“Social change, in sociology, [is] the alteration of mechanisms within the social structure,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Such “alteration” is characterized by changes in:
- Cultural symbols
- Rules of behavior
- Social organizations
- Value systems
What does this mean, exactly? Well, all those channels for social change relate symbolically to power relations within a given society, organization, community or culture.
For example, when World War II required the efforts of women in factories and the workplace, advertisements with figures like Rosie the Riveter began to pop up, encouraging women to “do their bit” for the war effort. This galvanized a movement that fundamentally changed the way both women and men viewed women’s roles within the home and workplace. Rosie the Riveter became a cultural symbol that contributed to a change in the rules of behavior and even, to some extent, America’s value system.
Importantly, this social change reflects economic or political change, but it is not equivalent to that change.
Understanding the definition of social change, and how it relates to political and economic power, is crucial to leveraging the concept.