the Neolithic period up to the modern world, crossbreeding the materialist evolutionism and conflict theory of Marvin Harris and Gerhard Lenski with the world-system theory of Immanuel Wallerstein.

  • Sklair, Leslie. 1991. Sociology of the global system. Social Change in Global Perspective. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

    One of the first sociological attempts to conceptualize the global system beyond the confines of more traditional state-centered approaches. Sklair introduces the concept of “transnational practices” that operate in three spheres (economic, political, and cultural-ideological), and through key institutions (transnational corporations, the transnational capitalist class, and the culture-ideology of consumerism).

  • Sztompka, Piotr. 1994. The sociology of social change. Oxford: Blackwell.

    This book covers the four grand visions of social and historical change that have dominated the field since the 19th century: the evolutionary, the cyclical, the dialectical, and the postdepartmentalist. By doing so, it discusses central concepts, such as social process, development progress, social time, historical tradition, modernity, postmodernity, and globalization.

  • Vago, Steven. 2003. Social change. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

    A well-structured analysis of the major theoretical perspectives, sources, processes, patterns, and consequences of social change. The book considers factors that stimulate or hinder the acceptance of change in a multicultural context, and it emphasizes unintended consequences and costs of both planned and unplanned change.

  • Weinstein, Jay. 2010. Social change. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    The book presents a comparative social scientific approach to change at all levels of society—local, national, and international—in a time-based fashion. It discusses the components of change and the factors driving them.

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