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Ways of Social Change
To Sheila Nyhus and our sons George, Elijah and Nathanael
Ways of Social Change
Making Sense of Modern Times
second edition
Garth Massey
University of Wyoming
Los Angeles
New Delhi
Washington DC
Copyright © 2016 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or
by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any
information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
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Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Massey, Garth.
Ways of social change : making sense of modern times / Garth Massey, University of Wyoming. — Second Edition.
pages cm
Revised editon of the author’s Ways of social change, 2012.
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
ISBN 978-1-5063-0662-9 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Social change. 2. Technological innovations—Social aspects. 3. Social movements. 4. Corporate power. 5. War and
society. 6. State, The. I. Title.
HM831.M3927 2016
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
15 16 17 18 19 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Chapter 1. The Personal Experience of Social Change
A Twentieth-Century Life: Iris Summers
From Farm to Factory
Names and Social Change
The Spread of Science and Technology
Decades of Social Movements
A Woman in a Changing Society
The Personal Challenge of Social Change
Inequality in the United States
Not Every Person’s Story: Capturing Social Change in Personal
Personal Change and Social Change
The Rise of Civilization and the Two Master Trends in Modern Times
Gradual Social Change in Pre-Modern Times
New Forms of Production and the Development of Capitalism
Emergence of the National State
Iris Summers’ Time and Place in Global Context
A More Crowded World
Do Population Dynamics Drive Social Change?
The More Things Change …
Drivers of Social Change
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 2. Recognizing Social Change
Ways of Recognizing Social Change
Inquiry Into Social Change
Asking Good Questions
Information to Be Gathered
Tracing and Untangling Causality
Gathering Information
Random and Nonrandom Sampling
Recognizing Social Change in Three Study Designs
Analyzing Information
Drawing Conclusions from the Data
Science as a Special Form of Inquiry
Social Policy to Make Social Change
Generations and Social Change
The Concept of Generations
From the Lost Generation to Millennials
Cohort, Age, and Period Effects of Social Change
Comparing Birth Cohorts Through Time
Cohort Effects
Age Effects
Period Effects
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 3. Understanding and Explaining Social Change
First Steps in Understanding Change
Individuals, Groups, Social Structure, and Agency
Images of Time
The Narrative as Refutable Explanation
Narratives of Modern Society’s Transformation
Society as an Evolving System
Evolutionary Change in Spencer, Veblen, and Sorokin and Today
Growth, Specialization, Complexity, and Advantage
Culture and Social Systems
Human History as Systems of Evolutionary Change
Society as the Site of Conflict, Power, and the Resolution of Contradictions
Social Divides and Asymmetrical Power
The Conflict Perspectives of Karl Marx, C. Wright Mills, and Georg
Ideology and Power
Contradictions as Activators of Social Change
Making Sense of Modern Times
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 4. Technology, Science, and Innovation: The Social Consequences of
New Knowledge and New Ways to Do Things
The Technology of Literacy
Literacy as Power
Literacy and Social Change
Changing Technology and Centuries of Change
From Stirrups to Cities
The Age of Rapid Technological Change
Technology as an Agent of Social Change
Technology as Device, Technique, and Social Organization
Technological Change and Social Change
Science, Corporations, and the State
The Science-Technology Nexus
Pure and Applied Scientific Research
Linking Curiosity and Necessity
Innovation and Social Change
Diffusion of Innovations: Seed Technologies and Industrial Farming
Technology and the Question of Western Expansion
Max Weber and the Moral Imperative of Work
Technology and Social Change in the Periphery
Imperialism and the Quest for Colonies
Technologies of Colonization
Resistance to Technology or Resistance to Change?
Utopia, Dystopia, and the Lessons of Dr. Frankenstein
Japan’s Return to the Sword
Conservative Peasants
The Technological Fix as Resistance to Change
Technology Transfer: The Global Spread of Technology
The Debate Over Technology Transfer
International Development and Appropriate Technology
Appropriate Technology: Microcredit
Sustainable Technology
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 5. Social Movements: Social Change Through Contention
Politics by Other Means
How Social Movements Matter
What Is a Social Movement?
