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   Course Title    Sociology of a Changing Society
Lecturer    Oleg A. Karmadonov
Institution    Irkutsk State Technical University
Country    Russia


Throughout this course we are going to deal with social changes of all kinds. The term social change refers to variations over time in the ecological ordering of populations and communities, in patterns of roles and social interactions, in the structure and functioning of institutions, and in the cultures of societies. We are going to see that such changes can result from social forces building within societies (endogenous forces) as well as from forces for change exerted from the outside (exogenous forces). Changes in social organization and culture that result from a society's need to feed a growing population are examples of endogenous social change, and the effects of colonial rule on traditional societies are examples of endogenous social change. Usually both types of change occur simultaneously.

At the micro level, social change is experienced through new patterns of individual and small-group interaction. For example, we can take a look at changes in intimate social groups like couples and the family, especially the emergence of new norms guiding social behavior and the organization of family roles. And we can see how urbanization affects the nature of primary groups. Rapid social changes at the micro level continue to provide a fertile field of inquiry for social scientists. Among the subjects of current research at this level are changes in gender roles, in the use of leisure time, in the character of interaction among the different social groups, as well as between the personality and social status.

At the middle level of social life, change is most often experienced in communities, economic organizations, and governing bodies. There are at least two dominant trends at this level of social experience: the increasing democratization of political life and the rise of complex bureaucratic institutions. We can see, for example, that much conflict in the world today revolves around questions of who will have the right to participate in a society's basic institutions. Throughout the world , people are demanding - though by no means always gaining - full citizenship rights and equal participation in the "good life" as it is defined in their culture. They no longer accept lack of wealth or prestige, or the "wrong" skin color or religion, as criteria that can exclude them from economic and political opportunities.

But as organizations and institutions grow in number and complexity, they must find new ways of carrying out their functions. In the contemporary world this becomes the task of the bureaucrat. Max Weber saw bureaucracy as the "iron cage" of modern existence. Our organizations are increasingly concerned with efficiency, but the quest for efficiency can diminish the human spirit and create unfeeling, "bureaucratic" personalities. Sociologists often regard the emergence of groups opposed to the status quo, such as the hippies, the New Left, or religious cults, as a form of rebellion against bureaucratic control and bureaucratic personalities.

Macrosocial change produces the major social forces that shape change throughout a society. Many, perhaps most, of the changes that occur at the middle and micro levels, where we actually experience change in our own lives, are generated by large-scale, even revolutionary changes at the macro level. These changes do not occur quickly, but they alter the ecological order, the system of stratification, and the social institutions of entire societies. Populations become urbanized; cities expand into metropolitan and even megalopolitan systems; and demand for more energy, food, transportation, recreation, and information create incentives for the development of new technologies and social institutions. Entire social classes are shaped by these macro-level changes and attempt to adapt to them. Tribal agriculturalists are absorbed into modern market systems, and many of those who cannot make a living from the land become part of the industrial working class. Others become members of other classes - professionals, managers of business enterprises, clerical workers - and a few will even join the ranks of very rich or powerful. But these economic classes are only the beginning. People continue to be ranked by age, gender, ethnicity, race, or religion. And the social movements they join express their desire to obtain a larger share of their society's resources. New institutions emerge to educate, employ, inform, transport, shelter, and care for the health of ever larger populations. And as societies become more complex, the tasks of government become increasingly specialized and subject to greater conflict.

Many other examples of macro-level change in societies throughout the world could be given. In the past 300 years many of the world's societies have changed from agrarian to industrial and then to postindustrial production; from feudal to capitalist economic organization; from capitalist to socialist, and back to capitalist framework; and from colonial outpost to independent nation. Changes like these are a matter of endless fascination to sociologists, and there have been a variety of attempts to explain them.

Since its founding in nineteenth century, sociology has been developing theories to account for all of these aspects of social change. This is clearly an ambitious undertaking, and some theories attempt more all-encompassing explanations than others do. Global theories try to explain change in all societies, past and present. Modernization theories have a more modest goal, seeking to explain what happens as contemporary societies undergo industrial, political, and urban revolutions. In the present course we will examine modernization theories too, especially as they apply to the countries of the former East Block, and Russia.

Russia, as we should point out, was unable to utilize the mechanisms which proved efficient for modern transformation like in Germany and Japan. Her fragmented elite did not offer a coherent modernization ideology, the state did not modernize to the extent that it could exercise effective administrative control necessary for large-scale comprehensive reforms, there turned out to be little in Russian national tradition which could be activated as a driving force of change, and Russian Orthodoxy failed to emerge as an ethical religion guiding the everyday conduct. In the face of the lack of these mechanisms, they had to be substituted. The communist period was one great institutional surrogate of modernity. Being unable to modernize with the help of above-mentioned mechanisms, and being under an increasing pressure from the outside world to modernize anyway, Russia made an attempt to exercise a great leap into modernity by using social engineering on a hitherto unseen scale. It was an attempt at denying the laws of social gravitation and rejecting social physics as such.

