Articulating comprehensive frameworks on socio-cultural
change: Perceptions of social and cultural change in
contemporary Twenty-first century Anthropology from a
Published in ELK Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences Volume 3, Number 4 (July 2017 – September
Sujay Rao Mandavilli
This paper articulates new perspectives and integrates existing frameworks on cultural change from
the point of view of Twenty-first century anthropology. This paper also identifies the key drivers of
cultural change across epochs and investigates the mechanics of cultural change, and our proposed
approaches towards cultural change (characterized by Activism which we believe is an adjunct for the
globalisation of the field) are intertwined with our core philosophy of Neo-centrism which is intended
to be used in a wide variety of domains. The approaches that we adumbrate, bear some resemblance
to ‘The Theory of Linguistic Osmosis’ as propounded in an earlier paper, may be referred to as ‘Cultural
Osmosis’, and as such are opposed to more simplistic theories of Cultural Change. We refer to this
approach as the “Proactive-interactive-symbiotic approach to long-term cultural change”. This
eventually leads to what cultural anthropologists refer to Cultural integration in some form with
different cultures retaining their own characteristics. The ethics and the pros and cons of activism are
also explored, along with their role in ensuring the long-term survivability of civilization, their ability
to foster cultural symbiosis, and extirpate other outmoded approaches. This paper also introduces
concepts such as Manumittology and Manumittonomics as a part of the Neo-centrist framework, and
the ‘Theory of Mindspace’ as well. These approaches are expected to integrate with Applied
Anthropology and Developmental Anthropology take them to greater heights.
An overview of Anthropology
Anthropology is a subject which studies humankind or Homo sapiens, arguably the most successful
species in the world till date, in all its complexity and myriad cultural forms. It is also the systematic
study of humans as biological organisms, and of culture as a dynamic and an ever-changing entity, and
encompasses the approaches of both the biological and social sciences. It is highly unrestricted in
scope and includes topics as diverse as the evolution of primates into humans (evolutionary
anthropology), ethnography, genetics, archaeology, anthropometry, paleoanthropology, cultural
anthropology, economic anthropology, human ecology, political anthropology, historical linguistics,
descriptive linguistics and applied anthropology. Anthropology therefore deals with all aspects of
human existence (Howard and Dunaif-Hattis, 1992), and its scope is said to be so vast that it possesses
the attributes and straddles the worlds of both the natural sciences and the social sciences and
interlinks with a host of other sciences such as sociology, historiography, psychology, geography, social
sciences and economics. However, the basic and the more important fields of Anthropology are
considered to be Physical Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology or Archaeological
Anthropology and Linguistic Anthropology.
The word anthropology is derived from the Greek word ‘anthropos’ which means human being and
‘logos’ which means science. Anthropology therefore refers to the science of human beings (Barnard,
2000; 1). However, the term anthropology did not exist in that era and came into use only in the past
couple of centuries. According to Haviland, Prins, Walrath and McBride (2011; 2), anthropology is the
study of humankind in all times and places. According to the University of North Texas, anthropology
is the study of human diversity around the world with a view to identify commonalities and differences
in social institutions, cultural beliefs and communication systems. Langness (1974; 1) defines
anthropology as “The scientific study of human beings- i.e., of the human creature viewed in the
abstract: male, female, all colours and shapes, prehistoric, ancient, and modern.” According to Barrett
(1996; 3), “Anthropology usually has been defined as the study of other cultures, employing the
technique of participant observation, and collecting qualitative (not quantitative) data”. Clyde
Kluckhohn likened Anthropology to a great mirror which enabled man to look at his own diversity. The
1822 Encyclopaedia Britannica on the other hand, defined Anthropology as a discipline devoted to a
discourse on human nature.
Anthropology is also related to sociology which may be defined as the “science of society”. (L.F Ward
and W.G Summer) August Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Karl Marx were
the pioneers of sociology. Many Anthropologists also functioned as sociologists and the distinction
between the two disciplines is often blurred. August Comte defined sociology as “The science of social
phenomena subject to natural and invariable laws, the discovery of which is the object of
investigation.” According to Max Weber, “Sociology is the science which attempts the interpretive
understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at causal explanation of its course and
effects.” Morris Ginsberg states “In the broadest sense, sociology is the study of human interactions
and inter-relations, their conditions and consequences.” Sociology also forms a part of Social sciences
which may be defined as “Disciplines which study social interaction, society or culture.” (William P.
History of Anthropology
Anthropology is considered to be a relatively new discipline as its theoretical underpinnings developed
only in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. However, an interest in studying human beings is
known from the time of Heredotus in Ancient Greece in the fifth century BC, who developed a great
interest in alien peoples and may well have been the world’s first anthropologist. Even though
Heredotus travelled extensively, he wrote about other alien cultures from second hand information.
Other early contributors to Anthropology were Aristotle, Strabo, Lucretius, Tacitus, Aquinas and Polo.
Aristotle introduced a kind of a philosophical anthropology, speculating on human nature, and
differentiating between man and animals. Strabo, a geographer, wrote about distant places and far
off lands. Some aspects of anthropology such as linguistics also evolved independently, in Ancient
Egypt, Ancient India and Ancient China through the publication of notable works such as that of Panini.
The travels of early travellers and conquerors such as Hiuen Tsang, Fa Hien, Alexander the Great and
Megasthenes stimulated interest in other cultures. Interest in cultural studies can also be traced to
the renaissance period of the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries. In the 14th century, Ibn Battuta
also wrote about his travels to distant lands.
The age of exploration gave a boost to interest in exotic cultures, and travellers like Vasco Da Gama,
Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus wrote about their interesting experiences and
encounters with alien cultures. The birth of the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the
Industrial Revolution gave an indirect fillip to both anthropology and sociology. The French
philosopher Montesquieu wrote about several exotic cultures in his work “The spirit of the Laws”
which was published in 1748. Henry Maine and Lewis H. Morgan’s works “Ancient Law” (1861) and
“Ancient Society” (1877) were based on their own investigations and travels. Colonialists and
missionaries also wrote about their encounters with other cultures, but their endeavours often had
In France and Germany, anthropology took off in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, but
often, other names such as ethnology, Volkskunde, Volkerkunde were adopted. Early attempts to
establish anthropology as a science can also be traced to Giambattista Vico, Baron de Montesquieu,
Denis Diderot, d’Alembert, Marquis de Condorcet and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Immanuel Kant
formally identified Anthropology as a field of study which examines the cultural development and
progress of mankind. In English, the word ‘anthropology’ can be traced to 1805 (McGee and Warms,
Anthropology is also largely a by-product of revolutions in evolutionary sciences. Edward Tyson and
Friedrich Blumenbach made pioneering early contributions to Biological Anthropology in the sixteenth
and the seventeenth centuries. Charles Darwin’s ‘On the origin of species’ is largely considered to be
evolutionary and path-breaking, and it played a such a pivotal role in the development of
Anthropology as a science, that some scholars such as R.R.Marrett (1912) even saw Anthropology as
a corollary of Charles Darwin’s and Herbert Spencer’s ideas. Anthropology eventually gained
respectability, and departments of Anthropology were established in leading universities all over the
world by pioneers such as Edward B. Taylor, Franz Boas and Paul Broca. Thousands of articles, papers
and dissertations have also been published in the field of anthropology and several sub-disciplines and
branches have been introduced within the field of Anthropology. Several new theories have been
developed within various sub-disciplines of Anthropology with a view of providing a conceptual
foundation and a theoretical framework, and older theories have been modified wherever necessary
in the light of new evidence. By the 1890’s, Anthropology took a new turn with the advent of new
methods and techniques. Anthropology became an increasingly complex and stratified subject by the
1920’s with major contributions by many leading stalwarts of the day.
Ancient India: As described by Megasthenes and Arrian, John W. Mc Crindle, 2000
A History of Anthropology, Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Finn Sivert Nielsen, Second Edition, Pluto Press
A New History of Anthropology Edited by Henrika Kuklick, Blackwell publishing, 2008
Over the years, and beginning chiefly with the 1920’s, different schools of thought were formulated
in the field of anthropology. Some of the more prominent schools of thought are the school of
evolutionism, the school of historical particularism, the diffusionist school, the structuralist school,
the cultural ecology school, neo-evolutionism, the postmodern school and the culture and personality
Today, in the Twenty-first century, Anthropology is foraying in bold, new directions. Applied
Anthropology, a term first proposed by Daniel G. Brinton, is helping solve seemingly intractable issues,
and is making a difference to the lives of the downtrodden. Anthropology is also increasingly being
used in Management, the Corporate World, and in Policy making and Governance.
An overview of Cultural Anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a vital sub-discipline of anthropology and covers a diverse array of fields such
as art, religion, politics, economy, folklore, music, food, work culture, kinship, marriage, parenting,
Cultural Anthropology may be defined as the study of patterns in human behaviour, thought and
feelings. It focuses on humans as culture-inheriting, culture-creating and culture-transmitting beings.
It studies the universals in culture, and their variation across space and time. Culture may be defined
as people’s learned and shared behaviours and beliefs. One of the earliest definitions of the term
culture in an anthropological sense was given by Edward B. Tylor who stated “Culture or civilization
taken in its broad ethnographic sense is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art,
morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
According to Malinowski, “Culture comprises inherited artefacts, goods, technical processes, ideas,
habits and values.” Marvin Harris states, “A culture is the total socially acquired life-way or a life-style
of a particular group of people. It consists of the patterned repetitive ways of thinking, feeling and
acting that are characteristic of the members of a particular society or segment of society.” According
to Ward Goodenough“, A society’s culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in
order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members. Culture being what people have to learn as
distinct from their biological heritage, must consist of the end-product of learning knowledge, in a
most general sense of the term.” According to Clifford Geertz, “Culture is the fabric of meaning in
terms of which human beings interpret their experience and guide their action; social structure is the
form that action takes, and is the network of social relations. Culture and Social structure are different
abstractions from the same phenomena.” Culture is also believed to be all-encompassing and all-
pervasive. Ralph Linton states in this regard, “Culture refers to the total way of life in any society, not
simply to those parts of this way which the society regards as higher or more desirable. This culture,
when applied to our own way of life, has nothing to do with playing the piano or reading Browning.
For the social scientist, such activities are simply elements within the totality of our culture. This
totality also includes such mundane activities such as washing dishes or driving an automobile, and
for the purposes of cultural studies, these stand quite on par with the finer things of life. It follows
that for the social scientist there are no uncultured societies or even individuals. Every society has a
culture, no matter how simple this culture may be, and every human being is cultured, in the sense of
participating in some culture or the other. A culture is also the configuration of learned behaviour and
the results of behaviour whose component elements are shared and transmitted by the members of
It thus also logically follows that humans are the only species in the animal kingdom which are
endowed with a culture, and this aspects differentiates us from other animals.
Researchers such as Franz Boas, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown proposed a holistic approach to
Anthropology which included culture as well. From an early tendency to focus on “primitive” cultures,
the scope of Anthropology today, has become all-encompassing and all-pervasive and embraces
humanistic concerns and values. Famous Cultural Anthropologists have included Franz Boas, Margaret
Mead, Ruth Benedict, Claude Levi Strauss, Clark Wissler, Robert Lowie, A L Kroeber, Eric Wolf, Lewis
Henry Morgan, Bronislaw Malinowski, Paul Farmer, George Marcus, Clifford Geertz, James Frazer, W
J Perry, W H R Rivers, Carlos Seligman, A C Haddon and Marcel Mauss. Today, approaches employed
in cultural studies include in-depth studies including fieldwork, interactive approaches and cross-
cultural studies. Structured methodologies such as Participant observation, Interviewing are
Areas of specialization within Cultural Anthropology include Economic Anthropology, Psychological
Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Political Anthropology etc. Another field
of study within cultural anthropology is Ethnology. Ethnologists undertake a detailed study of cultures
of specific groups of people and try to understand how culture is transmitted from generation to
generation. Ethnologists also try to understand the dynamics of culture and cultural change.
Ethnologists may also make cross-cultural influences with a view of arriving about more meaningful
conclusions about commonalities and differences between cultures. Ethnology also employs scientific
methods such as hypothesis building and empirical verification to a large extent to arrive at definitive
conclusions. On the other hand, Ethnography provides a detailed account about a particular group,
community, society or culture. Ethnographers devote time to a detailed study of specific cultures over
a period in time with a view to understanding all aspects of that culture, often by living among the
subjects of their study over protracted periods, interacting with them or observing them silently and
passively, maintaining dairies and field notes, and at times even employing interpreters, mediators or
informants. Ethnology and Ethnography are closely inter-related, and Ethnologists often use data
provided by Ethnographers in the course of their fieldwork.
Attributes of culture
The following are the more common attributes of culture:
Culture is learned
Beliefs and values are often relative, culture-specific and learnt by members of a group. They often
provide people with yardsticks to control their behaviour and perceive the world. For example, most
Hindus loathe the idea of consuming Beef, given the centrality of the Cow in the rural economy and
the fact that cows are typically more useful alive than dead. Pigs are considered unclean by Muslims,
its meat is forbidden in the Qu’ran, and interestingly most Hindus do not eat pork either. Americans
have no qualms or inhibitions about eating pork or beef, but would be horrified at the prospect of
eating dogs and horses. Another related example is that of language which is typically sub-consciously
imbibed by members of a cultural group, to a very high degree of proficiency, sometimes without any
formal training, but members of this cultural group may be totally ignorant of other languages or
dialects that are not in use by the group.
Culture is symbolic
Anthropology Carol R.Ember, Melwin Ember, Peter N. Peregrine, 12th Edition, Pearson Education Inc. 2008
Cultural Anthropology Barbara Miller, 6th Edition, PHI Learning Private Limited 2011
Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity, Conrad Phillip Kottak, Fifteenth edition, McGraw Hill
A symbol is something verbal or nonverbal, linguistic or non-linguistic, which stands for something
within that culture, and is crucial to cultural representation and learning. According to Leslie White,
“Culture is dependent on symbolizing… culture consists of tools, implements, utensils, clothing,
ornaments, customs, institutions, beliefs, rituals, games, works of art, language, etc.” (White, 1959)
Culture is shared
If only one person in a group acts and thinks in a particular way, it represents a personal characteristic
and is not symbolic of a culture as a whole. For any trait to be considered cultural, it must be shared
by several members in the group. For example that child marriage is morally wrong is shared by most
Western and many Oriental societies, but not necessarily by all societies across the world. Even though
traits are generally common to most members of a cultural group, there is always scope for individual
variation, and this is readily accepted by most Anthropologists.
Culture is an expression of human nature
Culture teaches humans how to express their innate biological urges and proclivities. For example,
culture teaches people when, what and how to eat. It teaches them how to interact with their parents,
elders, teachers and children. It also teaches them how to respond to specific situations and react to
Culture is all-encompassing
Culture encapsulates every aspect of people’s lives. It governs and dictates to varying measures and
degrees, what people do practically every moment of their lives. This would explain why, for example,
why the British play cricket and why American’s don’t. It would explain why Americans eat pork which
the Muslims don’t. It would also serve to explain why some cultures are more innovative, inventive
and dynamic, and why some cultures are less innovative and inventive, inward-looking or regressive.
