Special Articles / Shankar Pathak / Social Policy, Social Welfare and Social Development
There is a resurgence of interest in social change all over the world. This is particularly evident in those societies described as developing societies. Perhaps, the main reason for this increasing emphasis on social change is the desire of the people in the deve- loping societies to improve their living conditions as quickly as possible. In other words, planned social change in order to bring into existence a new type of society which will provide for better living conditions for the people is a fairly widespread phenomenon.
In recent years, the term social development has come into usage replacing earlier terms like social evolution and social progress. In much of the literature on this theme, social scientists have used a variety of terms like institutional change, social change, national development and social development etc., without always specifying clearly the sense in which these terms are used. It is essential to clarify the meaning of these terms for better communication.
The term ‘social change’ may be viewed as a neutral term to refer to the movement of the whole society or any unit of it from one state to another state over a period of time. On the other hand, social development is an evaluational concept which refers to movement or change in a particular direction that is considered as desirable. It presupposes a type of society which is thought to be better than or superior to the existing one. When society changes in a desired direction, which is the goal of planned change, it may be called as the upward movement of the society1. Social change may also be viewed both as a process and as a product. “Change may denote alterations in the state or relations of any object or objects or it may denote the processual context and events in which such alterations develop and are manifested. The first meaning identifies change as observable modification [i.e. as product] the second as the process through which such modification occurs.”2
The concepts of social structure and social system have been widely used in social anthropology and sociology with varying meaning and scope. Unfortunately, there is no precise and widely accepted definitions of these crucial concepts. Same is the case with the concept of institutional change used frequently in U.N. documents and also by Titmuss. The first two and sometimes all the three terms have been utilised to denote the same idea. Some attempts at clarifying and distinguishing the meaning of these terms have been made by Moore, Smith and Blau. We shall draw upon their contribution for our purpose here.
Broadly speaking, social structure refers to the social arrangement that can be perceived at any given point of time. Moore has aptly remarked: “It is an act of self-assuring bravery on the part of social scientists to use so freely the concept of social structure for it implies that there is something solid, indeed stable, out there to observe. The term structure invites architectural images, of edifices occupied or awaiting inhabitants. Yet, the term is widely used in all analytical sciences as well as in some, [others] that are mainly taxonomic or descriptive”.3 According to him there are five uses of the term social structure: (1) patterns of action, (2) social systems, (3) social differentiation, (4) statistical, distributive categories like age-structure and (5) orderly sequence.4
Both Blau and Smith speak of social structure as consisting of units or components.5 This is necessary if social structure is to be viewed as a concrete, descriptive and an empirical entity. For Smith, “Social structure consists in those enduring relations and units manifested in recurrent processes of social action”.6 By social system he means “a set of interconnected social processes and the structures they engage and sustain or modify”.7 This definition of social structure includes two of the five uses of the term identified by Moore, i.e., patterns of action and social system. We shall use this definition of social structure in the context of a nation society.
Social change may be used as a generic term to refer to change in any unit of social structure or in the whole social structure. It encompasses change in the structures of major social institutions frequently referred to as the basic, radical or fundamental transformation of society, changes in the structure of a social institution, and changes in the structure of an organization. For the sake of convenience these three types of social changes may be referred to as social structural change, institutional change and organizational change respectively.
Smith has given a clear and precise definition of social structural change. He states that “mere changes in [society’s] number of members or gross domestic product or urbanization ratio need not directly entail modifications in the nature or structure of the system itself”.8 The former changes he classifies as extensive changes. “By change then we do not mean merely extensive alteration in the state of a system or the processes by which such alterations occur. Rather ... those alterations in the structure of the system which involve changes in its characteristic processes and operational condition”9 (Emphasis supplied). Smith recognizes that both the above mentioned processes-extensive change and structural change go together. In his opinion, “the decisive criterion of [structure] change is modification or transformation of the structure”.10
Social change has also been defined by Moore. “Social change is the significant alteration of social structures (that is, of patterns of social action and interaction), including consequences and manifestations of such structures embodied in norms (rules of conduct), values, and cultural products and symbols”.11 We don’t find it helpful to agree completely with this definition of social change which is very wide in scope, ranging from small scale changes in social groups to basic changes in the whole social structure. We can adopt however, a part of it referring to “significant alteration of social structures”. These social structures can vary in scope and size such as the nation society, regional society and city or village society.
