Home > Subjects > English Language > Social Change and Modernity Essay

Social Change and Modernity Essay


In this essay, I will discuss the concept of social change and modernity as it has been inherited from the classical Social Change and Modernityperspectives of W.E.B. Dubois, George Simmel, and Frantz Fanon. The current societies are divided into different social classes based on the economic status. The post Second World war societies exhibit specific features that are characteristics of modernity. They have democratic political structures and capitalistic economies. The characteristics of a modern society include urbanization, industrialization, and the influx of women into employment and business, sexual freedom, utilization of technology in transport and communication and standardized education among others. Modernity has had a profound effect on social movements and sociological understanding. Dubois, Simmel, and Fanon are the father s of social movements and social conflict in the contemporary sociology. This study will analyze the historical concept of social movements and contributes to the understanding of the concepts of social movement and social conflict.


According to the classical theory, the concept of modernity has been used to explain the social changes that took place in Europe in the 19th century (Weinstein, 2005). The social changes included urbanization, political democracy, and industrialization. Modernity represents the new experience that the world received. It is a sociological perspective adopted by Dubois, Simmel, and Fanon to capture the social progress and contrast and give meaning to the new world. Modernity represents a world that has been constructed a new by the intervention of various actors in it. It represents the type of freedom received by the new generation who realized some openness about their future. Modernity has come along with a social change that has allowed people to realize a new sense of individuality, self, and subjectivity (Weinstein, 2005). The classical sociology differentiates the modern persons from traditional ones. This is how the classical sociologists have defined modernity. The sociological account of the social change is based on the understanding of the relationship between God and man. Human has also experienced a change in demographics, property relations, and development of industries. In this case, I will focus on industrialization as the primary social change that has presented humans with a new experience. Industrialization in the 19th century involved the development of new methods of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Besides, the factors of production were centralized within particular areas which led to the development of urban centers. The urban centers developed because the laboring individuals were moving from the rural areas to the centralized urban workplaces in search of jobs. The urban dwellings brought along with them both advantages and disadvantages. The classical sociologists considered the urban centers as both alienating and liberating. They presented opportunities for some people and others only realized social evils and social separation.

The person’s who moved to the urban set-ups lost ties with their rural homes and families. The relatives and friends who were left in the rural areas suffered both mental and physical break up. The social networks and identity which had been established no longer existed and new ones had to be formed. Nobody took control over the nature of the migrating individuals leading to the alienation of the traditional societies. The persons who had moved to towns were open for new social networks. The new social networks which were formed in urban centers were voluntary (Weinstein, 2005). They contrasted the traditional associations which were inherited by birth. The new social and political networks created were based on workplace relations, religious groups or neighborhood.

Sociological Perspectives

Simmel concerned himself with diverse forms of social interactions and the ability of people to develop social structures as a result of social change. Simmel contemporary sociology has contributed to the understanding of the effects of modern social networks and how they impact then creativity of modern man. Simmel considers the importance of social norms and societal values upon individual consciousness. Besides, Simmel has also conceptualized the ability that people have in confronting themselves to ensure that social desires and actions are met. His conceptions are similar to the views of George Herbert Mead. Simmel is one of the contemporary sociologists who has made a significant contribution in social change and modernity. He advanced social interaction by taking the consideration of the social actors and their contribution to other members of the same social network. One of his dominant concerns was the form of social interactions as opposed to the content. Simmer believed that a sociologist was expected to define various forms of social reality within different arrays of social interactions. He believed that different people within a given social interaction or network could have varying opinions about particular issues. As such, he valued the forms of social interactions rather than the content.

Simmel has contributed in developing a social geometry that explains different levels of social relations (Frisby, 2013). The primary social geometries that he developed include dyad and triad. A dyad is a two-person group while triad is a three-person group. In society groups play a significant role where every group member is given the opportunity to influence the decision of the group members. Simmel considered the threat that the individual’s personality brings into the group. In a large society, there are different social groups with different perspectives on common issues. The decision of the group members is usually influenced by the distance of the group members. If members of the same social interaction live in far apart, it becomes difficult for them to interact, and therefore, the distance will play a greater role in determining the form of social interaction. The different forms of social interactions that Simmel considered include sociability, prostitution, and conflict.

