Of all the phenomena which are of interest to sociologists, social change is perhaps the most elusive and therefore the most given to speculative debates. That is, closely related phenomena like development and evolution are not as problematic as the concept social change when it comes to the question of definition. This is because, looking at the various definitions of social change, considerable diversity of opinions exist amongst scholars even with respect to such formal questions as what constitutes the logical subject of social change, and what are its temporal and spatial dimensions? It is, however, interesting to note that some people identify the subject matter of social change with the entire field of sociology, arguing that social life is life and therefore changes.
This explains why in August Comte’s work, sociology is seen as the study of static and dynamics – order and progress. Also in Comte’s submission on methods of inquiry, the notion of social change as the subject matter of sociology is adequately represented. According to him, by the method of comparison, the different stages of evolution may all be observed at once. With this method, Comte was able to affirm that although human race as a whole has progressed in a single and uniform manner, various.
Populations have attained extremely unequal degrees of development. The significance of the above is that sociology at any level of discourse is always concerned with the issue of social change either directly or indirectly. Contrary to the above notion of social change, there are other sociologists who used the word exclusively in connection with alteration in social organization and consequently exclude cultural change.
There are also theorists who use the concept of social change to denote observable differences in any social phenomenon, be it a change in occupational mobility, in size and composition of the population. However, students of development and evolution face a somewhat lighter task than students of social change. The reason for this is because development or evolution as autonomous process, constitutes but one form of social change the limit of which can be reasonably defined.
It is important to note that the terms development as well as evolution introduce the specification of growth in the description of change. The word, growth, has quantitative referent only. That is, it refers to an expansion, an increase, a more of whatever it is that one determines to be the subject of growth. On the other hand, the word change has a qualitative referent; it refers to a difference in the character of whatever it is that one decided to be the subject of change. It can be inferred here that quantitative growth of social life at some point requires a qualitative change of social life in order to sustain and encourage further qualitative growth and change of social life. From the foregoing, it can be concluded that development of social life is a process of continuous growth and change of social life. Such idea goes back to the early evolutionist schools in sociology and philosophy. In fact, early classical theorists like Spencer, Durkheim, Tonnies, Morgan and many others labored on precisely this principal feature of evolution, namely that quantitative growth of social life at some stage involves a qualitative change of the forms of social life. The discussion above points to the simple fact the terms change, development and evolution are equated with the progress of man.
From all of the above therefore, social change is the transformation over time of the institutions and culture of a society. There is a distinction between social change and cultural change. Cultural change involves changes in material and non-material cultures. On the other hand however, social change is more often confined primarily to changes in social relationships.