How Societies Change
- Daniel Chirot - University of Washington, USA
Social Change and Modernization
The book delves into the background of societies and how it has evolved. Good read for those wanting to grasp its basic ideas and carry on from there.
We have had a lot of dramatic social, economic, and political changes since the first edition of this book was published in 1994. We are moving into a new kind of industrial world that some have called "post-industrial," but that is really a sixth cycle that follows a regularly occurring set of cycles and changes that have characterized the entire globe since the original Industrial Revolution in the late 18th Century. As before, each new stage is marked by a series of crises that traumatize human societies. The fact that we are now more globalized than ever does not alter this fact, and as the new edition goes to press, we are in the midst of a new set of difficult challenges that could bring with them new world conflicts, depressions, and difficult readjustments. This was certainly not yet the case in the early 1990s.
Beyond this, however, much else has changed. Our understanding of early, pre-historic humanity has been modified substantially because of new DNA analysis and archeology. Interpretations of ancient history and of the centuries preceding the modern era have been enriched by new findings and scholarship. All that has to be taken into account if we are to better understand how social change worked in the past. The accepted versions of how western Europe became the first modern part of the world have been seriously challenged, and interestingly, the recent rise of China has led to questions about whether or not Europe was ever all that much more advanced. So, very recent changes in the past 15 years have forced all of us to reconsider what we thought we knew about the past.
Finally, it has to be said that from the American point of view, and that of other advanced capitalist democracies in the early 1990s the future looked much more rosy then than it does now. Of course, social theory ought not be subjected to drastic changes just because societies change, especially if we realize that constant change is always inevitable. Good theory should always take that into account. But it is important that all of us be reminded that standing still in the policies that guide major economic, political, and social institutions, and even our cultural ideals can be a prescription for disaster if the world around us changes and we fail to adapt. This has always been true, and it is still the case. What the new edition of this book tries to do is to make all of this clear to students by going over the major kinds of social change that have occurred in the past, and continue today to alter our environment, our societies, and our entire globe.