Simmel considered philosophical sociology that identifies social interactions as the primary factor that is responsible for the development of culture. In his word, he refers to this social reality as an objective culture. According to Simmel’s view, social interactions lead to the development of a culture that defines the social world of particular people within the same social network (Frisby, 2013). The culture is used to identify the traits of a particular network which can be used to differentiate them with other social networks. Different cultures have some similarities, but the outcome can be used to distinguish a given social network. In Simmel’s view, various components can be sued to identify a particular group of the social network. Such components include technology, tools, conventional wisdom, ideas, philosophical systems, language, arts, moral codes, intellectual sphere, legal structures, and religion. Simmel considered that the size of a particular culture increases with the advancement in technology and modernization. The different components of a particular objective culture are responsible for the growth of the social network. The available components will force people to specialize in various fields thus leading to the development of towns. The experts will then form social networks that develop into institutions such as the judiciary, schools, and churches. However, he considered the influence of an individual culture in the objective culture. Some individuals are difficult and can influence the progress of a social network.

According to Simmel, the objective culture led to the division of labor as result of modernization. Division of labor contributed to the development of cultural world with highly specialized individuals. The highly specialized individuals lost the ability to control the culture leading to the development of the culture trophies. According to Simmel, the increase in different social networks made life to become more dramatic. Modernity superseded the social networks and people were interested in making life more efficient (Frisby, 2013). In this case, the unpredictable means of communication have been replaced with more efficient means of communication including emails, telephone to allow people to enjoy more freedom. Therefore, Simmel’s sociological perspective focused on the objective culture. However, his works failed to address systematic sociology like his predecessors such Marx and Durkheim.

W.E.B. Du Bois advanced the theories of knowledge change. He considered the theory of value, the theory of knowledge, the theory of human nature, theory of learning, the theory of society and opportunity among others (Back & Solomos, 2000). According to the theory of value, he considered education as the primary factor that can be used to enhance the value of people. He believed that work alone would not uplift the value of individuals if it is not coupled with intelligence. Education is the only way that can be used to teach people the modern civilization. He considered his fellow black people and urged them to retain their culture and foster in literature and black arts to as a way of life. In the words of Du Bois, “black men must be treated as human, responsible beings, sentient, not as cattle.” He considered various social networks and urged the black people to value their greatness and not their color to allow them to fit in the modern society. He believed in a progressive society where people were not treated based on their color, but progressive achievement.  He saw that humanity would progress if they were given equal opportunity without considering their social networks (Back & Solomos, 2000). Du Bois considered education in the modern world as a matter of chance. Education was necessary for the modern world since it would help in eliminating social evils that were experienced in the modern societies. It would help in eliminating racism and advocated for equal opportunities between the blacks and the whites. He believed that education would help to address the political, social and economic problems that affected different people in the modern world.

Du Bois refuted the notions that some societies were biologically inferior to others. According to his theory of society, he opposed the idea that the blacks were biologically inferior to the whites. He believed that the modern society that was characterized by industrialization and modern forms of communication provided equal opportunities for all people to exercise their knowledge and prove that they were productive in the society. Nobody was expected to discriminate against other people based on their color and race since people had progressed and the only factor that could be used to determine the ability of an individual was economic viability. Individuals who are economically viable would contribute to the development of the modern society.

Du Bois considered social discrimination in the society. He advocated for equality between different races. He encouraged the society to treat people like vegetables by considering their quality as opposed to quantity. He considered societal progress and believed that education was the only tool that could be sued to address the social inequality in the society. Education would contribute to the unity of all people regardless of their race or the color of their skin. He believed that education would allow blacks to integrate themselves into the white society. According to Du Bois, the blacks needed to become active members of the American society (Back & Solomos, 2000). They needed to work to help fight the common cause that was disintegrating the society. Du Bois perspective is that of a black man. He was against the subjective experience brought about by race. His perspective was to fight cultural suppression that the minorities in the society were subjected to.

Frantz Fanon was a fearless critic against colonialism (Bulhan, 2004). He played a significant role in the independence of various African countries including Algeria and Zimbabwe. He was concerned about contemporary issues in cultural politics. He embraced cultural studies, postcolonialism, and feminist theory. His critical perspective provides direction concerning political and cultural thought in the post-colonial era. As opposed to other theoretical perspectives including Du Bois and Simmel, the sociological perspective of Fanon provided direction in the post-colonial era (Bulhan, 2004). He identified issues which were retrogressive to the development of the society in the post-colonial era. He criticized the dominant power of European colonizers since they contributed to a failure to allow members of the African continent to achieve meaningful development and political freedom (Bulhan, 2004). Many of his writings exposed the problems that hindered genuine development in the society. His critical perspectives have been used to explain post modernization since he was against colonialism which is considered as the primary factor that hindered genuine development in the society.