The phrase ‘significant alteration’ needs further elaboration. From the perspective of planned change, significant alteration would mean extensive changes in the components of social structure as defined by Smith earlier which are necessary in order to achieve the goal. Thus stated, normal changes that go on in any social structure such as replacement of individuals occupying certain social statuses like the offices of Prime Minister and President or changes of government following periodical elections will not be considered as significant. This is merely a simple circulation of personnel through social positions and should not be mistaken for structural modifications. A similar process which involves or generates modification in the criteria or procedures of allocation (of statuses) and in the scope, status and relations of the positions concerned would be a significant alteration in the social structure.12 It also excludes changes which are too small and too inconsequential to have much impact on the direction of change toward the goal, i.e. trivial changes to use Moore’s phrase. Life cycle changes of an individual such as marriage or old age, and change of fashions in dress and hair-style of a group are illustrative of trivial changes. In other words, the concept of significant alterations of social structures implies a certain magnitude and speed of change. What should be the magnitude and pace of change is an extremely difficult task to state at a general theoretical level. But we can attempt some further clarification of these ideas.
Let us take the cases of the family and the property system, As a result of several changes that are going on in the Indian society at present the families may be in the process of becoming smaller in size. If the experience of other societies who have passed through such evolution is any guide, a similar development may take place in our society also after two or three decades. Birth-rate may fall to the point that the annual increase in population may be around one per cent as against the present 2.15 per cent. If we want that this should happen during the next few decades and initiate a series of actions with the intention of achieving this fast rate of growth by influencing the voluntary decisions of couples, then the rate and magnitude of change would have to be such as to call it a significant alteration of structure. And the alteration will be at the institutional level of family such as norms and values which influence the size of the family, and the type of family structure (e.g. nuclear rather than extended). The cumulative impact of these changes on the rate of population growth at the national level will produce significant alterations in the social structure.
Property system is considered in sociology and social anthropology as a social institution. It is based on the concept of right of ownership of property. This right may be practiced on the basis of customary law as well as by formal incorporation in the legal statutes. The details of this right vary from one culture to another culture. When land reforms are introduced by the state as part of planned social development, this ownership right may be severely curtailed or modified to a certain extent. Such changes in the property system would be termed as institutional changes or a significant alteration of the institution of property. If the state takes away the complete right of ownership of private property, it will be a structural change of such magnitude involving major social institutions like law, polity and economy, that it is appropriately designated as basic social structural change or radical social transformation. The land reforms introduced in India by several states like the abolition of zamindari, tenancy reform, fixation of land ceiling etc. can only be called as institutional changes. The abolition of property rights and the communization of land in Soviet Russia and China belong to the category of basic social structural change or radical social transformation.
An organisation is a secondary association of people established for a specific purpose such as to provide a societal service like primary education, health care and provision of care service to the needy etc. They may vary in size. Some of them will be geographically limited to a town or a city. Others may extend their operations to larger territories. Some organizations may even be international in scope. Organizations may also vary according to the degree of complexity from a simple one unit organization to complex multi-unit organizations. When a change is attempted or introduced to modify the structure of the organisation in respect of its units and their inter-relationship, in regard to the concentration or devolution of decision-making power, and the type of beneficiaries of its service as well as the proportional distribution of its resources to various types of beneficiaries such changes are properly described as organizational change.