Culture includes all aspects of material culture, technology, arts, music, literature, cuisine etc.
Culture encompasses many facets and may also be alternatively categorized into topical culture
(categories such as religion, music etc.), normative culture (ideals, values), behavioural culture
(shared, learned human behaviour), structural culture (set of inter-related thoughts and ideas),
Historical culture (social heritage etc.).
Culture is integrated
Cultures are not unstructured sets of customs and beliefs. Cultures are integrated and patterned sets
of customs and beliefs. If one aspect of a culture changes, it causes ripple effects in other aspects of
culture as well. Cultures are therefore highly structured belief systems, most aspects of which are
tightly integrated with one another. This may also be referred to as ‘Organicism’.
Culture is instrumental and adaptive
Unlike primates and other animals which rely on instincts and reflexes, or other biological means of
adaptation to help them survive and adapt to a limited extent, it is a widely known fact that humans
alone possess intellect and the power of reasoning. Culture, and the ability to acquire, transmute and
transmit cultural traits is one attribute which has played a key role in the success of humans.
Culture evolves constantly. This is due to technological and social factors and the underlying inventive
nature of man. This is often cited as one of the major causes for success of man vis-a-vis other animals
which do not possess this ability. Human culture has evolved and changed greatly from the stone age
and the hunter-gatherer stage to what it is today. Various theories have been put forth to identify the
rate of cultural change and the degree of inventiveness. These include unilinear models, multilinear
models, cyclical models, and diffusionist approaches. Cultural change is primarily a process of
adaptation akin to Natural Selection.
Culture can be inherited
Culture is usually inherited from elders in a society through a complex process of enculturation.
Children usually inherit most aspects of a culture from their parents. However, this is subject to change
as people are subject to other influences throughout their lives. Thus, the culture that children
transmit to their children is often different from what they receive from their parents. The latter either
retains some core elements intact, modifies them considerably, or adds or deletes some elements
from the mix. This takes place from generation to generation and invariably and inevitably leads to
cultural change. Thus, culture is transmitted both vertically (across generations), and horizontally
(within a generation).
Cultures operate as cognitive system
Cultures are often seen as systems of knowledge which are designed to serve the needs to its
members. According to Ward Goodenough:
A society's culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner
acceptable to its members. Culture is not a material phenomenon; it does not consist of things, people,
behaviour, or emotions. It is rather an organization of these things. It is the form of things that people
have in mind, their models for perceiving, relating, and otherwise interpreting them (32, p. 167).
Claude Levi Strauss, on the other hand, views culture as a structural systems which consist of shared
symbols which serve the needs of members of society in some way, and are the cumulative creations
of the human mind.
Definition of a society
Many leading sociologists have attempted definitions of a society. According to MacIver and Page,
“Society is a system of usages and procedures, of authority and mutual aid, and many groupings and
divisions, of controls of human behaviour, and of liberties. This ever-changing, complex system, we
call society.” According to Ian Robertson, “A society is a group of interacting individuals sharing the
same territory and participating in a common culture.” Thus, a society is a group of people whose
members reside in an area, share common cultural bonds, and interact with one another. The
following characteristics of society emerge from most definitions:
1. Society is a group of groups. People collect together to form groups. A group of groups is a
society. (H.M Johnson)
2. Society is based on a pattern of social relationships. This is because humans come together to
enter into relationships with one another, and interact with one another. This also
automatically creates interdependencies.
3. Society depends on likeness. The ‘principle of likeness’ refers to widespread similarities found
among members of a society. F.H Giddings refers to this as “consciousness of kind”.
4. Society is also characterised by differences. The “Principle of differences” refers to the mental,
physical and social differences found among people in a group.
5. Society is also characterized by co-operation and division of labour.
6. Society is dynamic, and the constituting elements of society are ever-changing.
7. Society relies on some form of formal or semi-formal structure or organization to maintain
8. Society has institutions which are designed to serve its needs and differentiate it from other
societies. Examples of institutions are family, education, marriage, religion etc.
9. Society has culture. Society and Culture go hand in hand. For example, Linton called culture
the “Social heritage of man”.
On the other hand, a community may be defined as “A social group with some degree of we-feeling
and living in a given area”. (Bogardus). A community is characterized by locality and community
sentiment. A community is typically small than society, but can be expressed and understood in more
concrete terms. Several communities taken together constitute a society. Another related concept is
that of a social group. According to Ogburn and Nimkoff, “Whenever two or more individuals come
together and influence one another, they may be said to constitute a social group.” A social group is
defined by a “we”-feeling, mutual awareness, group unity, a common purpose, common interests etc.
Definition of Change
A change may be defined as any alteration, difference or modification that takes place in a situation,
or in an object, or organism, or environment through time. Social change, cultural change and
sociocultural change are interrelated and sometimes used synonymously. According to Kingsley
Davies: “By social change is meant only such alterations as occur in social organizations, that is,
structure and functions of society.” According to MacIver and page, “Social change refers to a process
responsive to many types of changes; to changes in the manmade conditions of life; to changes in the
attitudes and beliefs of men, and to the changes that go beyond the human control to the biological
and physical nature of things.” Thus, cultural and social change is universal and takes place in societies
throughout the world. It is also typically continuous and temporal, and reflect human nature.
According to Gillin & Gillin, "Social changes are variations from the accepted modes of life; whether
due to alteration in geographical conditions, in cultural equipment, composition of the population, or
ideologies and whether brought about by diffusion or inventions within the group."
A history of theories of Social and Cultural change (or Sociocultural evolution)
In many early societies, people believed that evolution and the direction a culture or a society would
take depended on the will of God. This theory again took on many shapes and forms, and variants
were the Biblical theory of creation and the Hindu theory of creation. Some societies also believed in
fate, and that the destiny of humans was shaped by his own action and the laws of God. These ideas
constitute a form of determinism. Some people in early societies also believed that the direction and
progress of society primarily depended on kings, monarch and other great people, and that other
factors were subservient to the writ of great men. Some scholars like Cuvier and Osbinge also believed
in catastrophism i.e. that the earth was subject to periodic catastrophes. These archaic views naturally
came under the scanner after the growth and development of Anthropology as a science. Different
schools of thought were eventually propounded to explain the evolution of culture and cultural
change, and a few of them are briefly discussed below:
Early Cultural Evolutionism or Classical Evolutionism
In the early days of Anthropology, the prevailing view as known from Anthropologists such as Edward
B. Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan was that cultural evolution was linear and progressive, taking place
in sequential stages, and was usually irreversible. Anthropologists then thought that societies passed
through common stages from the most primitive savagery, then barbarianism, and reached similar
ends, usually culminating in complex civilizations. It was also thought that different cultures were at
different states of evolution at any given point in time, and less advanced cultures would evolve to
higher states in due course. According to Herbert Spencer who is widely known as an eminent
sociologist, “Evolution was change from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity through continuous
differentiation and integration.” Edward B Tylor wrote “The institutions of man are as distinctly
stratified as the earth in which he lives. They succeed each other in series substantially uniformly all
over the globe, independent of what seem the comparatively superficial differences of race and
language, but shaped by the similar human nature acting through successively changing conditions in
savage, barbaric and civilized life.”
By today’s standards, this approach is considered to be over-
simplistic, and is also synonymous with a priori and philosophical assumptions. It is also associated
with armchair anthropology and Eurocentric bias. Evolutionary ideas can be found in the writings of
David Hume in the early part of the Eighteenth century. Later, Herbert Spencer applied Charles
Darwin’s theories to his own ideas of cultural evolution. Spencer believed that evolution was based
on several principles such as change, order, direction and progress, and that society passed from the
militaristic stage to the industrial stage. Walter Bagehot, William James, Thorstein Veblen and others
also argued that Darwinian principles could be applied to social and cultural changes. Durkheim and
others have also attempted to classify societies into simple and complex, and have attempted to show
that societies invariably passed from simple to complex. Durkheim’s classification was based on the
similarity of its members in simple societies (what he called Mechanical Solidarity) and diversity and
specialization of its members (Organic Solidarity), Karl Marx’s theories gave Cultural evolutionism
another interesting twist, but many of Marx’s ideas were apparently over-simplified, based on a one-
size-fits- all approach and eventually falsified. Karl Marx’s notions of the phases of human history were
Primitive Communism, Feudalism, Capitalism, and Communism which resulted from class struggle and
revolution of the proletariat, but empirical evidence has not always borne this out.
Other supporters of the evolutionary theory in some form were Henry Maine, James Frazer, W.H.R
Rivers, Carlos Seligman, William Graham Summers, William Ogbum, Bachofen, McLennan,
Westermark and A.C Haddon. The era of Evolutionism came to an end with the writings of Franz Boas
who severely criticized the assumptions of evolutionists and pointed out that culture was complex and
variegated and that simplistic notions of cultural changes were suspect.
Other early theories of cultural or social evolution were provided by Michel de Montaigne, Adam
Ferguson, John Millar and Adam Smith who proposed that societies pass through stages such as
hunting and gathering, pastoralism, nomadism, agriculture and commerce. Philosophical concepts of
social change and progress were provided by Hegel, Claude Adrien Helvetius and Comte de Saint
Simon. According to Auguste Comte, society passed through several stages such as the ‘logical stage’,
the ‘metaphysical stage’, and a ‘positivistic stage’. (Law of three stages) According to J G Frazer,
society passed through the magical stage, religious stage and the scientific stage. According to Robert
Redfield, society transitioned from folk society to urban society.
Marquis de Condorcet believed that
human society passed through ten distinct stages, each leading to its betterment and perfecting the
Haviland, Prins, Walrath and McBride (2011; 579) defined diffusion as ‘the spread of certain ideas,
customs, or practices from one culture to another’. The Diffusionist school of thought evolved in the
late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. Diffusion is the exact opposite of invention. The three
main diffusionist schools were the British diffusionist school, the German diffusionist school and the
Anthropology E. Adamson Hoebel Third Edition, Mc Graw-Hill book company, 1966
Evolutionary Theories of Cultural Change: An Empirical Perspective, Richard R. Nelson Columbia University
American diffusionist school. According to British diffusionists, most aspects of civilization emerged in
Egypt, and were then diffused to other parts of the world through trade and cultural contacts, and the
independent evolution of cultural traits was a rare phenomenon. Leading British diffusionists were
Grafton Elliot Smith, William James Perry and W H R Rivers. German diffusionists likewise believed
that people were uninventive themselves and borrowed ideas from other cultures. However, German
diffusionists thought ideas were borrowed from a range of different cultures. Wilhelm Schmidt, Fritz
Graebner and Fredrick Ratzel were leading German diffusionists. American diffusionists, led by Clark
Wissler and Alfred Kroeber, believed that traits diffused from core centres to outlying regions.
Diffusion can be of the following four types:
1. Direct contact: An example is the spread of a trait from a culture to neighbouring regions and
beyond. Such contacts may be continuous of sporadic.
2. Intermediate contacts: This typically takes place through third parties such as traders.
3. Stimulus diffusion: In such a case, the knowledge of a trait is used to develop a local
counterpart in another culture.
4. Diffusion without any contact: In this case, diffusion takes place without any contact. This type
of diffusion in common in the age of high-technology.
Cyclical theories of Evolution
Cyclical theories of Cultural change propose that cultures pass through several stages, from an initial
stage, undergoing a series of changes, and then reverting to its original state. Some Anthropologists
such as Oswald Spengler even believed that decay and death were inevitable. A related theory is the
theory of deterioration. This theory has some currency among Hindu nationalists who subscribe to a
hoary golden age in the remote past.
Franz Boas emphasized the profound variations observed in cultures throughout the world, and
opined that it was futile and pointless to formulate any generalized laws. Boas felt that the focus would
have to shift to the collection of data so that the laws governing culture, their diffusion, and their
variation would automatically emerge.
Anthropologists then thought that some cultures are more evolved than others. But when Boas
travelled to Baffinland, he was struck by the hospitality and large-heartedness of those people
(Stocking, 1965; 61): “The more I see their customs, the more I realize that we have no right to look
down on them. Where amongst our people would you find such true hospitality? ….. We “highly
educated people” are much worse, relatively speaking”. According to Boas, the societies could not be
simplistically categorized as ‘savage’ or ‘civilized’. Rather than following a ‘nomothetic’ (considering
several cases at a time) approach, he encouraged the anthropologists to follow an ‘idiographic’
(dealing with particular or a specific case) approach (Langness, 1974; 57). This eventually led to the
idea of ‘historical particularism’.
Various techniques in Ethno science propose looking at issues from an ethnic group’s point of view
and adopting techniques such as the participant observation technique to understand cultures better.
Interpretive Anthropology, or interpretivism, understands aspects of culture by studying the
Social Change and Modernity, Edited By Hans Haferkamp and Neil J. Smelser, University of California Press,
worldview of peoples in different cultures and their own ideas and points of view as seeks to provide
a counterweight to Ethnocentrism.
In 1917, R H Lowie stated, “Evolution is far from dead, and our duty is merely to define it with greater
precision.” The idea of Evolutionism was also revived in the 1940’s by Leslie A. White who strongly
objected to the idea of Historical Particularism, but with significant changes. According to White’s
basic law of Cultural Evolution, “Other factors remaining constant, culture evolves as the amount of
energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of
putting the energy to work is increased.” However Leslie White was criticized because he did not take
into account environmental, historical or psychological factors in shaping cultural change.
Julian H. Steward divided evolutionary schools of thought into three broad categories unilinear,
universal and multilinear. According to this categorization, Edward B. Tylor’s early theories of cultural
evolution were considered unilinear, while White’s approach which did not focus on the specifics of a
culture and attempted to generalize principles were considered universal like Gordon Childe’s.
According to Gordon Childe, "all societies have lived in different historical environments and have
passed through different vicissitudes, their traditions have diverged, and so ethnography reveals a
multiplicity of cultures, just as does archaeology" (Childe, 1951:32). Childe believed that parallels exist
because of the underlying similarities across cultures and human nature and behaviour. Julian Steward
considered himself to be a multilinear evolutionist because he dealt with culture changes and its
parallel effects on other cultures or other aspects of the same culture. These were termed a
parallelism and causality. Ideas of General Evolution (as applicable to Mankind as a whole) and Specific
Evolution (as applicable to a specific culture) were formalized by Marshall Sahlins and Elman Service
who were students of both Leslie White and Julian Steward. Talcott Parsons also advocated a world
systems approach towards sociocultural change. Multilinear evolution models in different forms have
some currency today. However, the idea of unilinear evolution is largely discredited and widely
regarded as obsolete.
There are several other theories of cultural changed which are related to neo-evolutionism. According
to a theory proposed by Hartmut Rosa, there are major change agents such as technological
accelerators, advances in transportation, communication and production which accelerate the pace
of cultural and social change and the pace of life. According to Rosa’s theory of social change, change
occurs at four mutually-dependant ‘levels of self-interpretation’ viz, (1) explicit self-interpretations in
the form of law documents, literature, and theories, (2) institutions and social practices, and (3) the
thoughts and beliefs people have. (4) body-practices, habits, and feelings of individuals.