Social Movements as Challenges to Authority
Voicing and Pursuing Shared Grievances
The Shared Benefits of Movement Success
Common Goods and Free Riders
Social Movement Participants
Resource Mobilization
Social Movement Framing
Diagnostic, Prognostic, and Motivation Frames
Social Movement Tactics
The Often Violent Movement to Win Collective Bargaining
Political Opportunity for Social Movements
Elite Competition as Political Opportunity for Environmentalists
Digital Technology and Social Movements
Linking Social Movements to Social Change
Knowing When Social Movements Matter
Social Movement Frames and Public Opinion
Abortion and the Battle for Public Opinion
Political Process and Policy Change
Cultural Impacts of Social Movements
Personal Change as a Consequence of Social Movement Participation
Social Movements and Resistance to Social Change
Social Movements Opposing the Direction of Social Change
Resistance to Social Movements as Agents of Change
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 6. War, Revolution, and Social Change: Political Violence and Structured
War as Coercive Politics
Power, Coercion, Violence, and Compliance
War and the State
War and Social Cohesion
Constructing Mentalities of War
Not All Wars Are the Same
Total and Limited Wars
The Cold War, Nuclear Weapons, and Proxy Wars
Civil Wars and Wars for Independence
Symmetrical and Asymmetric Conflicts
Resource Wars
The New Wars and Terrorism
War as an Instrument of Social Change
War’s Destruction
War and Migration as the Purification of Space
Participation in War
Workers’ Wartime Gains
A Permanent War Economy
Preparing for War: Research and Development
Building a Better Organization: State and Corporate Planning
Revolution and Social Transformation
Varieties of Revolutionary Paths
Weakened States and Defecting Militaries
Revolutionary Outcomes: Political and Social Change
War, Revolution, and Resistance to Social Change
Counterrevolutions and War in Opposition to Social Change
Resistance to War: Peace as a Trajectory for Social Change
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 7. Corporations in the Modern Era: The Commercial Transformation of
Material Life and Culture
Large Corporations in Modern Times
The Corporate Form
Corporations as Legally Fictitious Individuals
Other Types of Corporations
What Could Be More Natural?
Corporations as Evolving Systems
Corporations as Sites of Power and Conflict
Externalities and the Actual Price You Pay
The Corporation’s History of Transformation
Early State-Chartered Corporations
From Public Service to Engines of Wealth
Monopoly Capitalism
Entrepreneurs, Managers, Bankers: Who Controls the Corporation?
How Large Corporations Direct Social Change
Technology and the Corporate Dynamic
Control and Investment of Capital
Railroads as the Early Engine of Capital Accumulation
Transformation of the Labor Process
The Corporate Creation of Culture
Consumer Dreams
Political Power in Democratic Capitalism
Large Corporations and Resistance to Social Change
Corporations Working Against Change
Organizational Entropy: Corporate Culture vs. Innovation
Resistance to Corporate-Driven Change
The Environmental Crisis and Corporations with a Conscience
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 8. The State and Social Change: The Uses of Public Resources for the
Common Good
Strong States and Social Change
Public Health: Reducing Disease and Accidental Death as a Public Good
Public Health in the Progressive Era and Beyond
War and Public Health
Smoking and Public Health
Automobiles and Public Health
National Progress Through the Control of Nature
Reclaiming the Wilderness
Power and Water Politics, from Roosevelt to Roosevelt
Monuments of Power
The Judicial Road to Civil Rights
Jim Crow and the State
The Terror of Lynching
Challenging Jim Crow
Racism and the Shifting Political Landscape
The End of Separate but Equal
Resistance to Brown and the End of Jim Crow
Voting Rights and Violence
State-Driven Social Change in Modern China
Mao’s Revolutionary China, 1949–1976
Two Versions of Democracy
Great Leaps and Stumbles
Post-Mao China: The Deng Xiaoping Era
Resistance to State-Directed Social Change
Using the State to Resist Change
Opposing the State as an Instrument of Change
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Chapter 9. Making Social Change: Actively Engaging a Desire for Social Change
Three Contrasting Visions
The Future—Predictable and Otherwise
Using Your Human Agency
Vocations of Social Change
Nongovernmental Organizations and Gap Year Experiences
Agency and Ethical Responsibility
Activism as a Part of Life
Social Change Happens
Topics for Discussion and Activities for Further Study
Name Index
Subject Index
The world has moved quickly and in unforeseen directions since the first edition of
Ways of Social Change was published. A few years ago democracy seemed to be just
around the corner in the Middle East, a region long dominated by authoritarian elites.