The above discussion of social structural change, institutional change and organizational change conveys the connections between these three analytically distinct types of change, which is like a larger circle encompassing a smaller circle as we move from organization to institution and then to social structure. This analytical scheme may not always fit the empirical reality, especially with reference to the distinction between organizational and institutional changes. There are organizations in existence which straddle more than one social institution. Family has been defined as an institution as well as a primary association. In the latter sense it is nearer to the concept of organization. In the context of social welfare it is theoretically more convenient to consider family as an informal organization in order to relate it to the empirical social reality. Family like an organization provides certain essential services to its members. It is more concrete and visible as an entity than social institution or social structure which are abstract concepts and invisible.
Persistence and change are characteristics of human societies. Persistence is due to the fact that some units of the social system are autonomous in their functioning. While these units may sometimes respond to change originating in another unit it is also possible that at times they may not do so. In the final analysis, the ultimate units of society are human beings constituting that society. One reason for persistence or social stability is that some people may not change their values and behaviour, even though the social situation has changed. Another explanation is the existence of regulatory mechanisms of society (social control) such as socialization in the family and school, and the use of rewards and punishments to secure conformity in the behaviour of people to the prevalents social norms.
The sources of change are both within the society and outside. In the present day world, where social isolation is breaking down fast, due to physical mobility, mass communications, and international market system, it will be extremely difficult to state that some sources of change are, strictly speaking, internal to the system. It is because of this that Moore’s point about the world as a super-system which includes nation societies becomes a valid concept.13 Sources of autonomous or spontaneous change within the society are:
The second and the third sources of external change may be the result of the first, the classic example of which is the colonisation of many countries in the world by a few imperialist countries of Europe. The fourth source is a recent phenomenon which includes bilateral treaties between countries freely or not freely entered into, and a variety of economic, educational and technological aid through U.N. system and other international organizations like I.M.F., World Bank and aid consortiums.
In any country’s plan for social development, we may notice a combination of internal and external sources (and forces) of change at work-whether in harmony or in conflict with each other. The social reform movement during the 19th century is an illustration of this combination of forces usually working harmoniously, minor undercurrents of occasional tension not withstanding. Vietnam war graphically typifies the dialectical, conflicting forces of social change right from the French colonization of Indo-China to the American “military aid” and finally its open involvement in the civil war which led to far-reaching social changes in both Vietnam and U.S.A.
While there is much talk of planned change and the contribution of the expertise of social scientists to the process of change, it needs to be frankly admitted that there is precious little by way of scientific knowledge and strategies of social change. There are many middle range theories and a few grand theories that discuss and explain the processes of change. There is hardly any social theory which can claim, with reasonable certainty, that it has the capacity to guide practitioners for planned social changes.14 The evolutionary theories of societies and civilizations which were popular during the 19th century stand discredited. A recent attempt of this variety is the modernization theory. Since the late 1950’s there is a rich crop of literature that has been published on this theory, including some ambitious and expensive cross-national studies.15 The modernization theory as developed by the Harward group of sociologists led by Parsons, Smelser, Shils, Lerner etc has an odium of anti-communist bias. It is even claimed that some of the researches based on this theory were sponsored and financed by the State Department of U.S.A. to seek elightenment for its foreign policy operations. Even if one ignores this guilt by association charge, there is the incontrovertible fact that the theory has no scientific validation as it could not be tested empirically. It is mostly based on the analysis of the historical record of developed western societies.
The developed countries are essentially industrial or post- industrial societies with highly productive market economy, based on most sophisticated, capital-intensive, labour-saving technology. They have reached their present stage of development in a different context. They also had the advantage of time, territory and technology. These advantages are not available to most of the developing countries today.16 Some modernization theorists, of course, speak of the ‘privilege’ of backwardness which is a deceptive privilege, created by resort to the conjurer’s trick of producing something out of nothing.17 In fact this ‘privilege’ is a serious threat to the developing nations, because their population expects much more in much less time, with none of the advantages the industrialised countries had. This is described as the revolution of rising expectations.
