Theory and Review of Theory About Social, Political, Economic Change

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
    The Restaurant at the end of the Universe, Douglas Adams.  Harmony Books.

Classical theories of social change


Why does a society develop the way it does?    out summary of theories of change.

Haferkamp, Hans, and Neil J. Smelser, editors Social Change and Modernity. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1992.  Available free on line from University of California Press Scholarship Editions   See our other page for further listings.

Social Change, Craig Calhoun   chapter in Encyclopedia of Sociology, Edgar Borgatta, Ed in chief and Rhonda Montgomery, Managing Ed.

Social Change lecture notes, from Russel Long    brief reviews of theories of change, along with some charts and tables.

Comprehensive Theory of Social Development, by Garry Jacobs, Robert Macfarlane, and N. Asokan, 1997   "This paper identifies the central principle of development and traces its expression in different fields and levels of social advancement."

The Science of Economics, by Fred Foldvary,1999    on line text.  Especially see chapter 14, with a review of economic growth.

Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks: A Framework About Societal Evolution, 1996    paper by David F. Ronfeldt on a theory of social evolution.  Full text is available here.

Tanner Lectures     One lecture is by S.N. Eisenstadt, 1988, "Cultural Tradition, Historical Experience, and Social Change: The Limits of Convergence." This lecture is about "the nature of the relations between, on the one hand, the values, the basic premises, and the traditions of civilizations and, on the other hand, some central aspects of their social and cultural dynamics." This topic is "closely related to the challenge of understanding many aspects of the contemporary scene, and especially to whether we are witnessing the development of one world-wide civilization." (quotes from the paper)
    Other lectures are Jared Diamond, 1991, "The Broadest Pattern of Human History", Tomasello, Michael, 2008, "Origins of Human Cooperation", and Scott, James, 2011, "Four Domestications: Fire, Plants, Animals, and… Us"

CULTURE  CHANGE: An Introduction to the Processes and Consequences of Culture Change    brief reviews of the process of cultural change, acculturation, and global change.

Social Structural Change   from Beyond,Overview of social change. 2003

Understanding Change: Strategies for Innovation and Renewal, Scott London, 1996,    "This paper looks at how change happens and how to make it happen. It surveys a number of change theories in the fields of history, the philosophy of science, anthropology, sociology, and management theory. It concludes by offering some strategies for promoting change in organizations and communities."

This OpenStax book, Introduction to Sociology   has a chapter outlining how technology, social institutions, population and the environment can bring about social change. Chapter 21, social movement and change, see the last section, 21.4.   

Daniel Chirot's 2011 book, How Societies Change. Chapter 4, the modern era, is at his website  

Theories and approaches to development, globalization, economic growth, political change


General or overall change
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The next convergence: The future of economic growth in a multi-speed world, by Michael Spence, 2011    The book isn't available on line, but see these.
-    one review and summary  
-    Dr Spence talks about his ideas, 2013,  
-    Another 2011 talk   
-    Interview  

Guns, Germs and Steel   The pbs overview, gives brief summary of the book, along with nice graphics.
Also see this review   with a few critical points.

Democracy, Social Change, and Economies in Transition   by Charles Tilly.  This is a chapter in the on line book,  Transforming Post-Communist Political Economies     edited by Joan M. Nelson, Charles Tilley, and Lee Walker, for the Task Force on Economies in Transition, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council.  "This ...volume focuses on the interaction between political, social, and economic change in Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States. It includes a wide selection of analytic papers, thought-provoking essays by leading scholars in diverse fields, and an agenda for future research."   Also see Understanding Economic Change, Douglass C. North  

A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History    by Douglass North, John Wallis, Barry Weingast, April 2007.  In certain "societies, open access and entry into economic and political organizations sustains economic and political competition. Social order is sustained by competition rather than rent-creation. The key to understanding modern social development is understanding the transition from limited to open access social orders"

Evolutionary Theories in the Social Sciences   especially see the working papers, with papers like "In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes—The First and Forever Form" which links to the Rand site for the 2007 paper   and many other papers.

Nonzero  This book, by Robert Wright, argues that there is a direction or arrow in human history.  "Mostly this book is about how we got where we are today, and what this tells us about where we're heading next."  He describes his views of the logic of history.  This site has an introduction, excerpts, links to some other articles he wrote.

