Computers and Social Change
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CHAPTER 2. SOCIAL CHANGE

How is the world today different from that of your childhood? As you think back over your biography, you probably remember historical events as small, personal experiences. I was a baby when the first atomic bomb exploded; my own baby watched television as men walked on the moon. As a child I was impressed when my relatives replaced their farm horses with a tractor. I knew nothing about the transformation of American agriculture, but did miss the animals. As we grow older, we learn to place the things that happen to us in a broader context. We also learn to act in order to bring about changes we believe are desirable. By the time I heard Martin Luther King speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I was already a participant in the Civil Rights Movement.

But to understand social change we need more than a sense of history as it happens to us. We need a conceptual framework in which to organize our experience. We also need theory to explain why change occurs and to give us some ability to predict our future. It is only by anticipating the future that we can make choices about social change.

2.1 THEORIES OF SOCIAL CHANGE

The study of social change is almost as diverse as the study of society. This is because any pattern of social life that can be identified can be examined over time. New symbols for the meaning of life in religion, art, literature or music would be examples of cultural change. Changes in familiy, in the economy, or in the stratification system are structural changes, and are the subject of macro (large-scale) theory. Changes in the way individuals interact with one another or in small group processes are the subject matter for micro (small-scale) theories.

2.1.1 Theories and Paradigms

Theories are logically interconnected statements about the world that describe, explain, and predict the occurrence of phenomena. They are based on empirical generalizations about the world which are in turn based upon analysis of our direct observations. Theories are made by the logical process of induction, reasoning from a set of cases to a general principle. We observe regularities in the world and identify a general pattern. We then systematically organize these patterns into an explanatory theory. According to Karl Popper (ref), science is the activity of validating theories. By the logical process of deduction (reasoning from general principles to expected outcomes) we develop specific hypotheses based on our theory. Hypotheses are statements about events expected to occur in particular circumstances. We operationalize hypotheses by specifying how we will go about measuring the phenomena of interest and interpreting the results. These results allow us to support our theory (it seemed correct in this particular case), or reject it (it failed in this case). The results of our tests can then be used to make new generalizations and construct new versions of our theory.

Analysis of empirical observations yields theory by deduction.  Operationalization of deductive hypotheses from theory are used to make systematic observations.

From a sociological viewpoint, the process shown in Figure 2.1 is an oversimplification. Scientists, like other human beings, are guided by their preconcieved ideas and are very reluctant to give up a theory in the face of new evidence. When a theory is widely believed, few scientists test its basic assumptions. Someone who suggests a radically new approach may be considered a deviant in the scientific community. However, since there is great prestige for scientists who develop successful new theories, scientists are encouraged to be revolutionary thinkers. The strongest social controls in the scientific community are applied to those who break the methodological rules for " how to do science" .

2.1.1.1 Paradigms
According to Thomas Kuhn (ref), most scientists spend their time working out the details of existing theory. Inconsistencies are puzzles to be worked out within the accepted framework. Kuhn called these shared conceptual frameworks paradigms. They are general models of the way the world works. Unlike theories, they do not have well operationalized propositions. For example, the concept that microorganisms cause disease is a pardigm. Early theories within the paradigm explained how particular bacteria caused specific diseases. The discovery of viruses resolved many puzzling inconsistencies. Today cancer researchers studying viruses are more likely to be funded than those studying some othe factors, like diet, that lie outside the dominant paradigm.

Kuhn argued that a scientific revolution must occur before a new model of the world can replace an older paradigm. Although a new paradigm often leads to more adequate theories, a struggle in the scientific community can occur between supporters of the new and old concepts. Albert Einstein, whose concept of relativitiy created one scientific revolution, refused to accept quantum mechanics, with its disturbing vision of a probabalistic universe.

2.1.1.2 Paradigms for Society
In social science there is more than one paradigm for society. Three of the major ones are functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and the conflict perspective. Functionalism and the conflict perspective are macro-level; they are views of large-scale social structures and processes. The major difference between them is that functionalist theories tend to stress processes of social stability and gradual change, while conflict theories tend to be about power, social disruptions, and relatively rapid transformations. Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level perspective; it is a conceptual model of social interaction between individuals and in groups.

The concept of society as a system was historically associated with functionalism. In recent years, however, conflict theories have appeared from a systems perspective, and interactionists have taken up the study of social networks (which implies a systems model of society.) Because any collection of interconnected parts can be considered a system, such a model does not automatically provide us with an idea of how "the social system" works. That depends upon what kind of a system we conceive society to be.

2.1.2 Boundaries, Dynamics, and the Origins of Change

By selecting a boundary for their models of a social system, theorists define the domain of their study. Micro-theorists might look at a small group, at families, or at a community. Many macro-theorists select a nation or a large cultural group (for example, Latin Americans). A few macro- theorists have begun to analyse what they call the world-system, an economically and politically interconnected system that covers almost the entire globe. Environmental sociologists even include other species and mineral resources in their model of the social system. If boundaries are drawn large, most social change occurs from within society; if boundaries are narrowly drawn, then external sources of social change become more probable. An economist studying U.S. production will have to consider imports, exports, or foreign investment as inputs or outputs of the system. To an economist looking at the global market, these phenomena appear as internal processes.