Pitirim Sorokin was a Russian-born scholar who migrated to the USA in the 1920’s. Sorokin’s theories
have some features of the cyclical approach. According to Sorokin, any socio-cultural system alters
due to its own forces and properties. Sorokin identified three broad categories of change – ideational,
idealistic and sensate. According to Sorokin, culture oscillates like the clock of a pendulum between
two points, and that there is some kind of a recurrence or rhythm in change. This is because there are
always limited possibilities of change. Etzioni introduced the concept of “active orientation”.
According to him, activation occurs under conditions where the power structure and organization of
knowledge, norms and values appear in specific combinations. Talcott Parsons, Weber and other
sociologists believed that the process of rationalization distinguishes developed societies from less
developed ones, and the process of rationalization is the harbinger of all meaningful change.
According to social action theorists such as Robert MacIver, Thorstein Veblen, John R. Commons and
others, individuals innovate, but they usually tend to do so in the names of the groups they operate
in. According to another theory known as the sedimentation theory, the present is embedded in the
past, and all the collective experiences and knowledge of a society are sedimented in a time
continuum. There are a range of other theories on cultural and social change, including those provided
by scholars such as Neil Smelser and Marion Levy. R L Carneiro and S F Tobias have proposed “The
theory of differential evolution” which states that there are differential rates of evolution in different
aspects of culture, while Hooton calls this ‘asymmetrical evolution’.
Neo-evolutionism also took on several other interesting forms. According to the Modernization theory
proposed by Walt Rostow, Western societies were the most developed. However, modernization
theorists felt that developing countries would adapt western technologies and eventually catch up
with the developed world.
Though not directly related to neo-evolutionism, another interesting idea is that of Memetics which
is used to represent the different units of a culture which aid in cultural transmission e.g. ways of
dressing, cooking etc. This idea was popularized by Richard Dawkins in the 1970’s. Memetics proposes
that ideas, skills, practices, and so on, are entities that make copies of themselves and are used to
propagate cultural traits, much like genes in evolutionary biology. Memetics involves breaking down
of a culture or a sub-culture into discrete and manageable units. This approach, which is similar to
some of the proposals in our paper, can be even used to construct the broad framework and the
superstructure of a given culture by breaking it down into logical and inter-related sub-components.
Other scholars also attempted to break up cultures into traits and assign these developmental
sequences, or develop generalized heuristic techniques that could be used to study other cultures.
Attempts were also made by Emile Durkheim, George Peter Murdock, Claude Levi Strauss, Donald
Brown and others to analyse the universals common across cultures. Murdock also set up the Human
Relations Area Files or HRAF in which common categories of cultures were filed together. Murdock
and Douglas R. White also introduced the concept of “Standard cross-cultural sample” by analysing
sample cultures that could be used as a benchmark for other cultures. Another approach recommends
breaking up a culture into trait-complexes, and further into traits. Ruth Benedict believed that culture
was made of many patterns which were bound together in a harmonious whole. M.E Opler
recommended summative principles in culture called themes. Claude Levi Strauss broke up words and
cultural sections into phonemes, morphemes, etc. in the search for the underlying reality of the
The idea of functionalism emerged in the 1930’s and identifies the roles played by different elements
of a culture in maintaining a cultural or a social system. According to Malinowski, all cultural traits
serve the needs of individuals in society, and as such, are designed to serve some functions in society,
and integrate to serve the larger needs of society as a whole. According to him, culture was an
The Sedimentation Theory of Cultural Time and Space: The Present is embedded in the past
Robert N. St. Clair, University of Louisville, 2007
Sociology: A biographical approach Peter L. Berger and Brigitte Berger
The Active Society Amitai Etzioni New York Freepress, 1968
Creating Social change: Edited by Gerald Zaltman, Philip Kotler, Ira Kaufman
Dawkins, R. (1976) The selfish gene. Oxford University Press
Modernization of the structure of societies, Princeton University Press, 1966
instrument which enabled man to maintain his biopsychic survival. According to Radcliffe-Brown,
however, cultural traits were designed to maintain the social superstructure of a society which
includes all internal and external relationships. Other Anthropologists who subscribed to
functionalism in some form were August Comte, Raymond Firth, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim
and Talcott Parsons. Parsons considered societies to be complex systems of parts working together to
promote social stability. According to Carol Ember, Melvin Ember and Peregrine (2011; 21)
functionalism ‘looks for the part (function) that some aspects of culture or social life plays in
maintaining a cultural system’. According to Langness (1974; 87), “Just as an individual human being
constitutes a finite system with a distinctive structure- each organ performing a particular activity, the
function of which is to contribute to the maintenance of a system as a whole, so also, a human society
constitutes a similar system with its distinctive structure and functions”. Thus, whenever there is an
internal or external change, all aspects of society undergo some form of transformation. However, the
inbuilt mechanisms within a society attempt to restore normalcy and equilibrium under all
However, functionalists were criticized for ignoring the effects of change on society and the evolution
of society over a period in time. They were also criticized for ignoring the role played by historical
factors in shaping society.
Culture and Personality School
The writings of Sigmund Freud were influential in establishing the culture and personality school.
Other early proponents of the ‘Culture and Personality’ school were Ruth Benedict and Margaret
Mead. According to these scholars, culture and personality were tightly interlinked. Thus, culture
could play a major role in formulating personality traits. Their theories were based on a prolonged
study of various North American tribes and New Guinean societies. Ralph Linton, E.A Hoebel and
Abram Kardiner also developed theories which suggested that basic personality types in a culture were
developed by cultural values in that society, or primary institutions, which in turn gave rise to
The idea of National Character as developed by Marvin Harris and others gained popularity in the
Twentieth Century and referred to the idea the beliefs, attitudes and the worldview varied widely
from nationality to nationality. According to the proponents of this concept, members of a society
tend to think alike and act alike, and as moulded by the society’s core values and norms. The idea of
compartmentalizing cultural traits may however be somewhat passe in the Post-globalized Twenty-
first century, and as such this approach has been widely criticized given its ability to promote
stereotypes and ignore variations.
Cultural Ecology or Environmental Determinism
Cultural Ecology, Ecological Anthropology or Environmental Determinism studies the influence of
environment of culture. This field was pioneered by Julian Steward who felt that cultural traits were
considered adaptive. Cultural ecologists believe that the process of cultural adaptation involves the
mechanism of Natural selection, or the survival of the fittest. Many aspects of culture are also believed
to be interrelated. For example, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that language is an influencing
factor in its own right, and influences how speakers of a language perceive the world. Studies have
also suggested that social position impacts language, and this in turn impacts thought.
Steward believed that a social system was determined by its environmental resources (Mahmud,
2008; 83). According to Mahmud, the main idea of cultural ecology was to determine whether cultural
adaptation towards the natural environment initiated social transformations and evolutionary
change. Steward emphasized the interrelation among the natural conditions in the environment i.e.
rainfall, temperature, soils, technology, social organization, and attitudes within a particular
sociocultural system’ (Scupin and DeCorse, 2012; 286-287).
Cultural Constructionism maintains that human behaviour and ideas can be explained as products of
culturally-shaped learning. For example, Cultural Constructionism would determine habits such as
alcoholism, tobacco-use and drug-taking. A diametrically opposite viewpoint is Biological Determinism
which hold that behaviour is largely shaped by genes and hormones.
The idea of Structuralism was propounded by Claude Levi-Strauss. According to him, elements of
culture such as arts, ritual and the patterns of daily life were surface representations of the underlying
structure of the human mind. Levi Strauss’s work have revolved around the cognitive processes of
people, and the ways in which humans perceive and classify things around them. Varying
interpretations of structuralism have been provided by Edmund Leach, Rodney Needham and Mary
Douglas. Structuralists believe that various elements of a culture can only be meaningfully understood
in terms of the inter-relationships among them. According to Klages (2006; 31), structuralism is ‘a way
of thinking that works to find the fundamental basic units or elements of which anything is made’.
According to Barry (1995; 39), “The essence of structuralism is the belief that things cannot be
understood in isolation and they have to be seen in the larger context of the larger structures they are
part of”. Structuralists also look for inter-relationships between different elements of a culture, and
tend to adopt more holistic approaches while looking for solutions to problems in Anthropology. For
example, if anyone is studying kinship, he cannot arrive at any meaningful conclusions by studying just
one family, but must interface it with a study of kinship systems in the society as a whole.
The structuralist-functionalist perspective of cultural and social change was provided by Durkheim and
Weber, and later by Parsons and Merton. Structural functionalists believe that society is a balanced
system consisting of several interdependent parts. When internal or external events disrupt the social
order, the society’s inbuilt mechanisms attempt to restore equilibrium. According to Durkheim’s and
Weber’s model, change essentially comes from the following three sources:
i) Adjustment of the system to exogenous change (for e.g. war, conquests or annexation), ii) Growth
through structural and functional differentiation (for e.g. changes in the size of population through
births and deaths), iii) Innovations in the society (for e.g. inventions and discovery).
Cultural Materialists attempt to learn about a culture by studying material aspects of life in preference
to all other aspects of a culture. Cultural Materialists believe that material aspects take precedence
and shape and determine all other aspects of a culture. This approach forms the bedrock of Marxist
approaches to Anthropology. According to Roseberry (1997; 27): “The starting point of Marx’s
materialism was the social, which manifested itself in the form of material needs. Anthropological
theories also duly got influenced by the thoughts of Karl Marx. Cultural Materialists use a three-level
model to explain culture. The lowermost level is infrastructure which includes natural resources, the
economy, population and the forces and relations of production. This may also be termed as the
economic base. According to this approach, infrastructure shapes the other two domains of culture,
namely structure (social organization, kinship and political organization) and superstructure (ideas,
values and beliefs).
Marxists believe that cultural change is brought about by class struggle and revolution. According to
Marx, class struggle was fundamental in shaping change (“The history of all hitherto existing human
societies is nothing but the history of class struggles”). In this view, change was revolutionary and
often brutal and violent. A similar theory was proposed by Vilfredo Pareto who believed that changes
were brought about in a struggle between groups for political power, and the decadence and the
eventual replacement of one group of elites by another.
Conflict theories take into account the principles of dialectics as central to understanding the causes
of change. According to A.W Green, “Conflict is the deliberate attempt to oppose, resist or coerce the
will of another or others.” Per Georg Simmel, there were four types of conflicts, namely, War, Feud or
Factional Strife, Litigation, and Conflict of Impersonal ideas. According to this school of thought, every
action, belief and interaction tend to generate an opposite reaction. For example, the oppression of
ordinary workers generates a class struggle and ultimately, a revolution. According to the theory of
power elites proposed by C. Wright Mills, a small group of people at the top of society known as the
power elites manipulate power for their own selfish ends, thereby triggering conflicts with the society
at large. According to proponents of the conflict school, change is rarely smooth, and typically takes
place to correct social injustice and inequality. Several theorists other than Karl Marx and Pareto
contributed to conflict theory. For example, Max Gluckman who founded the Manchester school of
thought, focussed on internal and external conflicts, contradictions and inconsistencies in daily life.
Other conflict theorists were Walter Bagelot, George Vold, Georg Simmel, Ralf Dahrendorf, Ludwig
Gumplowicz and Gustav Ratzenhofer.
Other Modern theories of Cultural Change
There are a wide variety of alternative modern approaches to social and cultural change.
According to Geert Hofstede, people have mental programs that are typically developed during
childhood and are reinforced or corroborated by the culture’s value systems. According to him, the
dimensions along which the dominant patterns of culture could be ordered were power distance (The
degree to which the institutional and organizational power should be distributed and the decision of
the powerholders should be challenged or accepted), uncertainty avoidance (The extent to which a
culture feels threatened by uncertainties), individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus
feminineness, long-term versus short-term orientation, hedonism versus self-discipline etc.
Research conducted by Robert J. House listed out nine attributes viz. future focus, uncertainty
circumventing, power distance, humane orientation, performance orientation, collective thinking,
assertiveness and gender fairness.
Edward T Hall spoke about high context cultures and low-context cultures. These could be rated he
believed, based on the type of relationships, formality of agreements, acceptance of outsiders and
rate of change in cultural patterns.
According to GLOBE researchers, there were nine dimensions of culture. These were future
orientation, humane orientation, uncertainty avoidance, institutional collectivism, in group
collectivism, assertiveness, gender egalitarianism and power distance. According to Milton and Janet
Bennett, cultural value differences were of the following types: Relational (individualism, collectivism,
formality, informality, competition, cooperation), Authority (Egalitarianism, hierarchy), Temporal (Use
Cultural Theory: The key concepts , Andrew Edgar and Peter Sedgwick Routledge, 2008
of time, passage of time, change and adaptability, reliance on tradition and past), Activity (Action-
orientation, practicality, idealism).
According to the theory of Pluralistic Behaviourism, change rests on the actions of individuals, which
in turn rest on beliefs and desires. According to Talcott Parsons and Edward Shils, all human action is
determined by different alternatives which are present at the individual level, social system level, and
at the cultural level. These were affectivity (need-gratification) versus restraint of impulses, self-
orientation versus collective-orientation, universalism versus particularism, ascription versus
achievement, and specificity versus diffuseness.
Social Movement Theories
Cultural change and social change are tightly interlinked, and social movements may be necessary to
bring about cultural change. Let us now explain some social movement theories below that explain
how social change is brought about:
Most sociologists adopt a scientific method in bringing about social change. This includes studying the
problem, formulating hypotheses, draw conclusions, report results and propose an action plan for
bringing about change.
Alternatively, Blumer and Tilly have proposed a four stage process in bringing about social change. In
the preliminary stage, people become aware of an issue, and leaders emerge. This is followed by the
coalescence stage when people come together to publicize the issue and raise awareness among the
people. In the institutionalization stage, the movement is established. Eventually, the movement falls
into the decline stage. McCarthy and Zald conceptualized the resource mobilization theory to explain
success of movements in terms of the ability to acquire resources and mobilize individuals. According
to Snow and Benford, successful social movements use three kinds of frames to achieve their goals.
The first type, diagnostic framing, states the problem clearly. Prognostic framing, the second type,
offers a solution and states how it will be implemented. The third type, motivational framing is the
call to action.
Types of Cultural change
The following are the different types of cultural change, and most analyses would differentiate change
on the following bases:
Long-term or permanent change versus short-term change
Long-term change may be defined as a permanent change or a near-permanent change, whose impact
is felt over the long-term. Such changes usually lead to fundamental changes in a society. Examples of
such changes are changes brought about by the adoption of new technologies such as the internet.
Short-term changes are however, those changes which last only in the short to medium term.
Examples of such changes are short-term changes to immigration policy brought about by political will
Some Elements of a Cultural Theory of Social Change Daroí Montero
The Analysis of social change: Based on observations in Central Africa: Godfrey and Monica Cambridge
University Press, 1968
Pioneers of the Field – South Africa’s women anthropologists, Andrew Bank, International African Library
Cambridge University Press, 2016
Research Methods in the Social Sciences, David Nachimas and Chava Nachimas, St Martin’s press, New York,
or diktat, effects of a hurricane or a tornado, or short-term devastation brought about by an
Irreversible versus reversible change
Irreversible changes are those changes which cannot be reversed or those changes whose effects
cannot be undone easily or painlessly. Many changes that we see around us today, are irreversible.
