Social Change: A Data-Driven Learning Guide
Goal & Concept
The goal of this exercise is to explore the differential impact of social change on three generations of Americans in the 1970s. Crosstabulations and comparison of means tests will be used.
Social change refers to any significant alteration over time in behavior patterns, cultural values, and norms. Social change can be slow or rapid; emergent (through the unfolding of daily life and small cumulative changes), transformative (through crisis) or projectable (planned). It can be caused by a variety of social, cultural, political, economic, technological, and environmental forces.
Sociologists have long been interested in studying the impact of social change on people. Some, such as 19th century sociologist Emile Durkheim, focus on the negative consequences of social change. Durkheim famously argued that rapid social change can create a normative vacuum in which the old cultural rules no longer apply. As a result, people sometimes become disoriented and experience anomie (a sense of apathy, alienation, personal distress, and cultural estrangement brought on by the lack of fit between the individual's needs and expectations and the social order) as they search for new guidelines to govern their lives.
Other theorists emphasize the transformative consequences of social change, arguing that the major historical events of an era are particularly influential in shaping the ideas and the political and social consciousness of youth reaching maturity in that era.
The US underwent profound social changes in the late 1950s and in the 1960s, with such key historical, cultural, and political events as the Civil Rights movement, massive anti-war protests, riots, and the feminist movement. This period of US history offers valuable opportunities to study both the causes and consequences of social change. Using survey data from 1971, this exercise explores the differential impact of the events of the 1950-60s on three generations of Americans.
Examples of research questions about social change:
- How does social change affect people's attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors?
- Does social change impact social groups differently, and, if so, what might explain these differences?
- Does rapid social change create anomie?
- Are the effects of anomie the same for all social groups? If not, what might explain the differences?
CITATION: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. Social Change: A Data-Driven Learning Guide. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2-1-2011. Doi:10.3886/socialchange
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.