After the collapse of communism in the situation when the prospect of marginalization and "thirdworldism" begun to loom large on the horizon Russia began to struggle hard to recover her erstwhile reputation of a great power. New political elites took to the policies of pragmatism and political bargaining. With Russia's present weakened position, however, things do not proceed so smoothly as we may wish them to. NATO has gone ahead with bringing in new members no matter what Russia said to it. This step to further consolidate the global system is not isolated. In the wake of the fall of communism we now face rapid and vigorous restructuring of the global system in the direction of creating powerful and efficient world institutions capable of exercising control on a global scale. With the words of Vaclav Havel, - "The end of communism is, first and foremost, a message to the human race. It is a message we have not fully deciphered and comprehended. In its deepest sense, the end of Communism has brought a major era in human history to an end. It has brought an end not just to the 19th and 20th centuries, but to the modern age as a whole".


Present course partly was delivered to the students and staff at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, in the fall 1999. In the spring, 2000, it was revised and updated during the Curriculum Resource Center's session "Sociology" in Warsaw, due to the grant from the Central-European University.

This course fits into curriculum of Departments of Sociology, Economy, History, Political Science, and Cultural Anthropology. Especially to those where the accent of teaching process hits the international aspects of the major discipline.


There was widespread recognition that student need to be placed at the center of the learning process, but less conviction that this is happening at the moment. Anyway, an effective strategy will involve guiding and enabling students to be effective learners, to understand their own learning styles, and to manage their own learning.

Besides the lectures themselves, we intend to use during this course workshop methods which involves active learning, individual work, demonstrations, practice sessions, brief presentations, and consultation. Also, we are going to conduct a group discussion, which is immensely important as a vehicle for student learning in higher education. It encourages students to organize their thinking by comparing ideas and interpretations with each other and to give expression, and hence form, to their understanding of a subject. Cooperation and teamwork have become essential features of most work situations, as have skills in listening, drawing on information, and persuading. There are thus firm links between the experience of democratic group discussions in education and the expectations placed on students to be successful operators in a variety of group functions in their future lives. All these purposes are of excellent pedigree.



Theme 1. (Week 1)

Introduction to the Sociology of Changing Society. Roots and origins. Basic terms and definitions. Sociology of changing society as a part of Sociology in general; its relationship with other social sciences - Economy, History, Philosophy, Political Science. (2h)

Theme 2. (Weeks 2-3)

Social Change as a subject of social theories. Philosophical foundations for the study of social transformation. Social change and the problem of Evolution. Alteration of a society as an inevitable outcome of the social development. Study of the society in transition: the problem of methodology. Qualitative and quantitative methods of social research regarding the main topic. (4h)

Theme 3. (Weeks 4-5)

Macro-sociological approach to the problem of social alteration. "Differentiation" as a condition of social change (T. Parsons). "Metaphysical pathos" and rationalization of society (M.Weber). Specific of emergence, functioning, and alteration of the social institutions and organizations. Transformation of social structure, vertical and horizontal mobility. (4h)

Theme 4. (Weeks 6-7)

Micro-sociological approach. Symbolic interactionism as a paradigm for the study of social transformation (J.G.Mead, H.Blumer). Sociology of knowledge in respect of social alteration. The conditions and the reasons of existence and alteration of society in thought of A.Shutz. "Symbolic construction of a reality" by P.Berger and T.Luckman. (4h)

Theme 5. (Weeks 8-9)

Social change as a transformation of symbolic forms. An alteration of "invisible" (ideologies, concepts, standards, motivations, values, etc.) and "visible" (art, music, literature, architecture, sculpture, etc.) social discourses. Transformation of social identity - ethnicity, citizenship, social economic status. Prestige/pathos dichotomy, and its psychological implications. (4h)

Theme 6. (Weeks 10-11)

Social change and the problem of modernization. Initial and secondary modernization. The models of social change. Case studies: the Industrial Revolution and its favorites - Britain, the Europe, the United States, Japan. The secondary modernization in the South-Eastern Asia. The Communism as a surrogate of modernization in the former Soviet Union. (4h)


Theme 1. (Weeks 1-2)

Social change and its implementations in different fields of social life. (4h)

The questions to be discussed:

  • How the changes in society are possible?
  • How do such a changes affect the lives of an average people?
  • How do such a changes affect the life of a society in general?

Theme2. (Weeks 3-4)

Social change and the theories of evolution. (4h)

The questions:

  • How does the social alteration connect to the general concept of evolution?
  • What are the types of evolutionary processes like?
  • How does theory of evolution connect to the teleology?

Theme 3. (Weeks 5-6)

Policy, rationality, and social darwinism. (4h)

The questions:

  • What is the transformation of the mass consciousness like?
  • How is it possible - to change the mind?
  • What are the implications of the social darwinism in alteration's process like?

Theme 4. (Weeks 7-8-9)

Social change as a global concept. Transformation of Western societies from the 18th to the 20th century. (6h)

The questions:

  • What does the concept of "revolution" mean? Implications?
  • Why was it in Britain that the Industrial Revolution first took hold?
  • The implementations of social changes within the Western art: how does it work?
  • Lassaiz faire, conservatism, post-industrialismů, what is the next?

Theme 5. (Weeks 10-11)

Alteration in Russia and in the Eastern Europe. 20th century. (4h)

The questions:

  • Was the Communism in Russia inevitable?
  • Any ideas about the connection between the Communism and modernization? What kind of?
  • What were/are the implications of perestroika in the entire world like?
  • How and where does the freedom work in Russia (Economy, Culture, Religion, Politics, Media, etc.)?



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