Various researches based on modernization theory have yielded some general principles, which have been enriched by theoretical inferences of the structural changes by using “social systems” models. “But, a general theory of social change does not exist”.18 If there is no firm theory of social change, what else do we have? Much of the available knowledge and strategies of change are about organisational change. Even here the successful experiments are those which have been introduced by the top management.19 A good deal of reported actions for social change in social welfare literature is about some aspects of organizational change. To say this is not to belittle either the complexity or the desirability of working for organisational changes. It is only to clarify, at least conceptually, what we are talking about, so that we are not trapped by our own rhetoric or that we don’t mistake the trees of organisational change for the woods of social transformation.
The only other theory of social transformation which originated during the last century and continued to grow in popularity and intellectual appeal is the Marxist theory. It also has the added advantage of having been “tested” with regard to its predictive capacity and analytical soundness, by the attempts of communist parties in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba. We shall ignore the case of other communist countries, because of the difficulty of separating the role and influence of the Soviet armed forces from that of the national political movements. Marxist theory of social structural change is partially validated on the basis of historical experience in three continents-i.e. Europe, Asia and Latin America. As Moore puts it, “The principle enduring features of Marxist theory are the emphasis on conflict and particularly the role of conflict in producing structural change. To these features one may properly add an emphasis on utopian idealism”.20 There is a recent, successful experiment of the “Marxist” model of social development in China. That is a road paved with conflict and soaked with blood which is detestable to many intellectuals. There is a yearning for socialism with human face which remains an utopian ideal with no empirical example in sight throughout the history of mankind. In the meanwhile, the liberal intellectuals and politicians in the developing countries pay homage to the radical ideal of institutional change, and the goal of improvement of the quality of life of the people. The Marxist theory stands vindicated on the role of conflict in producing fundamental structural changes and that this is essentially a revolutionary political process which may necessitate the use of violence. This is empirically proved not only on the basis of positive historical evidence, but also by negative confirmation, as none of the alternative theories of social transformation has stood the test of time.
At this point it may be instructive to consider the concept of welfare state and the conception of welfare society.21 First of all, it should be noted that it is related to the theory of modernization. Secondly, many social scientists and political parties in developing countries have pinned their faith on the goal of welfare state. The models before them are U.K., the Scandinavian countries, and some of the European countries like West Germany and France. Though U.S.A. is not considered deserving the label, in fact it also belongs here.22 At any rate, we need to include it here because of its dominant role in influencing the acceptance of the modern, professional model of social work in the developing societies.
We may also study the record of achievements of western industrial societies and consider whether we can realistically adopt this model. These countries were spending 12 to 16 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product on social security in 1971.23 In the case of U.S.A. the expenditure on this score was 20 per cent of the GDP in 1976.24 It is claimed that acute poverty is practically abolished in these countries through income-maintenance programmes. Officially, the population below the poverty line in U.K. was 0.2 p.c. and in U.S.A. it was 12 per cent respectively.25 But, it is claimed that this figure is misleading because it is not inclusive of in-kind (non-monetary) benefits, and that the incidence of acute poverty was around 5 per cent or less.26 On the other hand, the population below the poverty line in the developing countries is between 40 to 60 per cent.27 The size of the GDP is small due to the slow rate of growth, and only a small portion of it is spent on social security.28 Then there is the problem of so-called revolution of rising expectations in these countries. Clearly, time is running out fast for the developing countries and odds are many-low rate of growth, large scale unemployment, high rate of population growth due to the ‘privilege’ of backwardness, low rate of capital formulation, limited infra-structure for modernization, import of irrelevant technology, and the role of multinationals with surplus investible capital and superior but unsuited technology.