For example, the changes brought about to American society by the automobile were profound, and
it is highly unlikely that any reversion to the pre-automobile age will ever happen in spite of the
harmful effects popularly associated with this technology.
Directed versus undirected change
Most change is undirected, and the future cannot be predicted with any degree of precision. This is
the beauty and the quintessence of human civilization. Who foresaw the industrial revolution, the
dawn of the automobile era or the internet age? However, change can be regulated and modulated
in a manner that makes it orderly or ensures that it is compatible with the needs of the society.
Unplanned or undirected change may also be referred to as free change. (Halpin) Changes may also
be classified as predictable changes and unpredictable changes. Directed change and social action
require different elements such as the identification of a cause or a problem that needs to be solved,
the identification of a change agency, change targets (individuals and institutions may become targets
of change efforts), channels or ways through which influence can be transmitted, change strategy or
an action plan for change.
Major changes versus minor changes
Major changes are those changes that impact society significantly or substantively. Minor changes
typically do not impact society in a major way. Changes may also be classified as core changes or
peripheral changes depending on their impact on society. They may also be classified as all-pervasive
changes versus non-pervasive changes. Likewise, some changes only effect elites or the privileged
few, while some other impact all echelons of a society.
Positive changes versus undesirable or harmful changes
Positive changes are those changes that tend to have a positive impact on society as a whole, or most
sections of society. On the other hand, negative changes tend to harm society in some way. Social
Darwinism may fail us utterly here. Negative changes do propagate through what we call allure or
glitz, thereby triggering the need for activism.
Gradual changes versus non-gradual changes
Another classification of changes is gradual changes versus non-gradual changes. The former are
typically slow and peaceable, and may be as a result of technological innovation, economic progress,
social upliftment or increase in efficiency of the utilization of the factors of production. Non-gradual
changes may be sudden and abrupt, often caused by disruptions in technology or bloody social
revolutions. Non-gradual changes were brought about in the 1920’s with the popularization of the
automobile, in the 1990’s with the dawn of the internet age, and also with the French and Russian
revolutions. Changes can also likewise be punctuated, and characterized by periods of rapid change
and relative non-change. A well-known and a widely-cited example of punctuated change is the French
Revolution. Punctuated change was also brought about on many other occasions in human history,
example being the end of colonialism in the 1940’s and the 1950’s in Asia and Africa, the civil rights
movement of the 1960’s and the end of apartheid in South Africa in the 1990’s.
Endogenous changes versus exogenous changes
Endogenous changes refer to those changes that are internally-induced and take place from within a
society, often through innovation or revolution. Exogenous changes refer to those changes that are
externally-induced and the agents of change are typically alien to the culture. Examples of exogenous
changes are those which are triggered by a culture’s exposure to other cultures.
Contact-driven and Non contact-driven changes
Contact-driven changes are produced by physical contact between two cultures through war,
conquest, annexations, incursions, military expeditions etc. Non contact-driven changes can typically
occur even without any kind of physical contact, but typically use other enablers or mediums, more
often technological. In early civilizations, writing precipitated non contact-driven changes. The
invention of the printing press allowed new and revolutionary ideas to spread to far-off lands and
eventually brought about wide-ranging changes, both direct and indirect in many societies. In the
post-globalized world, change in ubiquitous, pervasive, all-encompassing and is often a way of life.
Neo-Centrism (or Centrism) as a philosophy and Neo-Centrism as an agent of social and cultural
We had also introduced the concept of ‘Neo-Centrism’ (or simply, Centrism) in an earlier paper, and
we reiterate the core sections of this philosophy here.
‘Neo-Centrism’ may be defined as a neutral
and an ideology-free approach to all issues pertaining to a study of culture, social studies,
historiography, economics and various other fields, (This is almost no holds-barred approach with
potential widespread applicability) and an alternative and an “in-between approach” to the
approaches espoused by the left and the right in specific circumstances. It is also an approach with a
long-term orientation and seeks out solutions that work across the dimensions of time and space.
Oddly enough, the term Neo-Centrism already exists and refers to a political ideology advocated by
the Neo-Centrist International (NCI)
and other organizations, particularly in the field of politics and
foreign policy. This approach may also draw on other ontological approaches if required as other
scholars extend the concepts proposed here.
From our perspective, Neo-Centrism has a slightly different albeit a much broader connotation, and
in our definition, the key characteristics of Neo-Centrism are below:
Neo-Centrism proposes a rejection of right-wing, left-wing and other ideologically-driven
interpretations of history to the extent they are anti-truth and anti-science. It may be noted at the
very outset, that the ideas of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are wholly foreign and irrelevant to this approach, and
these two concepts are used only to what would like to call ‘span the pontoon’, cross temporary
hurdles or out-grow existing concepts and purge them immediately thereafter. Thus, solutions may
potentially incorporate elements from ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ recommendations in various fields.
Neo-Centrism from this perspective is primarily based on a reconciliation and elimination of paradoxes
in any form, the identification of which will be at the heart of the success of this approach. Neo-
Centrism can be extended and applied to Economic thought, Political philosophy, applied linguistics,
Enunciating the Core principles of Twenty-first Century Historiography: Some additional extrapolations and
inferences from our studies and observations on Historiography
Sujay Rao Mandavilli ELK Asia Pacific Journal of Social Science (ISSN: 2394-9392) in Volume 2, Issue 4 July to
religious studies, debates relating to theism vs atheism, historiography, research methodology and
process improvement, even though most topics may be outside the purview of the present paper.
Neo-Centrism may well become one of the biggest and most respected movements of the Twenty-
first century. While some work has already been done on Neo-Centrism or similar concepts by other
scholars in some form or the other, we invite other scholars to apply Neo-Centrist approaches to their
respective fields so that it may become one the most important and influential movements of the
Twenty-First Century. Neo-Centrism is primarily based on dialectical approaches, some of which have
existed for aeons, but extends them in various directions and melds them with pristine and original
ideas and concepts– Neo-Centrist approaches therefore actively seek and reconcile divergent
viewpoints by involving or taking into account the views of as many researchers as possible from
diverse backgrounds and with divergent viewpoints.
As a crude but very effective rule of thumb, Neo-Centrism if well-conceived and applied, leads to a
reconciliation and a merger of viewpoints, while ideologically-driven approaches (such as Hindutva,
Marxist and Dravidian nationalist views of history, for example) lead to polarization of views, are
anathema from our point of view. This alone should be a fundamental and a vital metric to isolate
pseudo-science from bona fide science, and well-intentioned approaches from dubious approaches
characterized by deceit and calumny.
This approach will also eventually lead to, and culminate in establishment of ‘Codes of conduct’ for
historians and scholars of various hues and colours by promoting intellectual honesty and being
reproachful to ideology of any kind. In the Indian context, this is likely to be detested and virulently
opposed by the right-wing and the left-wing as it would severely undermine their ideologies, but by
our own analysis and assessment, truth-based and neo-centrist approaches shall prevail in the long-
term by rendering ideologies wholly meaningless and irrelevant. It will also lead to genuine progress
in multiple fields and areas of study and move us to a higher state of reality, thus constituting some
kind of a double whammy.
Thus, these techniques can be a vast improvement over older devil’s advocacy techniques, and an
extension of TRIZ, and other approaches to critical thinking such as Lateral Thinking, the Six Hats
technique, among others. They can also complement process improvement techniques such as the
Delphi technique, Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints.
We had proposed some newer approaches such as CRCDE or Continuous reconciliation of
Contradictory data or evidence., the key principles of which were (a) contradictory data or evidence
must be aggressively sought, and such data or evidence is nothing to be afraid of (b) if contradictory
data or evidence exists, the model or approach is over simplified (c) Reconciliation of contradictory
data will always move us to a higher state of understanding (d) if contradictory data is left out from
an analysis, a justification may be required.
Contradictory viewpoints may however be left out, if not backed up by data, or if the methodology
used by the other historian has been convincingly or comprehensively refuted by the historian in
question. This is necessary to grab the bull by the horns, avoid inertia and lethargy, and side step what
we may call ‘The Inconvenient truth syndrome’.
In case of Reflective Equilibrium through role-swapping (RERS), another idea that was mooted, the
scholar learns to put himself in the shoes of all other stakeholders who would benefit from the work
or be impacted by it, and does this one stakeholder at a time. He then tries to look at issues from the
other party’s point of view, or evaluate how he would react to it using that party’s known ideological
affiliations, dispensation, antecedents or other relevant information as a base. He documents his
observations and then modifies his work accordingly, or generates new objectives.
A key advantage of this approach would be that it would save time, effort and energy, and works in a
field such as historiography where the other party may be unavailable or dead, and could be used in
conjunction with other approaches to boot. These approaches can be adopted in addition to other
dialectical approaches such are those which were propounded by Hegel and reinterpreted by Marx,
and other approaches such as Rawl’s reflective equilibrium, standard Devil’s advocacy &
Brainstorming techniques etc, and dialectical approaches which have been used in some form from
the days of Plato and Aristotle.
Neo-centrism also has a long-term orientation. It also seeks to formulate proposals that will work
across geographies. The justification for this is that mankind is only now ready for such analyses. Were
the long-term effects of Industrialization thought through during the Industrial revolution? Did Henry
Ford pause to think about the ill-effects of the automobile? Or, did anyone else checkmate? There is
now some collective endeavour with a long-term view which is essentially in line with our views and
is welcome news.
Application to various fields of study exact and inexact disciplines
The branches of sciences can roughly be divided into two categories: Exact Sciences and Non-Exact or
Inexact Sciences. Exact sciences would include physics, chemistry, biology, etc. while the Non-exact
sciences would include history, sociology and most other disciplines forming a part of what may be
defined as humanities. In the exact sciences, one can pinpoint solutions with a great degree of
precision, whereas in the non-exact sciences one cannot insist on a similar degree of precision.
In the case of inexact sciences each approach may consist of pros and cons, and decision-making
typically involves some amount of judgment. In case of inexact sciences, a solution can typically never
be proven. Neo-Centrism is also integrated with Relativism. Relativism is a concept which states that
points of view have no absolute truth or validity when studied in isolation, but must be evaluated and
studied as a part of a much larger and a broader ecosystem. Neo-Centrism is also related to eternalism,
whose definition does not tally entirely with our requirements. We therefore propose the term
‘aeternitism’ which is derived from the Latin term ‘aeternitas’ meaning permanence. The term
currently exists and describes an obscure spiritual practice. (There was also a Roman God bearing the
same name that was associated with timelessness). Aeternitism, by our definition is the applicability
and enforcement of a certain principle or a set of principles across the vagaries of time. The term
‘vagaries’ cannot be stressed enough, as predictions are typically fraught with uncertainties, and one
typically only progresses towards reliability gradually and in stages. We also propose the term
‘Omnimodism’ to be the universal applicability of a certain principle or a set of principles i.e. its
applicability across space and time, and under all circumstances and situations under the sun. This is
derived from the Latin term ‘Omnimodous‘ meaning timelessness and is similar to the uncommon
English word ‘Omnimodous’. The following are the steps that we propose:
1. Neo-Centrism is essentially based on dialectical approaches. Dialectical approaches are effectively
based on age-old techniques of the reconciliation of contradictory or seemingly incompatible
ideas in a single-minded and an unwavering quest for the truth. From this perspective, if a scholar
does not apply dialectical approaches, his work is likely to be flawed, incomplete and biased in all
except perhaps in a specific set of conditions or the narrowest circumstances. Therefore, Neo-
Centrism requires abandoning narrow and constricted thought and taking into consideration,
other people’s perspectives and points of view. (We refer to this as the ‘Frog in the well’ analogy).
Our approach therefore, recommends an aggressive pursuit of contradictory data or evidence as
this would greatly facilitate scientific progress. As a matter of fact, collection of contradictory data
may even become mandatory in the process of hypothesis building in the longer-term as it is only
this approach that can take us closer to the truth. This is an ideal all interested parties should
strive towards, but this would naturally require an overall change in mind set and attitudes from
all sides, and such a scenario may only be possible if several other key requirements are met.
2. From our perspective, if there is a valid criticism of a scholar’s work from the point of view of the
principles herein, in addition to any other valid criticism, it means that the scholar’s work is flawed
or incomplete, and requires appropriate revision or modification to make it acceptable.
3. If an issue is resolved using dialectical approaches, it automatically moves us to the ‘next higher
state’ and closer to what one may refer to as the ‘Ideal state’ definitions of which have been
proposed from very ancient times by scholars such as Plato and Aristotle. (Kindly refer definitions
1 and 2). In our definition, an ideal state is one where there are absolutely no paradoxes of any
kind. However, there can be exceptions to this rule, and resolution to paradoxes may not always
lead to an ideal or an enhanced state from the long-term perspective. Some paradoxes can also
never be reconciled including cultural viewpoints and differences.
4. The ‘next higher state’ typically, and with a few very isolated exceptions, leads to an enhancement
of knowledge and scientific output in the long-term, and can potentially increase the well-being
of society as well.
5. Moving to the ‘next highest state’ automatically enhances the visibility of the next set of issues or
problems by removing bottlenecks. The next set of issues may not be typically visible until the first
set of problems is removed. This is analogous to a man climbing a mountain. The next peak may
not be visible until the first peak is scaled. Thus, this approach engenders and facilitates progress
by proactively and sequentially surmounting problems and removing bottlenecks.
6. While adopting dialectical approaches, differing viewpoints need to be reconciled. If any
exclusions are made, a proper justification needs to be provided (Template 1: ‘Dialectical
Approaches: Justification of exclusions’. This ideally needs to be mandatory. While adopting
dialectical approaches, the other practitioner’s line of defence may also need to be formally
obtained and evaluated for its completeness and validity. This will naturally be a pre-requisite for
the task, and must be carried out in true letter and spirit. One way to do this would be to identify
stakeholders who are most negatively impacted by an approach or a method.
7. Core axioms may be embossed in a belief system, and may be defined as the building blocks of a
belief system. Core axioms from our perspective are defined as principles. A belief system from
our perspective is defined as an entity.
8. Thus, an entity comprises one or more principles. This is therefore a one to one or a one to many
9. This exercise can also be carried out by assuming a one to one relationship between a principle
and an entity. In other words, an entity or a belief system has only one principle.
10. If there are contradictions within an entity, the entity is defined as flawed, and lacking
11. If there are contradictions within an entity, these need to be identified using a ‘Table of
Contradictions’. (Template 2: ‘Table of Contradictions’)
12. If there are any contradictions within an entity, the entity may need to be broken up into two or
more parts for a more meaningful analysis. Thus, a proper identification of an entity and its
attendant principles is essential for the success of this approach.