Explaining Large-Scale Historical Change    by Daniel Little, published in Philosophy of the Social Sciences 2000 30: 89.  Dr. Little is Professor of Philosophy at University of Michigan, Dearborn, and also currently Chancellor. He also has this site   which he describes "A dynamic online hypertext document on social explanation, social change, and social justice... "

Summary of Wallerstein on World System Theory In the Modern History Sourcebook.
    Also see my brief review and critique.

Globality: historical change in our time   chapter 1 in Martin Shaw, Theory of the Global State: Globality as Unfinished Revolution. Cambridge University Press 2000  "This book proposes, therefore, that we should understand our historical transformation through three major concepts: globality, the global revolution and the global state. In this chapter I attempt to explain the need for these concepts, by examining existing models of contemporary change."

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China Net for Modernization   (english version) has some theories of modernization.

Development and Conflict Theory, 2004.   Includes brief review of development theory

How to help poor countries   Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik, and Arvind Subramanian. Foreign Affairs, July /August 2005. This is at the Center for Global Development. What do rich countries really need to do.

The Global Development Network   has a whole bunch of stuff, like working papers   

Human Development Reports   from the United Nations

Research Institute for Social Development   also from UN, various research reports.

Karl Polanyi
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Polanyi wrote "The Great Transformation", still, apparently, an influential work, along with his other work. The basic idea is about the transformation from small scale local socially controlled markets to the large scale market system.



Much of this paper includes a summary 

See Peter Evan's paper listed above, in his spring 2001 class.

Economic change
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Douglas Norths papers are located at RePec Dr. North's papers are here Papers include "The Paradox of the West" and "Where have we been and where are we going?" These are available as pdf files and some as html.  For a review of North's approach, see our literature review page.

Mauro Guillen's home page  includes a link to papers of his: Is there Convergence across Countries? A Spatial Approach (2014), An Institutional Approach to Measuring Cross-National Distance (2010), Comparative Economic Sociology  and  Is Globalization Civilizing, Destructive or Feeble? (published in Annual Review of Sociology, 2001).  Other papers may be of interest too.

Economic History Service     They also have reviews of books. Some examples are:  Michael G. Heller's Capitalism, Institutions, and Economic Development,   reviewed October 2010, and The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, published in 2009, reviewed in 2011   and Economic Development in the Americas since 1500: Endowments and Institutions, published in 2012, reviewed in 2013  

Gregory Clark has working papers   for example, “The Industrial Revolution” in Handbook of Economic Growth, Volume 2 (eds. Philippe Aghion and Steven Durlauf), forthcoming, 2014. 


Social change
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Anthony Giddens' Runaway world debate on bbc.  This site includes his lectures on the runaway world.

A neoinstitutional theory of social change in Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Classs    by Marc R. Tool
Professor Emeritus of Economics, California State University, Sacramento

Peter Richerson's papers    lists a variety of papers, by Richerson, Robert Boyd and others,  on early aspects of the development of society or culture, including "Institutional Evolution in the Holocene: The Rise of Complex Societies", "The Pleistocene and the Origins of Human Culture: Built for Speed",   "Complex Societies: The Evolutionary Origins of a Crude Superorganism" and "Was Agriculture Impossible in the Pleistocene".

    These papers are on the "cultural evolution" page

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Regarding Politics. Essays on Political Theory, Stability, and Change   by Harry Eckstein, 1992.

Social Origins of Democracy    also from ICPD, cited above.  Some history of democracy and a theory of how it developed.

Technological innovation
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The Diffusion of Innovations Model and Outreach from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine to Native American Communities    by Everett M. Rogers and Karyn L. Scott, 1997..  has a section describing the theory and idea of diffusion of innovation.

Bronyn H. Hall, Economics Faculty, University of California, Berkeley   see these two papers   about diffusion
“Innovation and Diffusion,“ October 2003. In Fagerberg, J., D. Mowery, and R. R. Nelson (eds.), Handbook of Innovation, Oxford  University Press, 2004.
“Adoption of New Technology,” with Beethika Khan. In Jones, Derek C., New Economy Handbook, Academic Press, 2003.

Enabling change   has a summary of the theory of diffusion of innovation

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IR Theory Knowledge Base   not exactly change, but very brief reviews (1 or 2 paragraphs) of theories of international relations.


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  One, um, alternative view of social change   from uncyclopedia. Not entirely serious. Well, maybe a little.