There is another point to consider about the welfare model. While mass poverty is eliminated through comprehensive social security with high rate of expenditure, the social structure of inequality has not changed significantly, i.e., the wide gap between those at the top who take a bigger slice of the national cake and those at the bottom, who are more in number but take a smaller slice of it, continues almost unchanged during the past fifty years.29 So, if the goal is welfare of all, based on minimum of inequality among classes, (complete equality being unattainable) in the course of time span of a generation, then the road mapped out by the modernization theorists or advocates of welfare state will not take us there.
The other route of social transformation is through organized mass movements within a democratic political framework, which emphasizes the immediate redistribution of benefits of growth, based on social justice, and equality. It is very close to the institutional-redistribution model of Titmuss and is based on the mixed economic system. As yet there is no systematic social theory about this model.30 Nor do we have a successful empirical example based on this model. Even the Titmussian model has not been elaborated fully to justify the use of the term ‘model’.31
The main text was written in 1979-80. The observation about the appeal of communist ideology and partial empirical testing of the Marxist theory needs to be amended in the light of the developments since then, particularly after 1989-90 two decades after the writing of the original text. The Berlin wall came down in 1989, East and West Germany became one. Soviet Union broke up in 1990. Russian Federation emerged as the successor to Soviet Union in the U.N. Security Council- one of the big five veto- wielding powers. Yugoslavia broke up after a bloody civil war and new nations Serbia, Craotia and Bosnia emerged. Communist rule collapsed in Vietnam and major changes have taken place in China after Deng Xiao Peng took control of China with the support of the Chinese army- Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Today there are only three nominally communist countries in the world- China, North Korea and Cuba. In Cuba Fidel Castro survived after ten Presidents of U.S.A tried covertly and overtly to oust him from power. After a long period of one man control, the power was transferred to his brother Raul Castro- a peaceful, orderly change. In North Korea, there has been dynastic succession, son of the former president has become the President.
China provides a complex picture. After Deng Xiao Peng took over the control of Chinese Communist Party and the government, there have been major changes in the economy- market-oriented, state regulated capitalist economy with limited private ownership rights of property. Billionaires have emerged and there is a high degree of inequality and corruption. There is a peaceful change in leadership at the top after every ten years, a new general secretary of CPC (Communist Party of China) who eventually becomes the President and Chairman of the Military Control Commission, alongwith a new premier. Three such changes have taken place after the death of Deng, Jiang Zamin, Hu Jintao and the latest XI Jinping who became General Secretary of C.P.C. in Nov 2011, became President in March 2013). The CPC ideology is guided by Mao’s “Thoughts,” Deng’s “Theory” and Jiang Zamin’s “Three Represents”. It is said to be socialism with “Chinese Characteristics” though these characteristics have not been spelled out (ref. for details Mohanty E.P.W 2002).
It looked - after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as though the liberal democratic capitalism has won the ideological battle. But the world economic crisis of 2008 originating in U.S.A and the continuing economic slowdown especially in Europe where Greece, Italy and Spain face severe economic crisis, has put a question mark on the claim of victory of capitalism.
In Latin America Hugo Chavez who recently passed away created history with five consecutive democratic election victory in Venezuela with his brand of socialism, 21 st century socialism as it is described, with two more small nations following his footsteps- Ecuador and one more.
In our own country Communist Party (Marxist) led Left Front Government won seven consecutive elections and was in power for 35 years and recently (2010) lost power in West Bengal. In Tripura, however, CPI (M) won the fourth consecutive election to the state assembly in 2013.
During more than fifty years after the second world war, there have been 50 revolutions overthrowing autocratic- authoritarian regimes. Out of them only in one-third of these countries democratic governments have emerged- some of them rather “weak” democracies. In many Muslim nations from Iran to Turkey and recently Egypt- after the “Arab Spring,” democratic elections have voted into power governments with “Islamic ideology”.
So, it is very difficult to conclude which is the dominant ideology in the world today. Perhaps, tentatively, we can say, some kind of democratic form of governments- with a wide variety of local flavours such as Shariat law in Muslim countries, and socialism with welfare in some Latin American countries.
Notes and References
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