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Social Change Took Kit - Part 2

Development Theory

Development Theory views society as a biological organism that moves through life cycles of birth, growth, maturity, and death. This theory holds that societies become more complex over time.

Development Theory Assumptions:

  1. Society grows increasingly more complex over time.

  2. Societies are moving in a consistent direction over time, not necessarily for better or worse. (Bishop, 2012, p.121).

Critical Assumption: “That the apparent direction that has been going on for a long time will continue indefinitely for all future time. That the complexity of society will increase even further for a while is a pretty good assumption” (Bishop, 2012, p.122).

Critique: “Increasing social complexity has been accompanied by increasing energy use per capita. It takes a lot of energy to maintain all this complexity. Should the energy per capita go down, will complexity follow?” (Bishop, 2012, p.122).

We’ve already seen how Development Theory differs from Progress Theory. Development Theory views the pattern of society moving towards a state of increasing complexity rather than towards an undefined yet universal standard.

The tendency of Development Theories to view societies as analogous to living organisms ties them closely to Evolutionary Theory, which emerged from the biological sciences.

Technology Theory

So far, we have been considering Social Change Theories in the “Shape” category. But what drives the forces of Progress and Development?

Technology Theory Assumptions:

  1. There is a primary driver in the first place. (Progress and Development did not point to a specific driver).

  2. Technological development proceeds mostly on its own – the march of technology overall is inexorable.

  3. Technology is not indefinitely capable – that it will be able to support perhaps ten billion people at a high standard of living. (Bishop, 2012, p. 125).

Critical Assumption: “That humans are fundamentally material beings. Marx believed that

people’s role in society was largely a function of the work they did… Another assumption is that the technology has a life of its own, that it is not caused by anything else” (Bishop, 2012, p. 125).


To explain the cause of either Progress or Development, Technology is viewed as the (autonomous) force that drives the change.

Critique: “Technology is created and developed by people. So Technology might not be the prime mover that Technological theorists think it is” (Bishop, 2012, p. 126).


Not all cultures have the same attitude towards technology that the West has. China is often cited as an example of a culture that created technological inventions such as gunpowder, compasses, paper, and many other useful items. But these alone were not enough to launch China into a modern, industrial state.

Unlike technology, which people can see and feel, culture is difficult to observe and define.

Culture Theory

In the face of runaway Social Change, Culture Theory offers the possibility of slowing (but not stopping) the process.

Culture Theory Assumptions:

  1. Society is based on its culture more than on its material environment of its technologies – the theory argues that technology is part of culture.

  2. Ideas are the key components that give culture its ability to drive change. (Bishop, 2012, p. 126).

Critical Assumption: “That society is essentially a collection of beliefs, attitudes, values, and

norms that defines the world for its members and prescribes what they should do in that world. Advocates assume that people are cultural beings more than material ones”(Bishop, 2012, p. 129).


Culture Theory introduces the concept of stability and even of some resistance to change. It views technology as a subset of a larger cultural force that actually drives the changes of Progress and Development.

Critique: “Did… culture just decide to change itself? And how would it do that if each generation is socialized into the culture of the previous generation? Even if socialization is not perfect, could it account for that much change?” (Bishop, 2012, p. 130).


Unlike technology, which people can see and feel, culture is difficult to observe and define. Cultural changes certainly create other social changes, but the process of socialization is too slow to account for the massive changes in society that we have been observing.


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