What ensued were civil wars, counterrevolutions, state suppression of opposing
voices, and conflicted steps toward more democratic societies. Three years ago Steve
Jobs was living; the Great Recession was shrinking millions of people’s opportunities
and life savings; ISIS referred to an ancient Egyptian goddess, not a radical jihadist
army; Sudan was one country, Myanmar was ruled by a military clique, and Thailand
was not; Cuba was embargoed by the U.S.; e-cigarettes, bitcoins, fitness bands,
biometric fabric, and Google glasses were little more than curiosities; young people got
their news from Jon Stewart; and U.S. credit card debt was greater than student loan
debt. Much has changed.
Ways of Social Change, like most college texts, took its inspiration from my having
taught social change over many years, both as a course and as an integral dimension to
other sociological topics. Most books about social change—several of which I
assigned students to read—are about theories of social change. They illustrate one
theory and another with examples of real-world events and trends. Most of what the
student learns from these books is how academics think and the ideas scholars bring to
their inquiries about social change.
Ways of Social Change has a different purpose. Its intention is not only to explain
social change but to help students make sense of the changing world around them. Doing
this means confronting the world as it is, recognizing how it came to be this way, and
understanding the forces that influence so much of what happens in the world today.
Two fundamental approaches—historical and comparative analysis—guide this effort.
With this understanding, students can choose to become actively involved in social
The most original feature of this book is the emphasis on what Robert Merton referred
to as the mechanisms of change, what I call drivers of social change. Students learn
about five of these—the most important forces in the last five centuries and the century
currently unfolding: science and technology, social movements, war and revolution,
large corporations, and the state. They are the topics of Chapters 4 through 8. Each of
these also has been resisted as an agent of—and enlisted to resist—social change. This,
too, is discussed in each of the five chapters.
Ways of Social Change uses a fictional device to acquaint students with social change
as a lived experience. Iris Summers, introduced in Chapter 1, came of age in a period
of rapid and profound change. The society in which she lived was structured and
moved by organizations and powerful forces, some well beyond her recognition, let
alone her control. But that is not all of her story. She is the thread that runs through the
book, reminding students that social change is lived and deeply personal and that human
beings not only experience but make social change happen.
Unlike many books students are assigned to read, Ways of Social Change engages in a
great deal of nonfictional storytelling. Of course, many pages are devoted to explaining
what a social movement is, what the state, the corporate form, technology, and war are.
Many other pages tell the story of a massive dam project on the Colorado River; the
transformation of China from communism to authoritarian capitalism; the ways World
War II transformed how nations deal with their citizens; how top-down expertise looses
out to local knowledge and a moral economy in the Third World; the slow but universal
adoption of the bicycle; the chipping away of racial injustice through the courts; the
adoption of sanitation in cities and hospitals; the steps and struggles toward equality for
women; and more. Rather than tell students that these things happened, I have tried to
explain how and why things changed.
The events of the recent past, to say nothing of more distant events, have not been
obvious outcomes of easily identified processes. Context, historical trajectory, units of
analysis (personality, culture, social structure), and critical linkages must be taken into
account. And this must be within a conceptual scheme that gives meaning to the facts.