The question of where change comes from, however, involves more than the drawing of conceptual boundaries. It also involves the theorist's assessment of how the internal dynamics of a social system work and the extent to which external forces or internal processes determine the state changes of the system. Here there is a major difference between the functionalist and conflict paradigms in social science. External forces supplied by different cultures and the internal tensions between competing groups within a single culture are the agents of change for the conflict theorist. Internal processes of growth, evolution, and cyclical change are the sources of change for the functionalists.

2.1.2.1 Structural change
When some social positions, like particular occupations, are being eliminated or when new kinds of roles are being created, the process of structural change is occurring. Social scientists refer to structural change when either the number of positions in a social structure is changing or when the roles for various positions are being redefined. A structure "grows" as new positions are added; it "shrinks" when positions are eliminated. The structure of the softball team can be changed by such measures as the addition of a short fielder (raising the number of players to ten) or by having the team at bat catch for themselves while the pitcher covers home plate (thus reducing the number of players to eight and changing the role of the pitcher).

Structural differentiation is one kind of structural change during which new, specialized roles develop. An informal game of "catch" turning into a more formal game with players each taking on a specific position instead of just throwing the ball around would be an example of structural differentiation. Modern, industrial societies have a high degree of structural differentiation compared to societies of the past. The use of computers contributes to structural differentiation in the economy by creating new specialized jobs.

While structural differentiation creates new roles, institutions, and other components of social structure, the process of social integration connects new elements and coordinates their functions. In many theories of large-scale social change, integration takes place after a period of structural differention, making the new roles part of a common culture. Small-scale social integration can be seen when strangers are thrown together in social settings like sports training and emerge a "team".

2.1.1.2 Dynamic Stability
Stability is important in all cultures, even in one that values progress and growth as much as does America. Models of society are usually relatively stable systems, with institutional structures that function to preserve order and maintain the pattern of culture. But in social theory, stability is not the same as no change at all. Instead, it refers to slow changes during which the important processes and structures of society are preserved. Even the most traditional societies of the past did change over time; the changes, however, were very slow compared to contemporary experiences.

Models of society with a tendency to "grow" and evolve have been popular since the 19th century. The systems on which they are based are found in biology, and are examples of dynamic stability. Feedback mechanisms to restore system equilibrium following disruptions or changes are common features of these models. They imply a belief that societies have a "natural" tendency to preserve themselves.

2.1.2.3 Progress
The choice of systems with dynamic stability as models for society is based on the historical experience of the contemporary industrial societies. But, by ignoring the history of some other cultures that "failed", in the sense of being absorbed into another or extinguished by the death of all of their members, these models also express our hopes for the continuation of our own way of life. The idea of social change as a form of progress is a thread that runs through the history of our social theory. Progress is a gradual transition from one system state to a " better" one.
2.1.2.4 Revolutionary Change
Models of revolutionary social change are not paradigms of endless social chaos. Instead, they are models of rapid, disruptive, and often violent state changes from one relatively stable form of society to another. In revolutionary theory, social tensions and conflict can be viewed as leading to improved social arrangements, making revolutions a form of evolution or progress. The difference between gradual and revolutionary social change is the degree to which they replace existing social processes and structures.

Stability and change can be illustrated in a simple system consisting of a marble in a cup inside a bowl. If you push on the marble gently, it will roll around in the cup, an example of dynamic stability. The relationship, " marble in cup" is maintained. If you hit the marble harder, it will roll completely out of the cup into the bowl, an example of revolutionary change. There was a transformation from " marble in cup" to " marble in bowl" . If you hit it harder still, the marble will roll out of the bowl and across the floor, an example of catastrophe. 2.1.2.5 Catastrophic Change Dynamic stability and revolutionary change are not the only sort that occur. Readers familiar with overloaded computer networks have probably experienced a kind of system degradation as response time gets longer and longer until we declare the system "down". Another kind of degradation occurs when the system cannot perform one or more of its functions. Sometimes a social organization (perhaps a bureaucratic office) stops "working" in this way.

Another type of system failure is probably also familiar -- suddenly, and without much warning, the system crashes (perhaps losing our disk files in the process). Catastrophe theorists are beginning to apply these models to the social system, especially at the small-scale level of studying how companies or communities can cope with disaster (an earthquake, a power failure that destroys company data bases, or the accidental release of poison gas). Two interesting treatments of this type of system occurrence are Kai Erikson's ref sociological study of community relationships following a disasterous flood and Chinue Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart (ref), about disruptive social change in an African village after the arrival of European colonists. What distinguishes catastrophic changes from gradual or revolutionary ones is that the society does not survive.

2.1.3 A MODEL OF INFORMATION AND TOOLS IN SOCIAL CHANGE

Information and tools play a role in social change because they modify the way society interacts with its environment. Information is the way we interpret the world; tools are means to acting in it. Figure 2.2 illustrates these interrelationships.

The figure is explained in the text.

2.1.3.1 The Social Interpretation of Reality
Besides our own perceptions, socially shared experiences and pre-conceived cultural conceptions contribute to our understanding of the world. Individuals grow up learning what to expect from their environment; the unexpected tends to be ignored. If you observed a green snowfall, your first reaction might be to wonder what made the snow look green when it really wasn't or to wonder if there were something wrong with your eyes. In psychological experiments individuals have been found to deny the evidence of their senses when confronted with the unexpected. This is especially so when other human observers agree among themselves that the phenomenon isn't really occurring. The reverse process also seems to occur in some cases of mass hallucination, in which a group of people observe phenomena that are not present according to scientific instruments. This tendency of human groups to share a systematic pattern of information selection is essential to such recreations as watching cloud pictures with a friend or enjoying a magician's performance. It is also an essential part of the way humans develop and share a common culture.

Our sensory system is a biologiclly based data gathering and processing system. However, the meaning of this direct experience is provided by our culture. Although many animal species have pre-programmed responses to environmental stimuli as a part of their genetic " hardware" , humans base most of their actions on cultural "software" . Each culture, through its language, beliefs and habits, encourages individuals to select information from the world in socially appropriate ways and provides interpretations of the meaning of the information selected. An example of this is the differences between the way skiiers and nonskiiers experience snow. Skiiers have large vocabularies to describe snow according to its properties. Their activities, such as travelling downhill, depend upon their ability to distinguish different kinds of snow and to understand the meaning of those differences for their own speed and safety. For most of the rest of us, snow is not important enough to be perceived in such detail. Even the sensory data we do pay attention to is modified by our perceptual mechanisms for sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. We receive input from the world only after it has been filtered through our nervous systems and our cultures.

With computer technology we can gather new kinds of information. New information sources will in turn alter our ability to predict and control physical and social events. As we change our ability to predict and act in the world, our cultural concepts of the world will change as well. For example, in computer modeling, we create abstract mathematical representations of our environments and even our internal biology. By running these models we are able to make predictions or gain new insight into how the world behaves. Sometimes these models become metaphors for features of society, the physical world, or the human nervous system, which are spoken of as if they were computers or computer programs. In fields such as neurophysiology the computer has become so popular a metaphor that critics have to remind us that brains are not actually computers (Gregory, 1981; Calvin, 1983). One positive consequence of computer system metaphors for the world has been to improve our ability to conceive of complex wholes, and to see ourselves as part of a single environmental and social system (Perrolle, 1985b). For many people, this sense of being part of something much larger and more important than oneself is an experience of the sacred quality of human life.

2.1.3.2 Interactions with the Environment Through Tools
The environment can be thought of as presenting us with a set of problems of subsistence and survival and providing us with materials for the solution of those problems. Another way to put it is that the physical world contains resources which we use to satisfy biologically and socially defined needs. Through the process of technological innovation societies have developed new tools to deal with the physical world as they perceive and interpret it. Some of these problems, like food and shelter, are basic to our species' biology. Other problems, like war and peace or economic production and distribution, are central to human interaction within a society, and to the way societies interrelate. Historically, agricultural technology has provided food; weapons have been the means for aggression and defense; craft and manufacturing tools have supplied products defined as socially desirable or necessary. Theories of technological innovation do not assume that an environmental problem, such as food shortages, will automatically produce a technical solution, like improved agriculture. Instead, these problems provide societies with a strong incentive to innovate.

Once developed, tools have an environmental impact on the world. The environmental effects of new technology have often been unexpected and undesirable. Our use of tools to solve one set of survival problems, for example generating energy, can create another set of problems, like environmental pollution. For this reason, gathering information about the consequences of technology and trying to anticipate potential new problems are important for our survival.

It was conventional wisdom a few years ago that the ecological movement and the computer revolution were in "fundamental harmony" (Hyman, 1980: 126). Unlike our older smokestack industries, high-technology was viewed as " environmentally sound, non-polluting, and non-destructive of the ecology of an overcrowded planet" (Martin, 1978:4). Experience has drastically altered our understanding. Serious air and groundwater pollution has been reported in California's Silicon Valley (LaDou, 1984; " Toxic World" , 1984:3). The California Department of Health Services found miscarriages 2.4 times the normal rate and birth defects 2.5 times the normal rate in Silicon Valley communities whose water supplies were contaminated by high-tech manufacturing (Burton, 1985). Toxic exposures in the workplace were also reported in the Massachusetts Route 128 area (Chinlund, 1984). The computer has a great potential as a tool for solving environmental problems, but its own environmental impact must be carefully assessed (Perrolle, 1984b).