13. An entity may be flawed for many reasons. An entity may typically be said to be flawed if too many
deep-rooted paradoxes or contradictions persist. This can be analysed by carrying out a Root
Cause Analysis. (Template 2: ‘Table of Contradictions’)
14. The impact of one more contradictions on various fields of study and society as a whole will need
to be assessed and will be useful for determining the triage. (Template 2: Table of Contradictions)
Additional data may be sought to probe the root cause of the actions of progenitors. E.g.
Ideological bias, lack of knowledge, general incompetence, lack of scientific method. This would
be documented as necessary (Template 1: ‘Dialectical approaches: Justification of exclusions)
15. Pseudo-scientific approaches must be rigorously analysed and a heuristic approach (Template 3:
Analysis of Pseudo-scientific approaches or APSA) (Template 4: QEPIS or Quantification of the
effects of poor or Ideologically-driven scholarship (i.e. Downstream and adverse effects of poor,
ideologically-driven scholarship or the continued persistence of antiquated approaches)
16. Entities may be ordered into a chain of entities.
17. Relationship between entities may be categorized into the following (a) Fully nested (b)
Overlapping. (c) Related- Temporally-related (d) Related- Spatially related (e ) Related-
Functionally related (Template 5: ‘Entity-relationship diagram or static Venn diagram’)
18. Principles may thus be inherited from other entities in either original or modified form.
19. In a chain of entities, if or more principles contradict each other, the principles that are tied to a
more robust methodology and have a wider currency must be preferred.
20. Assessment of assumptions and implications of principles must also be carried out. (Template 6:
‘In-depth assessment of Principles, assumptions and implications’). This can also be extended to
all statement or utterances. For example, the statement ‘a script cannot be logo-syllabic because
the length of is inscriptions is short’ has many serious errors, and these must be identified formally
by trying to establish its founding principles, assessing the implications and assumptions of such a
statement, and in most cases, this will lead to comic and hilarious end-results, often exposing the
author in question, his attitudes and whims, and calling for a radical reassessment.
21. In the above table, assumptions must be assessed for their validity using Occam’s Razor. If
assumptions are invalid or untestable, the principles are either invalid or weak.
22. In the above table, implications must be assessed. If any of the implications are untrue, the
principle is either untrue or over-generalized.
23. A ‘Universality Scale’ or a scale for ranking of principles can be prepared by assessing principles
on the basis of their (a) Universality and relevance on a time scale (b) Geographical applicability
or spatial spread (c) Overall long-term positive implications for science and benefit for society as
a whole. (d) Their conformity with natural laws (e) Their conformity with human nature. (f)
Conformity with principles associated disciplines. The ‘Table of contradictions’ can be used to
document inconsistencies and contradictions. This can also be put to productive use to plan the
24. The ‘Universality Scale’ can be extended to entities also, even in the many to one model.
25. If in an entity, some principles are strong or tend to override principles associated with other
entities, and some principles are weak or tend to be overridden by principles associated with other
entities, consider breaking up the entity into two or more parts.
26. In a chain of entities, if principles associated with two entities contradict each other, this scenario
is unsustainable in the longer term. This is called a Paradox.
27. In case of a paradox, the set of principles with the maximum allure may dominate temporality.
28. In case of a paradox, principles going against human nature will not prevail in the longer term.
29. In case of a paradox, principles going against the laws of nature will not prevail in the longer term.
30. In case of a paradox, principles associated with a more robust epistemology will prevail in the
31. It is the duty of the ‘aeternitist’ and ‘omnimodist’ to identify principles which will have currency
across space and time. It is also the duty of the ‘aeternitist’ and the ‘omnimodist’ to identify pre-
conditions and exceptions as well.
32. Thus, elimination of a paradox may move us to the next higher state, but it may not always be the
ideal solution in the longer term.
33. In case of a paradox, feedback is provided to the subservient set of principles or those lower in
the ‘Universality scale’ such that they may be modified or destroyed or rendered wholly or partly
34. Latency: The feedback i.e. typically adverse, may be immediate or delayed, but the feedback will
happen. In other words, the latency time can never be infinity. (Template 7: Latency Matrix)
35. The latency time may be determined by several factors, and may vary on a case to case basis.
36. The latency time can be delayed or postponed though human intervention, but consequences of
a paradox can never be avoided unless the paradox itself is eliminated. This is known as the
‘Theoretical result’ or the expected result. The theoretical result may vary from the actual result.
However, the probability that the theoretical result is the actual result is very, very high. In the
longer term, the theoretical result and the actual result tend towards each other.
37. Paradoxes must be the springboard to innovative and creative thinking.
38. This approach can be used for both exact and inexact sciences (and for more abstract ideas) with
suitable modifications. An inexact science is one where no definite solutions are possible and
where different solutions will have both positive and negative implications at the same time. In
such a situation (a) A maximum profit, minimum loss approach may be adopted. (b) A formal study
of the long-term effects of such an approach must also be carried out. (Template 8: Trade-off
Matrix). A related concept that one may like to recall here is Aristotle’s Golden Mean. In case
various via media solutions are available, all of them need to be evaluated and the best possible
solution selected. Therefore, even in the case of inexact sciences, an attempt must be made to
resolve paradoxes aggressively, to the extent such a resolution is possible. In all cases, constant
introspection is healthy and strongly recommended. In the case of inexact sciences, approaches
may also be evaluated against a specific set of goals which may be arrived at through consensus.
39. Making short-term exceptions: Valid short-term exceptions or digressions can be made due to
exigencies or lack of immediate technical solutions.
40. Reconciling short-term exceptions and long-term approaches is also crucial: Scholars must show
how short-term exceptions will be merged with long-term approaches. This will form a part of
DPPF techniques or Dialogue between the past, present and future techniques that are described
elsewhere in this paper. Note that this may be always possible given the uncertainties pertaining
to the future, but some aspects such as identifying contradictions with natural laws and human
nature may help.
41. One approach may be to focus on internal contradictions i.e. contradictions within the entity, if
the emphasis is on the short-term and focus on both internal and external contradictions if the
focus is on a long-term analysis.
42. Stakeholder-driven approaches: This approach must ideally involve as many stakeholders and
practitioners as possible by initiating an active search for them. Another approach is to look at
issues from non-active stakeholders i.e. those who are positively or adversely impacted by an
43. A structured understanding of the limitations, foibles, weaknesses of the present and present day
approaches needs to be carried out. A structured understanding of the tacit assumption and
implications of the present and present-day approaches need to be carried out. (Template 9:
Analysis of the present and SWOT analysis).
44. A structured understanding the limitations, foibles, weaknesses of a culture or a geographical
context needs to be carried out. A structured understanding of the tacit assumption and
implications of a culture or a geographical context need to be carried out. (Template 9: Analysis
of the present and SWOT analysis).
45. Benchmarking will be an integral part of this approach. This will be spatial, temporal and
functional. (Template 10: Temporal Analysis)
46. The definition of an ideal state is an integral part of this approach. In an ideal state, there will be
47. This approach will comprise of both a present-state and ideal-state analysis.
48. A gap analysis between the present and ideal states must be carried out (Template 11: Gap
Analysis between present-state and ideal-state.)
49. A road map may then be prepared to achieve long-term goal (Template 12: Roadmap). This will
also demonstrate anticipated changes to entities (Template 13: Entity State-transition diagram)
50. Solutions may be mined from the past using heuristic techniques (Template 14: DPPF techniques)
51. Paradoxes also have other implications in terms of impact on other fields of science and human
behaviour and these need to be quantified and assessed. (Template 16: Cause and Effect Analysis).
Paradoxes are synonymous with weaknesses in the belief system, lead to divisiveness, give rise to
conflicts, promote aggressiveness and defensiveness, and throw up counter-reactions of different
kinds. If dialectical approaches are not adopted in the long-term, a series of counter-reactions of
the “Yo-yo type” can result. This is based on the premise that one-sidedness is against human
nature. This is quite unlike a ripple because ripples usually die out. On the other hand, the effect
in our model may be much larger than the cause. For example, the Hindutva monster may be a
by-product of Colonial and Marxist historiography.
52. Globalisation and the spread of technology, it may be argued, are willy-nilly pushing humanity
towards centrism. This is slowly but surely happening as biased interpretations become fringe and
non-mainstream, and gradually get pushed to the wayside and get relegated to the background,
ultimately fading into oblivion. There are three ways one can approach this issue (a) Laissez-faire
or laissez–etre approaches where things are left to their own course or destiny without any pro-
active human interventions of any kind. The problem with this approach is that the latency time
can be very high, and that course corrections can be ruthless and disastrous (b) Proactive
approach- unstructured. This can reduce the latency time somewhat but would preclude a
comprehensive and an across-the-board solution and may not provide a panacea for all ills. (c)
Pro-active approach structured -follows the approaches championed in this paper, or other
competent alternative approaches.
53. Paradoxes can be (a) Treated i.e. effectively eliminated (b) Partially treated (c) Deferred is case an
immediate solution is either unviable or elusive but marked for treatment as a treatment may be
possible in future or contingent to some other activity (d) Untreated due to considerations of cost
and economy or absence of any kind of technical solution.
54. Such approaches must be integrated with valid scientific methodology such as hypothesis-building
and the best-in-breed techniques in creative and innovative thinking, examples being Ashtuller’s
TRIZ and Edward de Bono’s Lateral thinking. Our approaches such as RERS or Reflective
Equilibrium through Role Swapping and CRCDE or Continuous Reconciliation of Contradictory Data
55. This approach may be modified to include situations where there is no conflict in core and allied
principles, but the focus or emphasis alone varies. For examples, some entities emphasize some
principles or aspects while playing down others.
56. For this purpose, it will be assumed that all paradoxes have a theoretical solution which may or
may not be identifiable at a given point in time. Thus, an active hunt for solutions will emanate
from our proposals.
57. Common sense and pragmatic approaches will always need to be followed, and intellectual
nerdism must be eschewed at all costs.
58. This approach will also lead to a ‘Globalization of Science’ and ‘Scientific Progress at the speed of
light’. The key premise here is pseudo-science and biases germinate due to a combination of
avoidable and unavoidable causes. Ideology is a classic case of the former, and personal self-
interest being a typical example of the latter. The later can perhaps be only mitigated, while the
former can be bypassed entirely.
59. In the utopian neo-centric world, there should ideally be no dissonance as neo-centric approaches
move us towards a natural and resolution of paradoxes. However, in the real world, it should
ideally not be so. A counterbalance to this type of approach would be an aggressive exploration
of contradictory data, evidence and viewpoints through CRCDE.
60. This approach also calls for a reconciliation between short-term goals and objectives and long-
term goals and objectives (Template 15: Reconciliation between Short-term goals and objectives
and Long-term goals and objectives). One may argue that this needs to be always done formally.
61. One of the core requirements of this approach is ‘Objectivity in mind-set’ which was already
discussed in this paper.
62. One may also emphasize pragmatism throughout. In our view, critiques without
recommendations for action would be of absolutely no value. Likewise, recommendations for
action not followed by action would be of absolutely no value. However, there may be a division
of labour, and different activities may be pursued by different parties.
1. A ‘Next higher state’ may be defined as a state where the number of paradoxes have been
reduced in relation to the previous state, and society has been positively benefitted and
moved to a higher state of advancement.
2. An ‘ideal state’ from our perspective is one where there are no internal paradoxes (i.e. within
an entity) and external paradoxes (i.e. across entities) across space and time. It may be defined
as a utopia or as near a utopia as deemed possible or practicable in the long term whose goals
are not immediately attainable or achievable. The journey to the Ideal state may be
represented by goals that are practicable and achievable. This approach is purely
representative: One need not even assume that the ‘ideal state’ will be reached someday.
However, this approach comes in very handy because it allows a state that is expected to be
reached after an elimination of paradoxes is achieved and a “Theoretical ideal state’. A’
Theoretical ideal state is one that is envisaged regardless of the paradoxes at hand or a
detailed analysis therefrom. In other words, the ‘Theoretical ideal state’ is an ideal to
benchmark progress against.
3. More complex inter-relationships between entities can also be constructed as warranted on
a situational basis.
4. This approach may be used in conjunction with other metrices. For example, in a study of
Economic policy, use of metrices such as the distribution of wealth, percentage of people
below the poverty line, may be used to draw up policies and strategies for change. There may
be paradoxes and inconsistencies between such metrices, but in such cases, the approach
producing the lowest level of dissonance may be selected.
5. Approaches are always subject to change and improvement. Change may also be contingent
to the occurrence of hitherto unexpected events. For example, the development of disruptor
or game-changing technologies may warrant re-examination of a strategy.
6. Templates for various aspects of ‘Neo-Centrism’ are recommended but not proposed as a part
of this paper.
Need for ‘Activism’
Activism may be defined as creating or controlling a situation by taking an initiative. It may also be
defined as acting in anticipation of future problems, needs or changes. Activism may also be referred
to as action-orientation, and is related to pragmatism which evaluates actions based on their
consequences and their contribution to human interests. Activism often uses some form of active
campaigning to bring about cultural or social change. Activism may also be used to thwart or stall
undesirable activities or diminish the undesirable effects of negative attributes of a culture.
Pragmatism is an approach that evaluates theories and concepts based on their practicality, use and
application to bring about a meaningful and a structured change. The basic concepts of pragmatism
were first proposed by C S Peirce and William James, and in our view, activism stems from pragmatic
thought and ideals, and would also make Anthropology a more pragmatic and a normative science.
The need for activism to a very large extent also stems from the limitations of Social Darwinism which
may not work ideally under all circumstances and scenarios, and may have inherent boundaries and
limits. The term ‘Darwinism’ refers to the theory of evolution of species by natural selection as
proposed by Charles Darwin, and this term was originally proposed by Thomas Henry Huxley. Social
Darwinism refers to the theory that individuals, groups and peoples are subject to the same principles
of Darwinian selection and animals and plants. This theory in its canonical and orthodox form is largely
discredited now. Proponents of Social Darwinism in some form included Herbert Spencer, Thomas
Malthus, Francis Galton and Ernst Haeckel, but the term ‘Social Darwinism’ was itself coined by Joseph
Fisher in 1877. The term ‘Social Darwinism” has many, often mutually incompatible definitions.
However, it ‘Social Organism’ (1860), Spencer compares society to a living organism and argues that
just as living beings evolve through natural selection, societies evolve through analogous processes.
Innovation often happens due to intellect and physical ability i.e. brain and brawn. It also largely is
driven by the desire for profit or intellectual satisfaction. This section may also therefore be construed
as a criticism of a laissez-etre approach. The following are the reasons why a proactive approach
towards cultural and social change may be the ideal approach in a wide variety of circumstances and
for most societies. We also propose to call the field of the study of proactive change to society in all
its dimensions ‘Manumittology’ from the Latin word ‘Manumettre’ which means to empower or to
liberate. The economic dimension may perhaps be referred to as “Manumittonomics’.
1. Activism may be necessary to counter the effects of inertia or resistance to change. Change
may be resisted due to resistance in personality due to the sheer force of habit, inward-looking
approach of individuals or culture, over-reliance on tradition, altered perception of issues due
to cultural bias, desire to conform to norms, xenophobia, presence of vested interests,
presence of over-sized institutions etc.
2. Activism is necessary for the globalisation of the field. Many early Anthropologists were arm-
chair anthropologists who never closely observed their subjects of study, and at times
regarded them with contempt and derision. They often used their cultures as a yardstick to
judge all other cultures, and often adopted a condescending attitude to these cultures.
Anthropologists later began to make extensive field visits, but preferred to observe subjects
of their study dispassionately. They often viewed these cultures as interesting but alien and
did not have any stake in initiating changes for the better, or extenuating undesirable aspects
of their culture. An emphasis on proactive change may therefore be necessary as the field
begins to be globalised and more and more Anthropologists emerge from other parts of the
world, looking at how tools and techniques can be used to solve their own problems or align
them with their own priorities. This approach may then become an essential part of exorcising
the ghosts of the past.
3. Activism may be necessary to moderate the negative aspects of any culture which are unfair
or detrimental to the interests of the society or any of its members. This can be done by
actively seeking out such traits, and also facilitating a cross-cultural comparison. Thus,
Activism can induce internally-generated change by making the constituents of a society
aware of the harmful effects of any negative aspects of their culture. Activism is a necessary
prerequisite for directed or planned change, and may include planning, monitoring,
evaluation and re-evaluation.
4. Elements with a higher proportion of allure, glitz or pizzazz may propagate faster or more
easily, and this may not be in the interests of society as a whole. Glitzy advertisements for
tobacco-based products for example may strike a chord with the people and boost tobacco
consumption, while advertisements attempting to boost sales of health products may not.
This may warrant or necessitate alternative campaigns. Aspects of an element that satisfy the
principles of Social or cultural Darwinism include Technological superiority, economy, context
suitability, etc. Aspects of an element that do not satisfy the principles of Social or cultural
Darwinism include Allure and glitz, spread of a trait only due to its association with dominant
cultures, inertia due to ignorance of other cultures, non-availability of an otherwise suitable
solution due to poor marketing or non-awareness, non-economy of a suitable solution due to
lack of technological or process innovation, non-suitability due to lack of modification for local
use etc. In case of the latter, elements do not spread easily and may require some kind of an
5. Elements associated with more dominant cultures or sub-cultures may propagate faster, and
this may not always be in the interests of society. The Cultural power of soft power of a culture
or a sub-culture can play a dominant part in swaying trends. American music, pop and rap and
led to the promotion of American culture around the world to the exclusion of other types of
music. The rise of Bollywood has similarly threatened the popularity of other Indian language
films. Japanese Cultural power is known as ‘Kuru Japan’, and icons of Japanese cultural power
are J-pop, Manga comics, Anime, Sake and Sushi. China is making attempts to promote
Chinese civilizational values abroad, and aspects of Indian culture such as Yoga, Ayurveda,
Bollywood and Indian cuisine are well-known abroad. A more extreme version of cultural
power is cultural imperialism. For example, a large number of television programs in
Scandinavian countries are of American origin, and English words and catch-phrases are
widely used in most European countries. This may lead to a situation where more meritorious
aspects of other cultures are marginalized. Activism may therefore, be necessary to mitigate
the negative impact of a culture on another culture, and to prevent negative traits from
spreading across cultures.
6. Activism may be necessary to discover desirable traits in less dominant cultures that do not
diffuse and to facilitate a process of symbiosis with the objective of long-term welfare of
civilization as a whole.
7. Activism may also be necessary to counter the impact of misinformation and inaccurate
perception of specific issues amongst members of a society that may lead to slower or
undesirable changes in that culture or society.
8. Social Darwinism does not necessarily ensure the quality of change due to the reasons
discussed in this paper. While changes may be largely unpredictable or unanticipated, activism
allows the direction of change to be broadly vetted and ratified without necessarily
compromising on innovation and creativity. Likewise, Social Darwinism does not always
secure the direction of change, and it may at times become necessary to alter the direction of
change to make it compatible with the long-term interests of society.
9. Social Darwinism may not be all-encompassing and may not encompass all facets of cultural
and social change, and may be compromised by other factors such as social inertia. Activism
will allow change to be effected without any unforeseen or unexpected ill-effects associated
with such a change.
10. There may be no guarantee on the speed or the rate of social or cultural change, which in an
overwhelming majority of cases, may be an agonizingly slow process, and activism seeks to
reduce the latency time associated with such change. In some other cases, change may be
relatively faster. “We may consider each generation as a distinct nation.” Thomas Jefferson
once famously said implying that societal change could also be brisk. However, activism seeks
to mitigate the perils and the hazards of a laissez-etre approach, and secure a direction and a
minimum pace of change.
11. Lack of education or poor education infrastructure may be a bottleneck for achieving societal
goals, and activism enables all constraints to be actively identified and removed. Although
most Indian states have claimed universal enrolment or near universal enrolment in schools
over the past one or two decades, the dropout rate is still unacceptably high, the school
infrastructure largely abysmally poor, the teaching methods and pedagogical approaches
outdated, and the teachers badly trained. Among the major Indian states, Kerala had the
highest literacy rate of 93.91% in 2011, while Bihar was at the bottom of the heap at 63.82%.
Many African countries have fared much worse and countries like Burkina Faso and the
Central African Republic still have literacy rates of less than 40%. However, India’s literacy rate
has increased from 9% in 1900 to over 75% today. In the year 1900, 75% of American children
between the ages 14 to 17 were out of school as against less than 10% now. Some progress:
but the quality and reach of education must continue to improve if the full benefits of social
change are to be reaped.
12. Technology may not necessarily disseminate widely, and this constitutes a roadblock to social
development and cultural change. In spite of ambitious schemes like the Digital India which
aim to eventually connect every village seamlessly with high-speed digital connectivity
through broadband highways, digital literacy remains very poor in India, and bandwidth
abysmal. Activism enables constraints to be recognised and actively got rid of. Thus, lack of
awareness and lack of exposure about the latest developments taking place within a cultural
system or other cultural systems may impede progress, and activism can allow for suitable
programs to be instituted to counter this.
13. Poor physical infrastructure may often hamper the permeation and the percolation of change,
and the impact of the lack of physical infrastructure on social and cultural change can likewise
be quantified and efforts be made to eliminate it in the short and long-term. Road
infrastructure still remains poor in many parts of Africa and Asia. However, schemes like the
Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana in India have sought to provide all villages with all-
14. Lack of social infrastructure such as health care and sanitation may stymie progress and
proactive approaches can allow such issues to be identified and addressed. However, India’s
social indicators such as its TFR, IMR, CBR, etc have been steadily improving as indicated by
the NFHS 2, NFHS 3 and NFHS 4.
15. Activism helps tackle the ill-effects of multispeed cultural and social change. Multi-speed
cultural and social change can be witnessed in most societies, particularly in developing
countries. Multi-speed cultural change can be observed across many dimensions e.g. rank,
class, caste, community, social status, educational background, sub-geography, gender, age
or other factors. Anybody who has had an opportunity to study such societies in depth will
appreciate that differences can often be acute, spanning several decades or generations of
16. Linguistic barriers and absence of linguistic empowerment may likewise fetter cultural and
social progress, and all language policies and pedagogical approaches will need to be in line
with the dynamics of language spread as discussed by us in an earlier paper. This will help
formulate better language policies and better language teaching methods which will boost
the competence of society as a whole.
17. Another objective of activism may be to institutionalize formal agents of change (either
internal or external) that can ensure a reasonable magnitude of desirable change and
permanence of efforts. This may include institutions study the society of culture for protracted
periods and attempt to bring about requisite changes.
18. Activism can be used to prepare cultures for different types of change, the reasons for such a
change, and enable members of a society or culture to understand the positive aspects of a
change, and be prepared for negative but inevitable consequences of such a change if any.
19. Activism can also be used to temper the undesirable effects associated with change by seeking
out mitigating or compensating strategies, or rolling out awareness and education
20. Activism may be necessary to achieve the objectives of neo-centrism such as aeternitism,
omnimodism and manumittology. Activism may therefore be necessary to temper aspects of
a culture that are against the interests of humanity as a whole, and to promote the long-term
welfare of humanity. Activism can also reduce the impact of, or help avoid altogether, any
catastrophic consequences, and ensure that humankind has better control over its own
21. Activism may be necessary to counter the effects of cults, ideologies, thought worlds or
undesirable belief systems associated with a group. The definition of cults, ideologies and
thought worlds are discussed in another section of this paper.
22. Activism may be necessary to mitigate the effects associated with cultural lag and the
difference between material and non-material cultures. The term ‘cultural lag’ is used to
describe a state of disequilibrium between material and non-material aspects of a culture.
This term was first coined by Ogburn who explained that cultural lag occurs when different
aspects of a culture change at different rates such that they become mutually incompatible.
Ogburn proposed that the non-material culture (values, beliefs, norms, family, religion)
typically lags behind material culture (technology, means of production output of the
economic system). This is because progress in non-material aspects of a culture is typically
stymied by social or cultural inertia.
23. Activism may be necessary to discourage a yoyo pattern of cultural readjustment or a
pendulum effect, where an action results in an opposite but unequal action. Another action
or a set of actions may be initiated to remedy the latter, and society may not reach a state of
equilibrium within a reasonable period. There are several examples of such behaviour. For
example, a dissatisfaction with, and the eventual refutation of Christian creationism lead to
various movements promoting atheism, and a discontent with the latter may have prompted
popular new age movements, and even the rebirth of religion. Popular new age writers and
books promoting pseudoscience have become popular in recent times, and to most, these
would be extremely disconcerting. Such works promote mutually incompatible viewpoints,
and at this stage a reconciliation between such widely divergent views is nowhere in sight.
Societies may also alternatively swing between xenophobia and xenocentrism to varying
degrees. This happens because a perfectly logical analysis may prove to be elusive and evasive.
This may either be because comprehensive data may be hard to obtain, because people prefer
over-simplifications or because people prefer to push a point of view.
24. Activism can help turn cognitive dissonance into a golden opportunity to bring about positive
and meaningful change. It can also help minimize the potential long-term destructive
tendencies associated with cognitive dissonance.
25. Activism may be necessary to counter the effects of altered behaviour within a group such as
prestige bias and conformist bias especially where such behavioural patterns are not in the
long-term interests of society. A prestige bias arises when members of a cultural group seek
to emulate the elites in that group, or otherwise attempt to act in a manner that boosts his
prestige or standing. A conformist bias arises when a member of a group attempts to act in
conformity with that group’s norms, values and cultural patterns, undermining creativity.
26. Activism may be necessary to induce attitudinal change which can lead to faster sociocultural
27. Activism may be necessary to counter and correct biases and behavioural patterns arising out
of what Germans call ‘Zeitgeist’. This can manifest itself, at times, as aberrant or irrational
28. Activism may yield vital clues that can help refine theories of cultural change and offer lessons
for the future. This may inevitably happen as Anthropologists prepare field notes and maintain
diaries that can provide vital insights for other researchers and for future areas of study.
Limitations of activism
Subjectivity versus objectivity
Subjective issues are those issues which are based on or influenced by personal beliefs, inclinations or
opinions, and can never be expressed in objective terms. The idea of subjectivity arose from the
writings of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant. On the other hand, objective issues are those issues
which are not affected by personal thoughts, biases or opinions, and those which can be expressed in
clear uncertain terms, often black and white. Issues cannot however, always be categorized into
subjective or objective, and any proactive will run the risk of becoming controversial and being
labelled as biased, prejudiced, or lacking cultural sensitivity. It is for this very reason that ‘The ethics
of activism’ must be widely debated among anthropologists. A similar concept is that of cultural
relativism in Anthropology which states that each culture must be understood in its own terms, and
that there are no absolutes, only relative attributes. Even though everything is not outside the realm
of subjectivity, the objective of a Sociologist is to move as many aspects of sociology from the realm
of subjectivity to the realm of objectivity to arrive at quantifications and empirical observations.
A similar concept is that of Cultural bias. Cultural bias refers to the interpretation and judgment of
events, concepts or ideas based on one's cultural backgrounds or cultural experiences. It can also
occur when people mistakenly believe that aspects pertaining to their own culture lack universal
applicability. Different fields of sciences, such as anthropology, sociology and psychology, have made
attempts to compensate for or eliminate cultural bias, but from our perspective this topic is poorly
understood or inadequately tackled. This is why we have repeatedly spoken about the need for the
globalisation of science. In extreme cases, cultural bias may also lead to cognitive bias. A cognitive
bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from rational processes, whereby inferences and
deductions may be drawn in an illogical or a non-standard fashion.
Relativism versus absolutism
Relativism is a doctrine which states that knowledge, truth and morality exist in relation to culture,
society or historical context, and are not absolute. On the other hand, absolutism refers to the belief
in absolute principles in philosophy, politics or religion. Absolutes can seldom be encountered in social
or cultural studies, and activists again may be branded as predisposed and biased. An example is the
over-emphasis given to material progress is some cultures, which is often used as the only yardstick
of progress. Other cultures have often adopted other approaches to progress such as a harmony with
nature or ‘gross national happiness’. A related idea is that of a Cultural universal. This concept was
proposed by Emile Durkheim, George Murdock and others, and refers to an attribute or a trait that
has universal applicability, and can be used to model other cultures. Examples of cultural universals
are food, clothing and shelter. Cultural relativists however reject this concept or maintain that
universals are few in number. On the other hand, a study of cultural variability seeks to understand
the differences between cultures across dimensions and the reasons for such differences.
Anthropological studies are also largely comparative, and traits and attributes are understood chiefly
in relation to one another. Comparisons lead to better typologies, concepts, inferences,
generalizations and theories. Ranking and cross-cultural comparisons are thus often preferred over
absolute rating, and comparative methods were used by many anthropologists such as Kames, E B
Tylor and Fred Eggan.
Nature of truth: what is ideal?
An ideal state is an imaginary perfect state constituting social, cultural, political and intellectual
components that work in perfect harmony with each other and with other elements of the outside
world to ensure a just, fair, equitable, harmonious, stable and a prosperous society that meets the
aspirations and needs of most or all of its citizens.
Plato’s ideal state
Plato’s ideal state was based on the principles of justice and giving a person his due. These ideas were
expounded in this treatise “republic” which was believed to have been written around 380 BC. This is
a work concerning justice, the just city-state and the just man. Plato also discussed various forms of
government such as timocracy (government of people who love rule and honour), oligarchy (rule by a
small number of people), democracy, tyranny and despotism. Plato’s principles of justice included
ideas of harmony, roles of individuals and their fulfilment, discharge of duties, service to society, fair
treatment of friends and enemies etc.
Aristotle’s ideal state
According to Aristotle, an ideal state could be distinguished from other states by the following
1. Supremacy of law
2. Development of the moral qualities of its citizens
3. Private ownership and common use of its property
4. Presence of the division and specialization of labour
5. Presence of cities of moderate size and manageable population
7. Presence of different classes such as agricultural class, leisured class, warlike class, priests
8. Predominance of the middle class
The term ‘Utopia’ was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book “Utopia” and describes an
imaginary community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities and meets
the needs and aspirations of its citizens. We present the concepts of Utopia and Dystopia (even though
they may appear to be a digression) so that they will help in understanding two extreme and mutually
contradictory sets of possibilities, and help in a logical analysis based on the tenets of this paper.
