Introduction: Social change is such an obvious fact of the contemporary world that few can escape it. The anthropologists who used to study societies relatively isolated from the outside world now suddenly discover them under the impact of forces that impinge on them from all sides. The historians who used to gaze with fascination at the decline and fall of distant empires now find themselves in the midst of catastrophes that are shaking the very foundations of the world. The economists, long fascinated with the miracle of the Industrial Revolution, now find it imitated and imported all over the globe with consequences and problems that stagger the boldest imagination. The psychologists have found their attention shifted to the dynamics of personality development under cultural conditions of various kinds. Even the studies of perception have become clues to deeper things in the personality and culture.

However, with all this awareness of change, the theorization about the phenomenon has undergone a deep transformation. Large-scale theorizing is under suspicion and out of fashion. The grand evolutional designs of the nineteenth century are mere matters of historical interest, and though the shadow of Marx still looms large, it is more because the communist [of] half of the world prefers to swear by him. The Sorokins and the Toynbees still exist, but they are treated more as museum-pieces by the self-conscious sophisticates of the academic world.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with such a situation. The increasing number of inter-disciplinary seminars and joint works by authors with different specializations is an indication of this dissatisfaction. The search for middle-range theories is a pointer in the same direction. The mere collection of facts is at a discount, and it is increasingly realized that facts without the illumination of a theory are sterile.

But the theorists themselves do not seem very clear about what they want. If there are theories of change in the various social sciences, what could it possibly mean to have a theory above or alongside of them known by the high-sounding title Theory of Social Change? Or, if what is being sought is an integration of these theories, then integration in terms of what? Vaguely, everyone seems to feel there are some problems here, but exactly what they are is discussed but little and that, too, sporadically, and not in a concentrated manner. The dream of a coming Newton who will do for the social sciences what his predecessor did for the physical sciences moves the heart of every social scientist, even if his wisdom protests against the dream.

A theoretic reflection on the whole field of social change is, then, a desideratum. And though theoretical reflections are primarily of interest to philosophers and theoretical thinkers in the field, they may be of wider relevance also. At least, that is what I propose to do and, as is usual with anybody who wants to do anything, I have persuaded myself that it will be useful, at least, to some others also.

The work may be characterized as a Prolegomenon towards any future theory of social change. It is concerned primarily with the theoretic problems arising in any reflection on social change and attempts to provide a framework of considerations for any thinking in this field in particular, and in social sciences in general. It seeks to provide, however tentatively, both a perspective and a focus for the theory of social change. In order to achieve this, it is divided into four parts: (i) preliminary considerations, (ii) conceptual clarifications, (iii) problems clustering around the concept of change, and (iv) towards a theory of social change. At each point, the generalized reflections on the social sciences intertwine with considerations for a theory of social change till, in the last chapter, they are seen as providing the clue to the perspective in which the theory has to be built, if ever at all.

 

© 2018 by Dor Miller & Elise Coquereau-Saouma