Environmental Forces Promoting Social Change
Sharon Cornet
Ashford University
Social Science Capstone – SOC 490
Professor: John Moore

March 8, 2010


Environmental Forces Promoting Social Change

            Just today I came across a perfect example that brought on the question: What environmental (or external) forces promote social change?  The example serendipitously came from a mere post-it note, which my 12-year old daughter had written and placed on my desk, leftover from her online chats with her friends through children’s games on the Internet.  I realized, upon reading the note, that she is already asking social and gender related questions; her note said [spelling, grammar, and capitalization accurate]: “Why do Boys/Men, greet each other an girls/weman are sometimes shy, I dont get it.”  This tells as much about her own enculturation as it does the society in which she lives.  Note that the emphasis I place here is on the apparent differences that she sees between social and verbal skills, and status between the sexes.   She capitalized the male-related terminology, but not the female, indicating a greater importance or status on the male gender; she noted the outgoing conversational aspect of males, but denied them more in girls; and she touched on psycho-social and personality features between the sexes, which includes local multi-cultural economic and political features (some would say bi-cultural, but this is an narrowed illusion) of living on the U.S.-Mexico border with its unique mixture of cultural factors and strong traditional gendered roles.  The environmental issues above can be seen as an intrinsic part of our society today, as it has been for many thousands of years – especially since patriarchal societies are most common throughout the world.  My goal is not to attempt to answer her question above, but to look at the forces that were hidden within it from the perspective of social change.  The external social forces I will be covering in this paper are gender, economics, politics, and culture.  Together, these four environmental areas work together to promote social change at the micro/specific and macro/general levels.
           Social change can be defined as (http://www.mondofacto.com/facts/dictionary?social+change): 

Social process whereby the values, attitudes, or institutions of society, such as education, family, religion, and industry become modified. It includes both the natural
process and action programs initiated by members of the community.

If social changes of such micro/specific things such as individual attitudes or family values, can be altered by external forces, then so can macro/general institutions such as businesses or corporations, organized religions, the educational systems we learn from (K-12, as well as post-secondary, and technical or other schools), or even government.  Who sets these changes in action?  Is one level of change more important than another?  Can a single individual change the world?  Can the social forces in the world change an individual?  My own position on these questions would be one of cultural relativism, where the change(s) would need to be viewed through the lens of the culture or society in which it arises.  For instance, American culture is similar as well as different than European culture; similar because they both draw from Western values, teachings, and practices, including similar democratic governmental roles (in general), but different because the independent states within Europe differ in culture, traditions, language, and local values than does the USA. 

According to Cousins (2008), European life needs to stay diversely respected and the European Union (EU) should participate in peacefully supporting that uniqueness at all levels as society evolves and changes, keeping in mind that nationalism and religious divisions are two major factors to overcome (para. 1, 3).  Cousins concludes that the SEPE (social, economic and political evolution) of Europe cannot be completely compared to natural evolution, saying (regarding mankind) that “natural evolution has needed neither his knowledge nor his consent. Unfortunately, his peaceful social, economic and political evolution requires both” (2008, para. 5, emphasis mine).  This speaks of cultural and institutional education and personal ideals being in tune with the vision.  Furthermore, a “Peaceful Unification of Europe” is dependent upon overcoming a host of issues (2008, para. 27):

With 27 member States, many of which have, in effect, been bribed to join; an amazing 785 MEPs, traveling like a circus between two almost useless Parliaments in two different countries; 23 official languages; mountains of surplus food in a semi-starving world; secret budgets that for 13 years the auditors have refused to sign; just one democratic vote every five years; widespread fraud; and a Constitution that is being forced upon us, it seems to me a situation that will take decades to correct – if the EU does not fall apart before then Have we learnt nothing from Yugoslavia?

            This macro or generalized example at the multi-state level, in regards to education and a host of cultural and political factors is the epitome of how social change can occur in a multi-faceted way, and can obviously take an enormous amount of resources and time.  There are also marked problems of civil rights, and human rights that sit in the middle of some of these international debates.  Even the issue of equality permeates both the macro and micro levels, and gender would fall into this strange space where tradition often fights with newer paradigms that come along to overtake it. 

            According to Yuval-Davis (2009) it is gendered globalization that factors into social change (para. 1).  It affects the roles that women take part in, or see themselves a part of, and alters how men react to their “place” in society as it is constructed as well.  As globalization factors emerge society finds itself lending a hand to the equality of women and the division of labor gap lessening in size, even though women are still not paid as highly as men for the same jobs.  However, this same phenomenon has caused a social change at the political level, with “the politics of belonging” being differentiated with the emotional sense of “belonging” (Yuval-Davis, 2009, para. 6).  Yuval-Davis says that this difference is “crucial for any critical political discourse of nationalism, racism and other contemporary politics of belonging. It is also crucial for any analysis of gender relations and the constructions of femininity and masculinity” (para. 8).  It is clear that the boundaries constructed by such attachment or belonging for women on a personal, micro, or specific way also affects the greater or macro group level since it constructs “differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ … [regarding] … gender relations in general and womanhood in particular” (para. 10).   This could also be viewed, in my opinion, as gender relations in particular, and womanhood in general.

            Social change is not just linked to how we construct our realities regarding gender.  Many more personal level issues are applicable.  The specific areas in peoples’ lives are affected, and Behrens (2009) unfolds this aspect as socially relevant behavioral habits regarding the change management needed to work it out and bring it to fruition (para. 1).  To this end, Behrens explores traditional approaches as well as the limitations associated with it – especially when it comes to the lack of new social changes taking hold and becoming habitual, such as New Year’s resolutions that are at first emotionally charged and are willed into action, but then tend to fall by the wayside, with the old habits continuing again (2009, para. 6).  Behrens take on overcoming this unconscious barrier, which traditional approaches ignore, and is derived from neuroscience; saying the two parts of the brain that work toward change management include (2009, para. 25):

… cognitive-emotive area in which alternative actions are considered and choices made, and the motor area that coordinates and controls action. These two areas are complementary … A major role in this context is played by a group of nerve cells connecting the two areas (substantia nigra): it is this region of the brain that is responsible for launching actions into reality.
Furthermore, Behren concludes that if the:

… positive impulses received by the substantia nigra outweigh the negative, it will trigger the relevant action. For the initial occurrence of action, strong pressure from the will is required, incorporating high motivation as well as rational arguments and positive emotional evaluation. …  But with repetition the retarding impulses … also diminish, dius facilitating execution and with it the maintenance of the new behavior (2009, para. 61-62, emphasis mine).

            The final analysis is that with the right features in place that deal with both the conscious and unconscious – neuroscientific – factors in place, along with enough repetition, new habits form the social changes at the personal level.   The state can also create incentives and environmental parameters that help foster such new habits as well (Behren, 2009, para. 78-79).   With formulas such as these, and all levels working toward social change from the inside out, and the outside in, we see clearly that environmental factors indeed overlap.  This inclusion of cultural factors, along with political and social – not forgetting gendered applications – and economic incentives or influences surely amount to substantial change over time.  The evolution of the many religions, and creation and conversion of people from one belief or faith system to another is a perfect example.

           Rynkiewich (2008) covered this very topic regarding the cultural transformation of religion, saying, “Graham Ward writes… ‘What makes a belief believable?’ and suggested that 'cultural negotiation is always syncretistic' … This dynamic syncretism is the place where there is hope … and cultural transformation. … A theology spoken in language beyond the habitus cannot be understood, much less believed”  (para. 3, 5).  The idea here is that cultural overlaps in beliefs and concepts must be applicable in order for change to occur and not be rejected outright.  Also, this feature is present in macro level institutional settings, as noted earlier when discussing gender, economics, politics, and culture and how they overlap.  Together, these four environmental areas work together to promote social change at the micro/specific and macro/general levels.  The environmental forces of social change, it appears then, is quite substantial and persons nor societies stand fully alone; even my daughter’s question on gender and societal issues crosses over into a multi-faceted domain.



Behrens, G., & Neumaier, M.. (2009). Change Management of Socially Relevant Habits**. Management Revue, 20(2), 176-189.  Retrieved March 4, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 1867859081).

Cousins, W.. (2008, October). SEPE Social, Economic & Political Evolution. Revista de Stiinte Politice,(20), 7-11.  Retrieved March 4, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1679291331).

Rynkiewich, M., & Ward, G.. (2008). Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice. Scottish Journal of Theology, 61(4), 503-505.  Retrieved March 4, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1566216171).

Yuval-Davis, N.. (2009). Gendered globalisation and social change. NIAS Nytt,(1), 26-29.   Retrieved March 4, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1843741591).


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