There is no unanimity on the characteristics of a Utopian society, as these tend to vary widely from
author to author. However these are typically taken to include:
1. Free flow of information, independent thought and freedom are encouraged
2. Citizens live harmoniously with each other
3. Citizens live harmoniously with nature
4. Individuality is encouraged even if it challenges establish or widely prevalent norms
5. Innovation are creativity are encouraged
6. There is no resistance to change and the society evolves with the times
7. Citizens have no fear and have the courage of the convictions
8. There is rule of the law
9. Citizens know no want or deprivation and the basic needs and wants of all sections of society
10. The role of government is minimal
11. There is an absence of social evils
A dystopia or a dystopian society is defined as the complete absence of a utopia. The defining
characteristics of a utopia are:
1. Unnaturally large government
2. Government propaganda is used to control its citizens
3. No free flow of information or independent thought
4. No freedom of thought or action
5. No tolerance of dissent
6. Citizens live in constant fear
7. Citizens live in a dehumanized state
Ethics and morals cannot be defined with precision
Ethics may be defined as the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles and involves
systemizing concepts of right and wrong conduct or acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
According to a definition given by Richard William Paul and Richard Elder, ethics are “a set of concepts
and principles that guide us in determining what behaviour helps or harms sentient creatures.” The
Cambridge dictionary states that ethics is used interchangeably with morality, and sometimes it is
used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition or groups of individuals. The
term ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethikos’ which means relating to one’s character.
Morals may be defined as conduct based on an adherence to a sanctioned or accepted code of what
is right and what is wrong. While morals and ethics are often used interchangeably, there are subtle
differences between the two. Morals are typically individual-oriented and are derived from the beliefs
of a person. On the other hand, ethics are typically driven by a society’s value system. Morals are
typically more subjective and individual-centred that ethics. However, it is a fact that morals are
impacted by a society’s ethics.
Thus, both morals and ethics involve some amount of subjectivity, may elude consensus, and a
proactive may risk pushing a point of view that does not have widespread acceptability within a
cultural group, or is otherwise considered inappropriate.
Disturbing communal harmony
Another problem with activism is that it may disturb communal harmony and the society’s tranquillity,
peace and quiet by prompting externally-induced changes. It may promote changes that are not
warranted in a given circumstance, or persuade changes when a society is ill-prepared or ill-equipped
for them. It may lead to a state of disequilibrium and compromise that society’s homeostasis. Thus,
the ethics of inducing changes directly and indirectly from the outside may be debatable and
May interfere with personal choice or freedom
Another criticism of activism is that it may interfere with personal choice or freedom, and this by itself
may be unethical under some circumstances. For example, a campaign to wean people away from
colas to healthier drinks by exaggerating the effects of colas on people’s health and using a heavy-
handed approach or by pressuring governments to adopt an unfair, differential tax structure may be
misconstrued as an impingement of personal liberty.
Inability to induce change
Another criticism of activism is that the ability to induce systemic change in a predictable fashion may
not always be borne out empirically. Cultural systems may be averse or relatively immune to change
especially when directed from outside, and this can lead to a futility of well-intentioned efforts.
Disruptions in the form of technology or any other unanticipated changes
Another criticism of activism may be that unanticipated and unexpected disruptions in the form of
technology or any other unanticipated changes can lead to a premature and untimely end to all well-
meaning attempts to promote or force-induce change.
Activism may have limited applicability in developed societies which have achieved a high level of
One more criticism is that activism may also have relatively limited applicability or appeal in developed
societies like the USA which have already achieved a high level of social and cultural development,
cohesion or sophistication and have relatively limited scope to grow and to improve.
One way of addressing the drawbacks of activism may be to adopt this approach selectively, only in
cases where it is warranted or required, or justifying exclusions to this approach on a case to case
basis. Another tactic may be to adopt a democratic method, and to involve as many stakeholder-
representatives as possible in the process of change. This are likely to counter some of the perils
associated with such an approach.
How changes can be introduced
Change can often be brought about through government intervention. Government intervention
refers to any action on measures undertaken by the government or government agencies to interfere,
complement or nullify the decisions made by other individuals, groups or individuals concerning social
or economic matters. This can happen by the following means:
- Governmental support for various social change programs
- Better inclusivity through universal education and better quality of education
- Strengthening the legal framework and other institutions that can accelerate the pace of
- Provision of better infrastructure including physical infrastructure
- Promoting social inclusivity through removal of social ills and brining about social and
- Technology-enablement by ensuring that the benefits of modern technology are widely
Changes can also be introduced as a result of collaboration between two or more governments. These
can be a national government and a state government, a state government and a local government,
or two or more national governments.
Change can often be internally-generated through collective action or through the appointment of
internal change agents. Of late, an attempt is being made to reform Islam from within in the context
of the twenty-first century, and an awareness in this regard is being generated by Ex-Muslims such as
Ali Sina, Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hinduism, just like Christianity, has undergone meaningful
and positive changes in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries through the efforts of Raja Ram
Mohan Roy and others.
Intervention by third-parties
Intervention can also happen due to efforts by anthropologists, private agencies and NGO’s or Non-
governmental organizations. In the recent past, NGO’s have mushroomed in different parts of India,
claiming to provide different types of social services. Examples of NGO’s in India include Akshayapatra
which aims to feed schoolchildren in India thereby increasing school attendance, Udaan, an
organization which helps destitute children, Helpage India, an organization which seeks to improve
the lives of the elderly, and Pratham, an organization which provides education to slum children of
Collaborative and participative approaches
Collaborative and participative approaches can also be used with a great degree of success, and this
may involve a collaboration between members of a cultural group and outsiders. This approach has
worked admirably in the past and had helped bring about social change in India in the Eighteenth and
Degree of activism
Activism can take on many different forms. These include direct action and disruptive techniques such
as marches, protests, picketing, sit-ins, hartals, gheraos, fasts, strikes, reverse strikes, civil
disobedience, boycotts, organized protests etc.
These actions constitute different forms of forced
or induced change. Some other types of changes can be more subtle. Examples of these are prodding
and nudging, leading by precept or example, or simply creating awareness. In some cases, a cultural
group is merely allowed to be exposed to other cultures with the hope that change will follow. At the
Methods of Non-violent action Gene Sharp, Institute of Social Research, Norway
other end of the spectrum is the laissez-etre approach, the let live approach or the non-action
approach which does not constitute activism at all.
Culture and its components
Each culture has subcultures
Subcultures may be defined on the basis of ethnicity, social classes, occupation, religion, geography
etc, or on a combination of one or more of these factors.
Each Culture or sub-culture has subcategories or subclasses
A list of standard subcategories or subclasses can be constructed and can be attempted to be used
across cultures. This list of subsystems can be expanded as more and more cultures are analysed, and
the expanded list can then be used for a restudy of previously assessed cultures. This will eventually
and ideally generate a list of standard and universal subclasses.
Examples of subcategories within a culture include language, symbols, religion, music, art, drama,
cinema, folklore, marriage, cuisine, other aspects of tradition etc. Culture also typically consists of
material items such as cars, trucks which etc. form an inalienable part of every culture. While building
a taxonomy, all dimensions of a culture such as values, norms, philosophies, principles, dogmas, ideas,
beliefs, attitudes, symbols, traditions, ideologies, and artefacts should be included.
Each subsystem has components
For a meaningful and a structured taxonomy, we propose that subcategories be further sub-divided
into components. These will be analogous to various classes under each subcategory. For example,
we can have a multitude of components under language such as language policy, teaching methods,
teacher competence, student evaluation etc. Under cuisine, we can have focus on health, focus on
hygiene, nutritional balance etc. Material items include cars, trucks, tractors, locomotives, aeroplanes,
rockets, computers, telephones, mobile phones etc. While identifying components, both
comprehensiveness and atomicity need to be taken into account. In other words, components should
be defined in such a way that no further division is possible.
Each component has attributes
Each component can have a list of attributes. Each attribute should be capable of being assessed either
quantitatively or qualitatively. Attributes for our purpose, may also be known as qualities or
characteristics. Attributes can be adjudged by means of suitably-designed questionnaires or other
evaluation methods such as self-assessment or third-party evaluation. Attributes should be identified
at a granular level such that questionnaires can be efficiently generated from them. Attributes can
also be rated in absolute or relative terms which will result either in absolute ratings or rankings.
Relative methods stem from the concept of cultural relativism. According to this concept, no culture
is innately superior or inferior to the other. Each culture has its own uniqueness, each shaped by its
own history. Attributes may also include intangible and unquantifiable attributes, or those that cannot
be quantified with precision or certainty. A.L Kroeber categorized aspects of culture into two broad
categories i.e. ethos and eidos. Ethos refer to the values of a culture such as aspirations and beliefs,
and these must also be included in an analysis. C. Kluckhohn also differentiated between the explicit
and implicit values of a culture. Explicit values of a culture were those that could be easily perceived
and expressed. However, implicit values included elements such as motivations and impulses. As per
our approach an analysis of attributes leads to the identification of ‘Cultural traits’.
Comparative methods can also be used as such methods have been common in Anthropological
studies from the time of E B Tylor in 1889. The ‘Salient features’ associated with each cultures can also
be identified before carrying out a more detailed exercise as this will have a bearing of the taxonomy
arrived at, and will throw hints on what areas to focus on. A high level assessment of the Strengths,
Weaknesses and constraints of a given culture may be carried out as a precursor to a more detailed
assessment. Likewise, third-party assessment reports may also be scrutinized and utilized as a pre-
cursor to a more detailed assessment. Preliminary and unstructured ‘gut feel’ approaches may also
have some utility, but must be subsequently vetted and ratified with empirical data. Carrying out
fieldwork to experience a culture first-hand would be an essential pre-requisite and mandatory.
Fieldwork has been known from the days of Franz Boas and Alfred C. Haddon who carried out
expeditions to British Columbia and Torres straits respectively. Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, A.R
Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard also carried out extensive fieldwork. These expeditions were in
stark contrast to the works of other Anthropologists such are James Frazer, which were based on
secondary sources of information. This is not however, to discount the role of armchair
anthropologists who often combine data from multiple sources into cogent and coherent hypotheses.
A.C Haddon (1934) acknowledged the role and the contributions of both fieldworkers and armchair
anthropologists to anthropology. Methods used in fieldwork have been many, but one of the more
common techniques is the participant-observation method which was popularized by Bronislow
It would also be necessary to identify ideal cultural traits that can be applied across cultures. However,
actual behaviour observed on the field may be at variance with expected or ideal behaviour, and it
would be necessary to carry out a gap assessment between the two and perform a root cause analysis
for the deviations. This would be followed by an action plan for remediation and eventual course-
Some traits can be sub-divided into ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, but some cannot, and it would be necessary
for any researcher to keep this in mind. Neo-centrist approaches can be used to identify the ‘desirable’
and the ‘undesirable’, but looking at issues from a long-term perspective, or analysing the long-term
consequences of any proposition.
An analysis may then be carried out of the traits with low ranking, followed by a root cause analysis
examining the underlying causes of a low rating or ranking. This analysis must then be understood in
conjunction with the ‘Enablers’ and ‘Core drivers’ specified below. An alternative approach may be to
assess the attributes at two different points in time to assess the rate of change. Strategies to augment
this can then be put in place.
The Ten Enablers as per our approach to cultural change
The following are the ten enablers as per our approach which we refer to as the “Proactive-interactive-
symbiotic approach to long-term cultural change”. These can also be referred to as facilitators and are
necessary to varying degrees if change has to be orchestrated and effected, and the internal synergies
of any society have to be harnessed.
1. The strength of governmental institutions, the legal framework etc.
2. Technological empowerment
3. Educational systems and language policy
4. The cults, ideologies, thought worlds, and belief systems associated with a culture
5. Economic policy and economic infrastructure
6. Social inclusivity and strength of social institutions
7. Physical infrastructure
8. An assessment must also be made of a culture’s value system
9. Harmony with nature
10. Social security
1. The strength of governmental institutions, the legal framework etc.
The state is a political entity which seeks to regulate society by means of a government which
has political legitimacy and administrative powers over a specified geographical area. The
government which is an agency of the state, exercises legal authority over its citizens at
national, state and local levels.
In most countries, governments formed by political parties formulate policies, laws, and
programmes. The government typically consists of a legislature, executive and judiciary. The
legislature enacts laws that are applicable within a given jurisdiction. The executive formulates
policies and programmes to administer the country in accordance with the laid-down and
enacted laws. The judiciary safeguards the laws and protect the rights of citizens. The
government also plays other key roles such as military and defence.
Government also formulates policy measures from time to time. These attempt to govern and
regulate different aspects of society, and define a broad set of parameters that can be used
for the welfare of its citizens. A public policy is a law or rule that is enforced by any level of
government, whether central, state, or local. Policy has a clearly-defined purpose, and is
arrived at after extensive deliberations. This is arrived at after executing a series of well-
defined steps such as identifying objectives, proposing measures, discussion and debates with
various stakeholders, making suitable modifications after deliberations, and implementation.
Government policy which also includes social policy is often translated into or expressed by
means of legislation which may be in the form of statutes or decrees. These are collectively
referred to as law. Various sociologists have attempted definitions of law. According to a
definition provided by Anthony Giddens, "Laws are norms defined and enforced by
Governments." According to MacIver and Page, "Law is the body of rules which are
recognised, interpreted and applied to particular situations by the Courts of the State." Max
Weber’s definition is as follows: "Law is an order, the validity of which is guaranteed by the
probability that deviation will be met by physical or psychic sanction by a staff specially
empowered to carry out this Sanction". Green Arnold defined law as follows: "Law is a more
or less systematic body of generalised rules, balanced between the fiction of performance and
the fact of change, governing specifically defined relationship and situations and employing
force or the threat of force in defined and limited ways." According to Duguit, laws are "the
rules of conduct normal men know they must observe in order to preserve and promote the
benefits derived from life in society." Most government policies and expenditures are directly
or indirectly targeted at improving social indicators and leading to social change, even though
the claimed objectives may be different.
According to the World Bank, (World Bank, 2005) social policy is defined as follows:
“A more holistic approach to social policy.. would seek to promote policies, institutions and
programs that balance a concern for equity and justice with the concern for economic
growth.…Social policy is defined as a series of public policies designed to promote social
development… We envision social development as a natural complement to economic
development …While there is lack of consensus on the definition of social development it is
generally understood to comprise of a set of objectives including social inclusion, sustainable
livelihoods, gender equity, increased voice and participation.”
According to Mkandawire’s (2001):
“Social policy should be conceived of as involving overall and prior concerns with social
development, and as a key instrument that works in tandem with economic policy to ensure
equitable and socially sustainable development…I define social policy as collective
interventions directly affecting transformation in social welfare, social institutions and social
Law and social progress are tightly interlinked. The interrelationship between law and social
change can be both direct and indirect. The interrelation is often direct because legislation
may be necessary to bring about social change. For example, the caste system for was formally
abolished in India since 1949. The Civil Rights movement led to new laws being enacted, and
likewise the Apartheid regime was dismantled in South Africa in the 1990’s. Social change can
be introduced by means of proactive measures such as affirmative action, laws to prevent
discrimination or social segregation, welfare measures such as social security etc. examples of
legislations that have been enacted in India are prevention of child marriage, child labour,
compulsory education etc. Countries or societies that did not enact legislation to bring about
social progress inevitably floundered and stagnated, or failed to curb social evils.
