Social Transformations – Chapter 9 – Discovering Sociology


So in Chapter 9 we talk about social
transformation. And if we ask ourselves what’s happened, we have to ask, well,
what’s changed? How has it changed, to what has it changed, and who did the
changing? So if we ask ourselves what’s changed – well, just think about time,
living time. We’ve moved from living with seasons to living within modern
societies where we’re looking at watches, thinking about time in terms of
structure that we’ve created for ourselves. If we think about lifetimes,
our life expectancy, people live longer, infant mortality rate is far lower
than it was. Transformations that we could not necessarily envisage. Likewise
life cycles; from birth rates, the age of consent, the age at which a person is an
adolescent, the time it takes to become an adult. Life politics – you think
about reproductive rights, sexual rights the right to a pension, or welfare or
health when you’re not actually working – all of these things are transformations
that we, perhaps, take for granted. And in addition, under the theme of life
politics, we should recognize perhaps one of the most fundamental transformations
of all; where once we lived in a world where we felt that we could at any time
be destroyed by nature, to a society today where one of our primary concens
is the fear that we could ourselves destroy nature – something that we perhaps
could refer to as living in a risk society. The very idea of work itself is
totally transformed, from working on the land, to working in industry, to working
in services. And life worlds – if you think about the family, about marriage, about
friendship, about work-life balance, about relationships again outside of work and
in other domains. Intimacies – the very conception, and globalization – the total
transformation of the interaction between far away and here in your own
doorstep, and actually inside your own body. So if you ask the question how
did social transformation come about, we can perhaps ask ourselves about the
creation of something that we should call modernity, and one argument is that
modernity is a society in which we have been disembedded from the past – and the question of how we’ve become disembedded from the past leads us to four dimensions; those of technology, markets,
enlightenment, and democracy. We talk about technology and industry, the drive
to increasing efficiency and efficacy. We talk about markets; the development and
transformation of markets, things that are bought and sold – what would have once
been considered sacred, is now available to buy and sell. We can think about
enlightenment and science; the notion of truth, totally transformed in the last
three centuries. And we can talk about political change; democracy and the idea
of participation, relations to rights and individuals. And to what have we changed?
So, where are we now, where do we live, where is this changed world? Well, some
would say we live in a capitalist society, where property is the driver and
we are following in its wake. Although, you could argue in fact we live in an
urban society, where actually it’s city living that defines the primary form in
which we exist. We can say we live in a bureaucratic society – think of
the extent to which reason, rationality, decision, calculation, is kind of driving
every aspect of our lives, from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to
sleep. And we can say we live in a patriarchal society, but a public
patriarchal society – no longer a society where fathers rule in the home, to a
society where men may or may not rule in every domain of life, and certainly that
is an area of contestation ongoing. But we could also say that we live in a
democratic society. Now, to think about those five things: capitalism, urbanism,
bureaucracy, patriarchy and democracy… they don’t necessarily go together, and
that’s why we have to ask ourselves the question of who makes the change? In all
of those domains there are challenges; there are those that would seek to
change, those that would seek to keep the same, those that would seek to take us
back to some past that we have transformed from but would some would
like to return to. So if we’ve asked the question of what transformation has
occurred, how that transformation has occurred, and the kind of society that
transformation has led us to, we’re left then with the question of who – who makes
the change, and more particularly, do we consciously make the change, or have
those transformations unconsciously made us? And that leads sociologists to ask
the question: has changed been driven by social movements – active people
consciously campaigning to change the world – or, has change been the product of
social processes that people aren’t necessarily always aware of, and that
actually make them, rather than being made by them. And of course, because of
all the drivers, the different drivers and the different outcomes and the
different actors that seek to make the change, and challenge the change, social
transformation not only is something that has happened, but it’s something
that continues to happen.