Simmel, Du Bois, and Fanon have different perspectives concerning social change and modernity. The theoretical perspective of Simmel is concerned about the pre-colonial era. He was determined by the social networks and social interactions which were the primary factor that led to the development of culture. He considered culture as the primary factor that could be used to differentiate between different groups of social networks. On the other hand, Du Bois considered racial discrimination that existed during the colonial era in the America. He was against the prejudice of the black people and considered economic progression and education as the primary factors that could be used to end racial segregation. Frantz Fanon was a fearless critic whose perspective looked beyond colonialism. He considered European Imperialist as to be behind economic failures of most countries in Africa. His sociological perspective considered postmodern era and advocated for genuine development in Africa and other parts of the world that suffered the wrath of British imperialists.

Social Movements and Social Change

Social movements are critical to modernity. Simmel considered social networks or movement to be the primary factor behind new political, social and economic development. He considered social movements as the structured forms of collective behavior that allowed people to address their areas of discontent. Social movements comprise of a group of individuals who are gathered to achieve a common purpose. Social movements are responsible for the development of political actions which have played a critical role in shaping the development agenda of the modern world. The political movements have played a significant role in changing the existing social structures and created a distinction between sociopolitical movements and socio-cultural movements.

After an Industrial revolution in Europe different social networks came together to create political units which were central in providing leadership structures. The political units were characterized by rules and regulations which governed the relationship of the people between different levels of economic units. The people in power amassed wealth and expanded their territories to other parts of the world including America and Africa to acquire raw materials for their industries. The Europeans created social classes in the areas where they moved to lead to discrimination based on race and social class (Weinstein, 2005). The Europeans started colonizing the other parts of the world which they acquired and imposed their authority. George Simmel, W.E.B. Du Bois, & Frantz Fanon provides a sociological perspective that allows people to understand the social change that took place before colonial era to the modern world. They have provided a vivid analogy of the social networks in advancing social change and modernity.

The political culture defines the modern social movements. However, they require time and space for them to thrive. The sociopolitical movements have evolved and have been used to describe the modern politics and society. The current social networks require a given degree of communication and organization to ensure that they continue to exist over time. The sociopolitical movements are a characteristic of the modernity. They have led to the development of political units and political parties that are responsible for the affairs of the society. Modernity has played a critical role in the development of social movements. The social movements require organization and communication networks. Modernity has also influenced the development of social structures and economic structures (Weinstein, 2005). Today, modernity is defined by three aspects namely, development of new mass media, expansion of the state and explosion of different industries. These are the dynamics of social change. They have influenced social movements making them become a product of modernity. In the past, modernity was a product of social movements. However, this has changed in the recent past as result of the social dynamics which defines the direction of social movements and economic development.

Modernity has laid the ground for the development of democracy. This has been witnessed in most western countries. After the World War II, the western nations experienced economic and social transformation. The economic and social transformation is based on the dynamics of social change. The formation of state contributed significantly to the social and economic development in the western countries. The transformation was cognizant of the civil society groups and private economic activities. The postwar period also changed the labor relations in the western countries. The western nations moved from manufacturing industries to knowledge-based industries which emphasized on capitalism. The new social movements also expanded employment opportunities thus creating more opportunities for women in the employment sector (Weinstein, 2005).

Therefore, social change and modernity go hand in hand. Social change is progressive. It influences political, social and economic units. The developments in these three aspects are responsible for modernity. As such, social movements have played a critical role in the development of society. The current political, social and economic units are a definition of social changes which have taken place in the past and contributed to modernity.

  • Alessandrini, A. C. (Ed.). (2005). Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives. Routledge.
  • Back, L., & Solomos, J. (Eds.). (2000). Theories of race and racism: A reader. Psychology Press.
  • Bulhan, H. A. (2004). Frantz Fanon and the psychology of oppression. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Delanty, G. (2013). Social theory in a changing world: Conceptions of modernity. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Diani, M. (2000). Simmel to Rokkan and beyond: Towards a network theory of (new) social movements. European Journal of Social Theory3(4), 387-406.
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (2008). The souls of black folk. Oxford University Press.
  • Frisby, D. (2013). Fragments of Modernity (Routledge Revivals): Theories of Modernity in the Work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin. Routledge.
  • Frisby, D. (2013). Sociological Impressionism (Routledge Revivals): A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory. Routledge.
  • Haferkamp, H., & Smelser, N. J. (Eds.). (1992). Social change and modernity. Berkeley: University of California press.
  • McRobbie, A. (2009). The aftermath of feminism: Gender, culture and social change. Sage.
  • Weinstein, J. A. (2005). Social and cultural change: Social science for a dynamic world. Rowman & Littlefield.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment