• Dr. Timothy X. Merritt

Social Change Tool Kit - Part 3


Cycle Theory

So far, the theories we have been considering all describe change as happening in one direction. Cycle Theory introduces the concept of coming full-circle.


Cycle Theory Assumptions:

  1. No directional change is uniform in any one direction – long-term directional change contains short-term peaks and troughs.

  2. Directional change eventually reverses itself over sufficiently long timeframes – nothing goes on forever, even the universe itself.

  3. Selecting the timeframe is crucial when explaining whether change is largely directional or cyclic – it can appear as either at different timeframes. (Bishop, 2012, p. 130).

Critical Assumption: “Nothing goes on forever. Sooner or later, every directional change, be it

progress or not, comes to an end. The directional change may last a long time, for generations or even centuries perhaps, but it will end someday” (Bishop, 2012, p. 132).


Cycle Theory is the first in the Mechanism Category of theories. These are not Shape Theories because there is no specific direction implied to change. These are not Drivers because they are not specific things. Rather, Mechanisms of Social Change describe a state of being that produced social change.


Cycle Theory predicts the end of the world and even the end of the universe. However, Technology Theorists see progress continuing:

Critique: “No matter the source, they believe strongly that technology will continue to advance for as long as the Earth exists; that change will take place in a consistent direction over time” (Bishop, 2012, p. 132).



Conflict Theory

Conflict Theory introduces the idea that society is not a monolithic whole and that conflict between individuals and groups can be good.


Conflict Theory Assumptions:

  1. Society is not a unitary entity but a collection of different groups in conflict, each working to achieve their own goals and implementing their own agendas.

  2. Social change affects different people and groups in different ways at different times.

  3. Being in conflict binds people more closely together, as long as radical conflict does not threaten the very existence of society.

  4. Conflict among groups motivates people to work harder for their goals and increases the rate of social change. (Bishop, 2012, p. 133).

Critical Assumption: “That the unity of society or even groups in society is a façade ‘We are in

this together,’ is a common phrase, but Conflict theorists don’t buy it.” (Bishop, 2012, p. 135).


Cultural Theorists disagree with the Conflict model. They see that even subgroups of people still belong to the overall culture. There is a sense of the collective “we.”

Critique: “Successful organizations or teams, for a time at least, use a high degree of collaboration as a way to succeed.” (Bishop, 2012, p. 135).



Market Theory

Market theory narrows the definition of conflict down to the specific sphere of economic competition.


Market Theory Assumptions:

  1. There is no limit to what humans want.

  2. Conflict and competition are overriding motivations for human action.

  3. The production of goods and services is the most important mission of society and its economy.

  4. Capital investment is the best mechanism for continued progress in the future. (Bishop, 2012, p. 135).

Critical Assumption: “That money is the primary driver (mechanism) of modern society… (and) it

is the ingenuity of capitalist competition that has created more social change than all other theories combined.” (Bishop, 2012, p. 138).


Industrial capitalism has produced incredible (almost unbelievable) results in the standards of living of a large portion of the world’s population. Yet, the marketplace has also set up the conditions for conflict along social fault lines.

Critique: “Are people merely slaves of the capitalist machine? Is life merely the pursuit of wealth? Are businesses the most powerful force for change on the planet?” (Bishop, 2012, p. 138).


Despite its demonstrable success, there seem to be very few modern fiction novels extolling the virtues of capitalism. It is as if the global society has collectively agreed that something is fundamentally wrong with this system.


Power Theory

I would explain more about this theory, but the Illuminati would come after me for exposing their secrets!


Power Theory Assumptions:

  1. People are free to influence the future as they wish, to a large extent, at least.

  2. People make conscious choices to influence the future to achieve certain goals for themselves and for (or despite) others.

  3. The best explanation of the past (history) is the story of individuals acting to create change.

  4. Some people are more able to get what they want than others are (Bishop, 2012, p. 133).

Critical Assumption: “That a relatively small group of people create an inordinate amount of

social change based on their positions and influence they have.” (Bishop, 2012, p. 141).


Certainly, some people have more power than others, but is that enough to drive all the macro-level changes we have been witnessing?

Critique: “Even presidents have to deal with technology, with culture, with businesses, and with many conflicting groups, each contending for their own agenda .” (Bishop, 2012, p. 135).


Power Theory often seems to devolve into conspiratorial speculation regarding the mysterious activities of secret societies.


Continue on to Social Change Tool Kit - Part 4

Go back to Social Change Tool Kit - Part 2


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