• Dr. Timothy X. Merritt

Social Change Tool Kit - Part 1


Fiction authors that create imaginary worlds have a unique opportunity to influence cultural change. However, to do that job well, one must have a sense of perspective about all the ways social change comes about. I’m going to begin by offering you a Mind Map of ten prominent social theories. We’re going to separate each one of these “tools” in the tool kit and take a closer look at them to get a feeling for the types of patterns they describe. Then I’m going to introduce you to my library of fiction books that contain imaginary worlds so you can get an idea about how these patterns of social change are described.

The Social Change Toolkit

Let’s unpack the tool kit and see what we have to work with.

Each of these theories represents a tool that authors can use to understand their world. Remember that even though we will consider each of these tools separately, social theories overlap and interrelate as a practical matter.

Just as in real life, it takes many tools to construct a house; by the end of this presentation, you will understand how all these tools work together to enable the fiction writer to construct a plausible alternate world.

Progress Theory

Let’s begin with Progress Theory because this view is the dominant explanation of social change in Western culture (Bishop, 2012, p. 119)

Progress Theory Assumptions:

  1. Today’s society is better than the societies of the past.

  2. Future societies will be better than the present. (Bishop, 2012, p.121).

Critical assumption: “That some universal standard of value can be used as the criterion for judging which changes are progressive and which changes are not” (Bishop, 2012, p.121).

Critique (just one): “Many people today see the West not as a progressive state, but as a decadent one – a decline from a better, simpler, holier and more moral time” (Bishop, 2012, p.121).

Progress Theory differs from Development Theory in that Progress theory strives for some nebulous universal standard, while Development Theory argues instead that the pattern of society is moving towards a state of increasing complexity.

Over 150 years ago, Herbert Spencer became “the best known of the early Progressive theorists, basing his theory of progress on the newly formed Darwinian theory of evolution. In fact, Spencer, not Darwin, coined the phrase “Survival of the fittest” (Bishop, 2012, p. 152)

However, in light of recent discoveries in Emergence Theory, Spencer’s ideas may be more applicable to explaining the “nuts and bolts” process whereby the actions of individual agents result in macro-level societal patterns.

Continue to Social Change Tool Kit - Part 2

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