Evolutionary and Linear Theories of Social Change (Comte, Spencer, Tylor, Tonnies)

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  • Kingsley Davis, by social change it is meant only such alterations as occur in social organization, that is, structure and function of society.
  • Theories are related with philosophical interpretation of history
  • Durkheim - Social change because of changes in the bonds of morality aka solidarity, mechanical so that solidarity is simple and organic solidarity is complex society.
  • Weber - Development and social change depend on culture, peopleีšs beliefs, and values.
  • Recognized significance of changes which occurred in Europe from 17 century
  • Influenced social life throughout the world
  • Helped in development of modern science and industry

Two aspects at macro level:

  • Structural: changes affect the society, e. g. Industrialization
  • Cultural: change in deep rooted belief system e. g. Empowerment of women
  • Is modernization a social change?
  • Is occupational mobility a social change?

Evolutionary Theories of Social Change

  • Based on social evolution like biological evolution or Organic evolution
  • Societies change from simple to complex
  • Gradual change
  • Unilinear
  • Sign of development
  • Analogy between society and human being
  • Reaching new heights of civilization
  • Greater interdependence, formal control, etc
  • Description of social change but no explanation

Linear Theories of Social Change

  • As societies developed, modern researchers started supporting multilinear theory of social change
  • Not compared to living organisms
  • Systematic way of change
  • Direction of change is always upwards
  • Sequence of development in one direction and forward
  • E. g. Telephone Internet Social Media cyber threat
  • Speed of change is slow at first
  • Theories based on experiences not historical data
  • Change in one society is quickly adopted by other societies
  • So, change in all societies will be the same


  • Law of the Three Stages
  • Manีšs intellectual development
  • Progressive evolutionary model
  • Theological to metaphysical mode to positive mode.
  • Basis of development - intellectual development
  • Social statics and social dynamics


Linear Theories of Social Change: Spencer
  • Social Darwinism
  • Survival of the fittest
  • Society equal to organism
  • Criticized Comteีšs ideas
  • Stages of evolution simple, compound, doubly compound.


Growth of arts, scientific knowledge leads to cultural development

3 phases of evolutionary sequence:

  • Animism,
  • polytheism, and
  • monotheism.

F. Tonnies

  • Gemeinschaft โ€“ Essential will โ€“ small and homogeneous society โ€“ informal โ€“ role of religion
  • Gellesschaft โ€“ arbitrary will โ€“ large and heterogeneous โ€“ high degree of conflict and stratification โ€“ no role of religion
  • Evolution of society from first to latter


Q. 1. Identify the author who has concerned himself with a study of religion and social change.

(a) Karl Marx

(b) Max Weber

(c) Emile Durkheim

(d) Radcliffe Brown

Ans: (b)

Q. 2. The industrial revolution exemplifies the social change described as โ€“

(a) Continuous

(b) Manifest

(c) Abrupt

(d) latent

Ans: (a)

Q. 3. Which among the following is the oldest view of social change?

a) Cyclical

b) Linear

c) Evolutionary

d) Dialectical

Ans: c)




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