Doing this—without adding to the confusion of the many partisan and poorly informed
voices that purport to tell us what is going on—is a challenge Ways of Social Change
has sought to meet.
Understanding social change, in the final analysis, is a critical thinking skill for
unraveling the forces shaping the twenty-first century. To help students acquire this
skill, research and theory are the topics of Chapters 2 and 3. Today, there is so much
easily available information; handheld computers put any fact a few clicks away. Very
little of it, however, is imbedded within a framework of understanding. And little of it
is vetted by people who can evaluate its accuracy and weigh its importance. We get the
information we want. We hear opinions we agree with. We accept explanations that
rarely challenge us and comfortingly reinforce our prejudices and perspective. On some
level, students are aware of this, and they want something else. I have tried to provide
historical and comparative stories that offer a sometimes disquieting but better way to
make sense of things, or at least a more critical mode of thinking.
Ways of Social Change acquaints students with the narratives of contemporary social
change. While an examination of the U.S. is paramount, there is ample material to whet
the student’s appetite for more global studies. China, particularly, comes in for close
attention. The poorest, previously colonized parts of the world are never far away from
any discussion of the affluent, along with the power of the latter to affect the former.
The Topics for Further Discussion at the end of each chapter extend the conversation of
the chapter. These topics provide an opportunity to air differing points of view and
invite students to express their concerns and ideas about what they have read. The
Activities for Further Study offer independent inquiry to more ambitious or engaged
students and can be a starting point for research projects.
Young people today are eager to be involved in social change, in making a positive
contribution to the direction things are going. Ways of Social Change takes this desire
into the realm of social science where inquiry, clarification, understanding, and
involvement can help provide for both informed opinions and a path to effective
engagement, the topic of the final chapter.
The author and SAGE Publications gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the
following reviewers:
Brandy McMahon—Arizona State University
Paul S. Gray—Boston College
Ho Hon Leung—SUNY College at Oneonta
Dr. Andrew Kirton—University of Liverpool
Jeff A. Larson—Towson University
Patricia Campion—Saint Leo University
SAGE was founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune to support the dissemination of
usable knowledge by publishing innovative and high-quality research and teaching
content. Today, we publish more than 850 journals, including those of more than 300
learned societies, more than 800 new books per year, and a growing range of library
products including archives, data, case studies, reports, conference highlights, and
video. SAGE remains majority-owned by our founder, and after Sara’s lifetime will
become owned by a charitable trust that secures our continued independence.
Los Angeles | London | New Delhi | Singapore | Washington DC
1 The Personal Experience of Social Change
If you could use only six words, how would you describe your life? F. Scott Fitzgerald,
author of The Great Gatsby, wistfully suggested that he and his wife, Zelda, would
write, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” One of my former students, Joe Hampton,
penned, “No plan. Hope it works out.” Trying to compose a phrase that captures or
summarizes a life is a challenge.1 Life is long (we hope) and full of twists and turns. As
the German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, “From the crooked timber of humanity,
no straight thing can ever be made.” Our plans, sacrifices, character, perseverance, and
common sense help take us where we want to go, but the road was not built by us, nor
do we have control over the traffic lights and detours.2 That is why, in part, the study of
society and the effort to understand social life is so important.
1 To
read more six-word epigrams, see Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith’s Not Quite
What I Was Planning.
2 “And
so the nature of not only politics but, I think, social change of any sort is that it
doesn’t move in a straight line, and that those who are most successful typically are
tacking like a sailor toward a particular direction but have to take into account winds
and currents and occasionally the lack of any wind, so that you’re just sitting there for
awhile, and sometimes you’re being blown all over the place,” is how President
Barack Obama described social change with a nautical metaphor (Remnick 2014: 52).
We live in a world that could easily go about its business without us, and we leave the
world with surprisingly little consequence, especially given all the effort we …
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