2.1.3.3 The Social Consequences of Technology
Tools affect the social system out of which they were developed. Although we are used to computers doing what we tell them to, it is also the case that computers and other tools "tell" people what to do. Once we have told a computer what to do, we have created an environment that may define our pattern of activity. For example, once we have designed a computer's data base architecture and specified data entry formats for a particular application, we often find ourselves limited to defining tasks and problems according to the computer system's capabilities and requirements. If it's easy to do on the computer, we do it. If it's difficult or impossible, we don't. For example, if a library has a computerized database of journals going back to 1980, researchers might not take the time to look at older references. Also, if a particular topic is not easily searched by keywords, fewer people will have the persistence to research it anyway.

The effects of a new tool can change individual social interactions. The use of a two-person saw requires a particular working relationship between a pair of people. If they are then put to work using new single-person power saws, the social relationship of the sawing team will be broken. Many of the problems associated with the introduction of new computer systems are caused by this sort of alteration in people's social interactions. While computer professionals have grown used to considering how user-friendly an interactive program is to a single user, it is also important to consider how computer systems change people's interactions with one another.

Technology also has consequences for larger patterns of human activity. For example, the widespread use of data processing systems can radically change the number and kinds of jobs available to members of a society. It is this sort of feedback from tool use to the social pattern that produced the tool which makes technological innovation a major source of social change. Often tools have a social impact far beyond their intended purpose, as illustrated by the case of the aniani knife. [This is a link to a short account of how a more efficient tool destroyed the traditional way of life for Indonesian villagers.] To understand the consequences of a tool, one must understand the context in which it is used and something of how it came to be developed. This entails an examination of the tool's unintended social and psychological effects as well as its intended purpose.

Once we understand the consequences of our tools, we can choose to use or not to use them. Our choices, however, are severely limited by what is available, what is considered socially appropriate, what we can afford, and whether we are influenced or threatened. If computers are expensive and we have little money, we cannot easily choose to own one. If the company we work for installs new software, our choice to use it or not is usually the choice of keeping our job or not. Because technology is a social product, it is often developed or financed by individuals and groups who have a particular interest in replacing older ways of doing things. Since new tools are rarely of equal interest to everyone in a society, a considerable amount of conflict can occur during the innovation process. For this reason, an understanding of society's economic and political processes is also necessary in order to understand technological change.

2.1.3.4 The Cybernetic Impact
Many theories of how human society works involve an implicit assumption of some sort of cybernetic steering mechanism (the " invisible hand" of Adam Smith's free market theory is one example), but the relationship between cultural ideas and historical experiences in the material world remains highly controversial in theories of social change. The term cybernetic impact is used here to refer to the way the informational content of culture affects the physical world. It is not ideas by themselves, nor the physical forms in which the ideas are expressed, but the way in which these ideas guide human behavior that creates change.

Our mental models, the way we organize information and apply it to activity, are part of our cybernetic impact. Research into how we create and use mental models has been spurred by the fields of artificial intelligence and expert systems, with many computer scientists and engineers hoping to create intelligent problem-solving tools. However, no matter how intelligent our tools, we must still choose what to apply them to.

The idea of cybernetics is a useful conceptual model of one way information functions in the social system. It assumes that human groups develop new behaviors based on feedback about the results of their past actions. It is not, however, a theory of social change.

2.1 THEORIES OF SOCIAL CHANGE

Because conceptual models only serve to guide our thinking about the general shape of society, we need more specific theories in order to describe, predict, and explain social change. However, unlike scientific fields which have a generally agreed upon theory, in the social sciences there is a great diversity. Some theories are about different things. Therefore they are competitors only insofar as they disagree as to what are the most important areas of social change. Others offer differing interpretations and predictions for the same phenomenon. These are qenuinely competing theories, and research can be designed to compare them. Since experiments can rarely be carried out to test social change theories (especially macro-level ones), long periods of time must pass before the adequacy of competing theories can be compared.

Some theories of social change emphasize the way in which societies confront external circumstances, for example by arguing that environmental problems like food shortages cause changes in food production. Other theories focus on the historical relationships between societies or on the internal dynamics of a particular society. They identify external sources of change (like trade and warfare between cultures) and internal ones (like class struggles or the rise of new religions). The internal changes are often viewed as the result of internal dynamics and strains within society. In some of these theories, individuals play an important role in causing social change. In others, natural occurrences or historical circumstances are viewed as more important than the ideas or actions of any single person. In some of our oldest theories of social change, religious or mystical ideas caused change. In later ones there was a long debate between the "idealists" and the "materialists" over whether abstract concepts or physical conditions caused change. Contemporary perspectives tend to avoid single cause explanations in favor of an analysis of the complex processes of social change in which ideas, material factors, and social relationships are intertwined.

2.2 CLASSICAL THEORIES OF SOCIAL CHANGE

2.2.1 The Classical Insights: Smith, Malthus, and Darwin

Modern theories of social system change owe a great deal to three thinkers of the late 1700's and early 1800's. Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, was an economist who viewed markets as self- regulating systems. His term "the invisible hand" is a description of the principle of feedback in economic systems. He argued that this invisible force would provide stability in an ideal "free market". Smith's theory asserts that supply and demand are interconnected in ways that automatically regulate prices and production. Smith's work affected the thinking of all later economic thinkers, and is still considered valid by conservative economists. Later theorists did not dispute Smith's finding that supply and demand are interconnected, but argued that the relationship was not sufficient to provide social stability, especially when low production and high prices affected the poor. Neo-classical economists are often concerned with the effects of government and business efforts to modify supply and demand. Later social theorists were concerned about the effects of economic system fluctuations on social welfare.

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) was an English parson who believed in the moral inferiority of the poor. His Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) warned of the dangers of overpopulation caused by the failure of moral restraint on the reproductive urge. Without abstinence from sexual relationships, he predicted that positive checks (war, famine, and disease) or the preventive checks of vice (contraception and abortion) would act to halt unrestrained poplation growth. Malthus is theoretically important not for his views of the moral depravity of the lower classes, but for his insight into the dynamics of population growth and the importance of the material conditions (especially food supplies) of social life. Changes in food production technology (like the Green Revolution of the l960's), changes in the distribution of food (as in revolutions which overthrow a landowning aristocracy), or changes in reproductive behavior (the demographic transition) have often been used as evidence that Malthus' theory was wrong. Modern limits-to-growth theorists, however, argue that for any particular pattern of human reproduction, food production and economic distribution, the Malthusian checks to population growth are constraints on a social system.

Charles Darwin (1804-1882) was a naturalist whose 1859 publication of Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection created an intellectual furor by arguing that species had evolved from primitive ancestors. Darwin proposed a mechanism for change -- the principle of natural selection -- by which genetic information that provided individuals with better chances of survival were more likely to be inherited by offspring. Darwin's evolutionary model was applied to social systems by many of the 19th century thinkers. Karl Marx offered to dedicate Capital to Darwin, and some version of the idea of evolution was part of nearly all the next century's theories of social change. Pre-18th century ideas of progress were concepts of a developing morality or civilization; 19th century progress became focused on material conditions.

Later theorists (especially Herbert Spencer) applied Darwin's principle of natural selection to social characteristics, arguing that "survival of the fittest" is the mechanism by which cultural traits evolve. Some Social Darwinists tried to link social traits to genetic characteristics, arguing that poverty, crime, or the lower social status of women and minorities were inherited. Draconian social policies based on Social Darwinist principles include the Nazi genocide program that exterminated millions of people, and an early 20th century U.S. immigration policy that excluded southern European, Asian, Latin American, and African immigrants (Chorover, 1980). These oppressive policies were justified with the belief that whole racial or cultural groups could be physically superior to others. Before the 18th century (and equally at odds with contemporary beliefs) people were enslaved in the name of superior cultural or religious ideas (Davis, 1985). Both phenomena illustrate the tendency of human groups to use a scientific or philosophical theory to legitimate its own social structures and practices. When this occurs, the beliefs become part of ideology and are no longer subjected to scientific or philosophical inquiry.

Today, sociobiology has taken up the question of how genetics and human behavior are related on a more scientific basis than its Social Darwinist predecessors. Many of sociobiology's critics (Barash, 1979; Lewontin, Rose and Kamin, 1985), however, are wary of the ideological and social policy implications of a theory that social behavior is determined at birth by genetic traits. Theories of technology and social change also have ideological consequences if they are widely believed to be truths that require no scientific testing.

The theories of Smith, Malthus, and Darwin are widely used today in ideological arguments about free markets, population problems, and evolution. What they have in common as theories is insight into the systems characteristics of human society. Mechanisms of stability, self- regulation, structural evolution, and limiting external conditions are all features of social systems under certain conditions which can be investigated. Questions facing later theorists were: Under what conditions does self-regulation provide stability, or failure? How do evolutionary processes occur, under what conditions are they gradual or abrupt, and can they lead to extinction? What are the external limitations on social systems?

2.2.2 The Internal Dynamics of Capitalism: Marx, Durkheim, and Weber

Social change theories of all sorts are to some degree theories about history. The computer did not appear automatically or inevitably, but was one product of several hundred years of social change known as the Industrial Revolution. The most important structural feature of the Industrial Revolution was the emergence of the world-wide capitalist economic system. Growing out of changes in 16th century European agriculture, mining, commerce, and beliefs, the Industrial Revolution was accompanied by massive political and social upheaval in Europe, and a wave of colonial expansion to other parts of the world. By the 20th century this "world-economy" had expanded to include most of the globe. Former European colonies, like the United States, had established their political independence, but remained linked into a single economic system (which includes relationships between capitalist and socialist nations).

Three of the most important theorists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries grappled with the problem of how to explain the rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Karl Marx (1818-1883), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), and Max Weber (1864-1920) developed different models of the internal dynamics of society. Since each model focuses on different structural features of the social system, these theorists are not competing in the sense that only one of them can be "right". Instead, they are competing in that each identifies a different set of characteristics as "most important" to understanding social change.

2.2.2.1 Marx: a Model of Social Transformation
Social change proceeds through what Marx called "internal contradictions" of the social system. The mode of production (which includes the social relationships of economic activity and productive forces like technology or natural resources) is the starting point for Marx's theory. Other cultural features like beliefs and political arrangements are part of a superstructure which is shaped by the economic base. When Marx argued that capitalism contained "the seeds of its own destruction", he was referring to the internally generated social conflicts he saw occuring as a result of structural tensions in the dynamic relationship between base and superstructure. Marx's model is called a materialist one by those who think he argued that changes in natural resources, technology and the production of material products cause social change. However, Marx was a social theorist and considered these material forces of production only part of the source of social change. The social relations of production (how work and property ownership are socially arranged) were equally important to him.

Capitalism arose, according to Marx, out of conflicts between merchants and manufacturers and the feudal property relationships which hindered them. The early industrialists formed a social class (the bourgeosie) whose economic interests were in opposition to the political and cultural arrangements of the traditional society. As they grew in wealth and power from their economic activities, the bourgeousie were able to make revolutionary changes in society--in 1776 in the United States and in 1789 in France. In the process the beliefs and social structures of traditional culture were transformed.

An internal contradiction in capitalist society occurs between the successful bourgeousie and the wage workers they employ. Marx, observing the dismal factory conditions of the early industrial revolution, argued that the workers (who formed a class called the proletariat) were alienated from their own economic activity and oppressed by the capitalist mode of production. Marx predicted a proletarian revolution that would be violent (since the workers had no sources of power) and would replace capitalism with a socialist mode of production in which private property would become collectivized. Because Marx believed that the government was an instrument of the ruling class, and that under communism there would be no rulers, he predicted that socialist revolution would lead to a "withering away of the state" and a transition to a stable communist social system.

History has shown that Marx failed to predict the rise of labor unions and a middle class of managerial, technical, and professional employees in the bourgeois democracies. Also, his predictions of societal dynamics after a socialist revolution have not taken place. Contemporary socialist states show no signs of withering away, and tend to have a managerial ruling class. Marx's analysis of the dynamics of class conflict, however, have had such a major impact that all of modern social theory has been called a "debate with Marx's ghost." A diverse group of contemporary conflict theories continue to address Marx's central question of how the economic structure of society leads to class conflict and social change.

2.2.2.2 Emile Durkheim: Social Differentiation and Integration
In The Division of Labor in Society (1893), Emile Durkheim analyzed the forms of solidarity in traditional and modern societies. The strong group identifications by members of traditional societies occurred, he argued, because people shared similar patterns of work and experience. They felt connected to one another because they thought and acted in the same ways. Durkheim called this mechanical solidarity.

The Industrial Revolution broke down mechanical solidarity by creating different specialized jobs. This structural differentiation of society meant that people no longer lived in the same pattern as their neighbors. However, according to Durkheim, people in industrial society became increasingly dependent on one another's work. This creates a new form of organic solidarity, because no one is able to survive without the specialized skills of others. People are joined by their common need for one another's differences. Thus for Durkheim, structural differentiation provides a new way to integrate industrial people into a common culture.

In choosing the term mechanical solidarity for traditional societies and organic solidarity for modern ones, Durkheim was replacing an older system model of society as a clockwork mechanism with a model based on the way the specialized parts of a biological organism are integrated into a single entity. What is also significant about Durkheim's model is that culture plays a major role in providing stability. Social norms and values, especially those of religion, are the "glue" that holds his model together. Social conflict is a form of pathology (again, a model borrowed from biology). Contemporary functionalist theorists are still concerned with Durkheim's question of how societies maintain their cultural patterns from generation to generation and with how a cooperative division of labor produces social integration. Empirical social science research is also indebted to Durkheim for pioneering (in his study of the causes of suicide) the use of statistical data to develop information about society.

2.2.2.3 Max Weber: Rationality and Power
Max Weber's Economy and Society and his comparative history of the world's religions (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is one of the series) attempted to link cultural ideas and social structure. Power, religious beliefs, and economic activities were joined by the common thread of rationalization. In subjects as diverse as the development of bureaucracies, legal institutions, businesses, and musical scales, Weber pursued his theme of the "disenchantment of the world" through the process of making human activity in all spheres more goal-oriented. Power plays an important role in Weber's theories, but it is not (as in Marx) entirely based on economic arrangements. Weber argued that ideas can have unanticipated economic consequences, and that sometimes ideas (like the religious beliefs of the fundamentalist Protestants) contribute to new social structures (in this case industrial enterprises).

In his studies of the evolution of rational bureaucratic organizations and modern legal and governmental institutions, Weber provided contemporary sociology with some of its central problems. Although his analysis showed that bureaucracy developed as a rational and efficient means to administrate businesses and political units, Weber feared that what he called the "iron cage" of impersonal bureaucratic structures would come to dominate society. Despite his personal dislike for bureaucracies, his analysis of them has become the basis of most of our contemporary theories of industrial and business organizations. His inquiry into why people accepted the legitimacy of political power, and why then political regimes could change, offers insights to all theorists of social change.

Weber's theory seems most like a systems model when he talks about cause and effect. It is very difficult to specify causal relations in systems (for example, if you and several friends are bouncing on a trampoline, who is making whom move?). Weber used the concept elective affinity to describe an interconnected relationship where it is hard to determine which is the cause of the other. He also used the concept of ideal type to represent his conceptual models of social phenomena. These concepts have had an important impact on the conduct of social research that compares different social systems, and on theoretical models of the "shape" of society.

2.2.3 The Individual Component: Freud and the Classical Theorists

In Civilization and Its Discontents, (1922), Sigmund Freud argued that the human instincts towards pleasure are repressed so that the needs of society can be met. Repression is a psychological phenomena; it involves individuals forgetting or ignoring their physiological urges. In Freud's analysis, people are not naturally inclined to labor, and must be forced to work. To accomplish this, society must create personalities in its members who are able to postpone immediate physical gratification in order to seek socially useful goals. Agricultural civilization, for example, requires people who will do the work of planting and harvesting without an immediate result of food. Even the work of preparing a family meal requires a cook who can wait to eat until the food is ready and the relatives assembled. From a Freudian perspective, human needs to achieve satisfaction through work are culturally created. Society would be impossible without social constraints on human instincts; the feeling of guilt for enjoying yourself when you should be working is the price of civilization.

In contrast, Karl Marx believed that work was basic to the human species. He described labor as a process "in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and nature" (1967:177). For Marx, human nature was expressed through people's relationships to the products of their work, to the activity of work itself, to their human potential, and to one another. Where Freud saw a socially necessary repression of human instincts, Marx saw an oppression of human creative instincts by capitalist society. With industrialization, work became alienated labor. In other words, people were separated from the voluntary process of work, from control over the products of their labor, from their creative potential, and from other people. According to Marx, workers in capitalist society are not free to choose what they will do and how they will dispose of the results. The constraints of private property and the capitalist mode of production also interfere with "natural" social relationships and with individuals' expression of their own creative powers (1964:106-119).

For Durkheim, the individual was also connected to society through work, but work was regulated by norms. Society for Durkheim was primarily a sacred moral order. Individuals' identification with a profession and its ethical values was a source of social solidarity. Anomie, or normlessness, was a problem of rapid social change if the old mechanical solidarity broke down before the new division of labor integrated people into the new organic solidarity. Individuals suffering from anomie would lack a "place" in society and be prone to deviance and suicide. Where Freud saw repression and Marx saw alienation, Durkheim saw a failure of social norms.

Weber looked at individuals as social actors who calculate their interests and estimate how others will evaluate their behavior. He argued that an individuals status in industrial society depended on their life chances, in other words what they were able to sell their labor for, but his contribution to the role of individuals in social change was his analysis of charisma. Charismatic leaders are people like Jesus, Hitler, Ghandi, or Martin Luther King, who can move their religious or political followers to make extraordinary changes. Weber argued that the charismatic people have a special relationship with whatever their followers hold sacred, and are able to give them new moral values and norms. Weber thought individuals accepted even exploitative social relationships of capitalism because they believed them to be legal and legitimate. Ultimately, for Weber, it was the institutions of law and bureaucratic organizations that bound individuals to society.

2.3 CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES

Like other technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution, the computer has consequences for the patterns of human activity. Unlike many other innovations, the social impact of the computer appears to many contemporary macro-theorists so great that its introduction following World War II represents the beginning of a radically new period of social change. Some micro-theorists believe that the experience of using computers will dramatically change the social relationships that form the basis of larger social structures.

Several diverse contemporary theoretical perspectives in sociology are available for analyzing the computer revolution. They are loosely divided into functionalist, conflict and interactionist traditions.

2.3.1 The Functionalist Tradition

Functionalist theories of social change argue that societies evolve in their ability to deal with the world in which they exist. This adaptive capacity is enhanced by new technologies and new social arrangements that help large human groups to survive and prosper. Section 2.1.3 (local link) of this book is written from the functionalist perspective.

Functionalism identifies four system processes, shown in Table 1, as common to all societies.


                                                                            
TABLE 1.  NECESSARY FUNCTIONS FOR ALL SOCIAL SYSTEMS
 
 
  STRUCTURE           FUNCTION IT PERFORMS
 
  Community  INTEGRATION:  maintains relationships among
               components and provides social control
 
  Culture    PATTERN MAINTENANCE:  socialization of people to
               fit into the system and manage tensions
 
  Politics   GOAL ATTAINMENT:  sets goals, establishes
               priorities, and uses resources to achieve goals
 
  Economy    ADAPTATION:  seeks resources from the environment,
               converts them to usable form, and distributes
               them to rest of system.
 
 
 
Adapted from:  Parsons, Talcott.  1971.  The System of Modern Societies.
               Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall:4-11.
 
               Turner, Jonathan H., and Alexandra Maryanski.  1979.
               Functionalism. Reading, MA:  Benjamin/Cummings:75.

A common criticism of functionalist reasoning is that it tends to overestimate the stability of societies, and is much better as a method of describing societies than it is as a theory of social change. (Turner, l979) This is because the idea that certain arrangements must exist in societies tends to lead to the assumption that what does exist, should continue to exist in order for society to continue functioning. For example, if society has a king, by some methods of functionalist reasoning, society wouldn't work without one. Functionalists argue that such innovations as the division of labor in industrial societies or the capitalist economic system represent a form of social progress by making societies more fit to survive in the competition for world resources. Computers would tend to be viewed by functionalists as a technology that increases the adaptive capacity of a society by enhancing its ability to gather information about the world and to make vital decisions about itself and its environment.
2.3.1.1Technological Determinism and the Diffusion Model
Technological determinism is a variety of functionalism which sees technology as the major cause of social change, while most other perspectives view technology as the product of social change, as well as one of many causes. The theory was developed by William Ogburn (1932:200-213) as the "Cultural Lag Hypothesis". He argued that societies are evolving to a technologically superior form, and that technical progress occurs naturally. Although most contemporary theorists reject his argument, Ogburn's statement: "Forces that produce changes are the discovery of new cultural elements that have superior utility, in which case the old utilities tend to be replaced by the new. The slowness of culture to change lies in the difficulties of creativity and adopting new ideas" (Nisbet, l972:71) is compatible with popular conceptions of "technological progress."

The diffusion model of social change is related to technological determinism in its assumptions about the natural spread of superior technique. Individual choice is the driving force behind this model, which emphasizes the role of individuals in spreading new ideas and tools. A diffusion approach to the new information age would explain how the use of computers spread from the innovators who developed them to other people and cultures. The demonstration effect is an important part of the diffusion model. It predicts that, as people see demonstrations of the computer, they will evaluate its applicability to their own needs and make a decision to adopt the new technology.

Research on the institutional contexts of technical innovation supports the idea that individuals play a major role in developing technology (Calder, 1970; Tornatzky, et. al., 1983), but the diffusion model does not provide a very good explanation for involuntary changes experienced by employees or colonized nations. It has been very useful in describing how innovations spread among members of a society who are in a position to make choices. Company marketing strategies are often based on a diffusion model, as they arrange demonstrations or attempt to place equipment in universities or with the "leaders" of a particular industry. Diffusion studies are often able to identify factors associated with acceptance or rejection of new equipment. The adoption of computers among farmers, for instance, was associated with youth, large farm size, and high income (Yarbrough, 1984).

2.3.1.2Social Networks Theory

2.3.2 The Conflict Approach

The term conflict theory describes a collection of very different theories which have in common a focus on conflict as a source of social change. Although often contrasted with functionalist theories, the two can be combined, as in Lewis Coser's work on the functions of social conflict (1956). Conflict theories are also often socially devalued in American sociology by associating them with contemporary marxist revolutionary beliefs. Conflict theorists would try to understand the computer in terms of power, social classes, and inter- group conflict, rather than focusing only on what it is "good for". Analysts like Cooley (1980) or Shaiken (1984) study the technology in the context of struggles between labor and management. Noble (1984) and Perrolle (1985) have examined the computer revolution from the perspective of classical Marxist theory. Section 3.3 of this book (local link) takes a conflict perspective.

Conflict theorists following in the tradition of C. Wright Mills (1956) would study the effects of computer technology on the distribution of power among elite decision-makers. Theorists working in the Weberian tradition would look at the computer's effects on the patterns of political power in societies and in bureaucratic organizations. Even micro-level theories could be considered conflict theories if they analyzed the effects of computer-based interactions in terms of the relative power obtained by the individuals involved.

Many theorists of social conflict take a comparative historical approach by observing events of the past and comparing the circumstances in which different social changes occur (Skocpol, 19 ). Following the traditions of Weber and Marx, and often combining functionalist and conflict approaches, comparative historical theorists try to explain contemporary events as variations in more general principles of social structure and process. In the next chapter, changes in information, property, and power through history are examined to identify useful elements for a theory of computers and social change.

2.3.3 The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

2.3.3.1Goffman: Interaction Rituals
2.3.3.2The Social Construction of Reality
2.3.3.3Turkle: Computers and the Construction of the Self

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