2. Technological empowerment
Science and Technology have played a key role in the development of human civilization.
Francis Bacon acknowledged the crucial role played by science in social and economic
progress. One of the earliest human discoveries was that of fire which took place several
hundreds of thousands of years ago, according to some sources. The invention of copper, and
later bronze, made possible the Chalcolithic age. The invention of full-fledged writing in
Mesopotamia and Egypt lead to the emergence of full-blown civilizations. The invention of
the printing press by Gutenberg in 1450 led to the exponential growth of knowledge as the
common man was able to reap the benefits of the spread of knowledge. The Industrial
revolution led to a quantum change in man’s way of life, as many new technologies were
developed. Towards the end of the Nineteenth century, and even later, many nations made
school attendance mandatory, and illiteracy declined considerably - first in the developed
world, and later in the developing world. Other inventions of the twentieth century such as
the automobile, the aeroplane and the radio led to rapid social and cultural change in many
societies. This was joined later by the television, and even later by the internet. The latter
facilitated globalization and is a classic case of how technology can play a major role in the
lives of millions of ordinary people. Mobile phones are now ubiquitous around the world and
even India has around 800 million of them. The examples cited above are all major and game-
changing technologies. In addition to these, minor technologies are constantly being invented,
and most of these are improvisations of existing technologies or add-on technologies. A
theory known as the ‘Theory of technological determinism’ even states that technology is the
biggest determinant of social change. According to this theory, technologies overwhelm
societies to such a large extent that societies eventually adapt to the changes brought about
by the new technology. A society can even feel lost or become severely handicapped if these
technologies are taken away or decommissioned. A similar theory was proposed by Ogburn
(1964) who saw technology as the fundamental driver of social change. He argued that
technology-driven change came through a three-pronged process, namely invention,
discovery and diffusion. However, in our view technology must lead to the channelization of
useful information for it to be considered a core enabler.
3. Educational systems and language policy
The role of education, particularly qualitative education in ushering in social and cultural
widely acknowledged today, and can make a vital and a fundamental difference between a
progressive society and a mediocre one. Education is a formalized institution through which a
society’s children are imparted functional and technical knowledge in different areas of study,
and social and cultural norms. Even though all countries possess some form of an education
system, these systems vary greatly in quality, structure and reach. A country’s success greatly
depends on the amount of money spent on education, and education can be used to
emancipate the downtrodden and promote social inclusivity.
Poor countries are often unable to spend adequate sums of money on education or the
universalisation of education, and this has hampered their economic progress and social
equality greatly. Education was characteristically neglected in many countries such as India,
and literacy rates climbed upwards only very slowly. However, since the 1990’s India began
to focus or primary and secondary education with new programs and schemes such as the
Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). The results have been thus far been impressive, and old mores
and beliefs are rapidly being demolished even in semi-rural and rural regions. The challenge
now however is to focus on qualitative improvement and modernize the antiquated
pedagogical methods to attune it to serve the needs of the Twenty-first century. Most
education systems still do not impart or reinforce the skills that are mandatory today, and
there is often little or no correlation between the skills that they are taught and the skills that
they need. Learning by rote is still common in many countries and there is little awareness on
how knowledge should be applied. No measures are taken to bring out the innovativeness
and creativity of children or to discover foster their talents. Textbooks are often behind the
curve, and pedagogical methods are outdated. As an example, poetry and archaic English
literature is mostly taught to students, when what they need is functional and spoken English.
What is also lacking are empirical studies on how different types of educational systems and
the quality of teaching impact children differently, mould their perception of the world and
equip them to face society. Another ongoing debate in India, particularly at the state level is
the role of English and the mother tongue. While the pros and cons of all approaches need to
be debated threadbare, solutions are often ideologically-driven. We have dwelt on the topic
of Hindi chauvinism at great length in our earlier papers.
There are also no comprehensive or satisfactory theories to explain the interrelationship
between first and second-language acquisition (in monolingual and multilingual societies) and
economic and social development. What explains the success of the people of the state of
Gujarat many of whom have poor or non-existent English language skills, in an English-
dominated India? Did their legendary entrepreneurial skills make a difference here? Why do
not people of the state however set up hi-tech industries like computer chip design and
manufacture? What are the primary and secondary language skills required for different
spheres of economic activity.
Literacy rates vary widely from country to country. According to 2015 UNESCO estimates, the
world literacy rate was 86.3%. Countries like Afghanistan were at the rock bottom with 38.3%.
India’s literacy rate was just 72.1%, while most developed nations reported universal literacy
or close to universal literacy.
4. The cults, ideologies, thought worlds, and belief systems associated with a culture
For the purpose of our definition, a religion may also be construed as an ideology. Cults and
ideologies are also informal or semi-formal institutions forming a part of society. An institution
may be defined as “established forms or conditions of procedure characteristic of group
activity.” (McIver and Page). According to H.E Barnes, “Institutions represent the social
structure and the machinery through which human society organizes, directs and executes
the multifarious activities required to serve human needs.” The chief characteristics of
institutions are their universality across societies, presence of standardized procedures or
norms, presence of controlling mechanism to control society or its members, relative
permanence, abstraction, and presence of symbolic traits.
A cult may be defined as a system of religious veneration directed towards a particular figure
or object. It may also be defined as a small religious group typically (typically unorthodox,
spurious, in some cases fraudulent, and often with questionable moral stances). It may also
be characterized by a great but irrational devotion to a person or cause, typically accompanied
by a frenzy or fervour, usually stigmatized or looked down upon by society and not forming
an integral part of it.
They chief characteristics of a cult are:
1. Blind and unwavering commitment towards the beliefs, principles and practices of the
movement, which are often taken to be the gospel truth.
2. Over-enthusiasm towards, and often hero-worship of the leader of the movement who
may often be given an exalted status, and may be projected as being beyond reproach,
accountability or critical scrutiny even by bona fide authorities.
3. The leader or the leadership dictates or prescribes how its members should think, act and
feel. Often, every aspect of members lives are sought to be monitored or regulated.
4. The group expects some commitment in the form of time or money from its members.
5. The leadership attempts to polarize members from non-members by creating an “us”
versus “them” feeling, and often tries to use this divide to ramp up membership.
6. Rival cults and movements are looked down upon, and even mocked at. In certain cases,
they may even be actively targeted.
7. Dissent, questioning, non-conformity and even individualism is discouraged and is often
harshly put down.
8. There is a kind of one-sidedness in all endeavours and there is a failure to take
contradictory evidence into account
9. Contradiction with the tenets of mainstream science which is often looked down upon or
ridiculed. Often an attempt is made to distance the members of the cult from mainstream
science and mainstream society through constant brainwashing.
10. Unsupportable assumptions and non-applicability of core values, assumptions and beliefs
across space and time
11. Promotion of violence in some form or promotion of wrong or non-mainstream values.
12. Tendency to induce cognitive dissonance among their followers. Cognitive dissonance
refers to mental discomfort or psychological stress experienced by a person who holds
incompatible beliefs and ideas.
The word “Ideology” owes its existence to the French word “idéologie” which was coined at
the time of the French Revolution, when it was introduced by a philosopher, A.-L.-C. Destutt
de Tracy, as a short name for what he called his “science of ideas”. Crudely explained, it may
be referred to a collection of beliefs that are usually not fully tested or lack universal
applicability or acceptance. These also generally conflict with the idea of value-neutrality.
Ideologies archetypally possess paradoxes both internal and external that tend to pre-empt
their demise and bring them in conflict with the world at large.
David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used in
different periods in time, these being:
1. As a collection of ideas with rigid content, usually normative, prescriptive and non-
2. As the form or internal logical structure that ideas have within a set and may not be
compatible with external principles;
3. By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
4. By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization without currency outside
5. As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
6. As the locus of social interaction.
According to Willard A. Mullins an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:
1. It must have power over cognition and must seek to control or influence individuals
2. It must be capable of guiding and altering one's evaluations and patterns of thinking
3. It must provide guidance towards action or goad people towards committing actions; and
4. It must be comprised of logically coherent beliefs that hold within an entity.
Terry Eagleton provides some further definitions of ideology as follows:
1. A body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class;
2. Ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;
3. False ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;
4. Systematically distorted communication;
5. That which offers a position for a subject;
6. Forms of thought motivated by social interests;
7. Identity thinking;
8. Socially necessary illusion;
9. The conjuncture of discourse and power;
Ideology and Political Behavior David M. Minar Midwest Journal of Political Science Vol. 5, No. 4 (Nov.,
1961), pp. 317-331
On the Concept of Ideology in Political Science Willard A. Mullins American Political Science review June
Ideology An Introduction Terry Eagleton Verso 1991
10. The medium in which conscious social actors make sense of their world;
11. Action-oriented sets of beliefs;
12. The confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality;
13. Semiotic closure;
14. The indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social
15. The process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality.
According to Pitirim A. Sorokin
, ideological systems cab be subdivided into:
1. Main ideological systems
There are integrated systems of science, philosophy, religion, ethics, law, fine arts and the
system of oral and written language. These include all systems of philosophy like the
philosophy of the Upanishads, of Plato, of Aristotle, of Immanuel Kant, of Hegel etc. the
components of an ideological systems are tightly integrated and changes to one component
lead to cascading changes in other components.
2. Combined ideological systems
There are several examples of combined ideological systems. For example, a capitalistic
system may be supported by other kinds of economic and social theories which bestow upon
them an additional power. Another parallel here is core Marxist ideology and Marxist
historiography. Such ideological systems may also be known as composite ideological systems.
3. Ideological super systems
Ideological super systems are vast combined systems which are aggregations of several major
ideological systems which may include economic, political, social and religious systems.
To these, we add the following:
1. Derived and auxiliary ideological systems
Derived and auxiliary ideologies are those which are essentially derived from a main ideology,
and seek to add further meaning or provide additional clarification.
2. Influenced cultural systems
Influenced cultural systems refer to those cultures which are influenced by an ideology that
evolved in a parent culture. An example here is the adoption of Islamic cultures and values in
Indonesia and Malaysia despite these cultures Non-Islamic roots and their geographical non-
proximity to other Islamic counties.
3. Disparate ideological systems
Disparate ideological systems are those ideological systems which are mostly unrelated to one
other, and share very few, if any common traits or attributes. Examples of such ideologies are
Buddhism and Jainism in India. However, such seemingly disparate ideological systems may
possess indirect relationships, and may often have influenced each other indirectly.
Society, Culture and Personality: Their structure and dynamics, New York and London, Harper and Brothers
4. Implicit ideological systems
Implicit ideological systems are those ideological systems whose tenets, principles and
operating procedures are not formally laid down or defined. Their principles are however,
tacitly acknowledged by their adherents or followers, and they possess a fair degree of
tangibility and palpability.
A thought world, on the other hand, may be defined as the world as seen in terms of the
attitudes, belief systems, assumptions etc. of a given society or people. In this context,
Bennett and Bennett (2004) distinguish between an objective culture, which refers to the
institutional aspects of any culture and a subjective culture which focuses on the worldview
of a society’s people, and influences a thought world.
Ideology and cultural change are inseparably interlinked, and there are many theories to
explain the interrelationship between the two. Ideologies may slow down the pace of
sociocultural change and may act as impediments to paradigm attitudinal shifts. There are
also many theories to explain institutional change. (From our perspective, an Ideology may
also be defined as an institution)
On the other hand, religion may be defined as a system advocating or necessitating the belief
in and worship of a superhuman entity known as a God. It may also be defined as a specific
system of faith or worship or an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and
practices. According to Durkheim, “religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative
to sacred things, uniting into a single, moral community all those who adhere to those beliefs
and practices.” The chief defining features of a religion are beliefs in supernatural beings,
sacred places, objects or times, mandating or recommending prayer, worship or rituals,
prescription of moral codes, defining norms for conformity and an attempt to alter reality or
create an alternative worldview for its practitioners. The world’s leading religions include
Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism etc.
Some functionalists and structuralists emphasize the positive aspects of a religion such as its
ability to maintain harmony and serve the needs of society. However, some conflict theorists
believe that religion promotes disharmony, inequality and is not in the interests of society as
Institutions and institutional change
In our view, religion is a type of ideology, and an ideology is a type of mostly formal or semi-
formal institution. The most popular and commonly cited definition of an institution is the one
provided by Douglass North. According to him, “Institutions are the rules of the game in a
society, or more formally, are the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction
along with their enforcement arrangements.” (North, 1990: 3). “Institutions reduce
uncertainty by providing a structure to everyday life and include both formal rules such as
laws and constitutions, and informal constraints such as conventions and norms.” (North,
1990:4) Most other sociologists view institutions as a set of formal or semi-formal rules which
seek to govern various aspects of society, and which are essentially devised by humans for
their own benefit or application. We may examine some theories of institutional change here
that serve to substantiate our proposals here:
Religion and Science: Historical and contemporary issues Ian G. Barbour HarperOne, 1997
Veblen’s (1899) evolutionary theory of institutional change proposes “habits of thought”,
where habits are ways of thinking and acting. According to Veblen, institutions are “in
substance, prevalent habits of thought with respect to particular relations and particular
functions of the individual and of the community” (ibid: 190), and “the evolution of social
structure is a process of natural selection of institutions”
Another theory is Roland’s theory of institutional change. Roland (2004, 110) distinguishes
between institutions depending on whether they change slowly and continuously or rapidly
and irregularly. “He termed the former “slow-moving” and the latter “fast-moving”
institutions. Culture, values, beliefs, and social norms, can be classified as a slow-moving
institutions (Roland, 2004, 110). Institutional change is an interaction between slow-moving
institutions and fast-moving institutions such as political and legal institutions (Roland, 2004,
The crying need of the hour is to formulate a comprehensive theories of ideologies, as for the
purpose of our study, ideology includes religion and is a particular type of institution.
However, there are many well-known non-religious ideologies such as communism. An ideal
theory should include the following components, and should be built on empirical data from
historical studies and an analysis, for example, of the reform in Christianity, reformist
movements in Hinduism, the French revolution, the Russian revolution, the Collapse of
a) The underlying factors responsible for the creation of institutions, their character, and
their constituents. The relationship between the ideology and the society which birthed
them should also be explored. The ideology should also be explored as a causal effect of
circumstances prevalent in a given society with the objective of theorizing, generalizing
b) The factors responsible for the popularization and entrenchment of inchoate institutions
c) The nature of social and cultural change brought about by such institutions in various
context and situations.
d) The extent to which social and cultural change is stymied by such institutions in various
context and situations.
e) The underlying factors responsible for change or non-change of institutions and ideologies
and the bearing on the societies that produced them.
f) The causes and mechanisms leading to the termination of these institutions. This includes
(a) Internal dissonance within these institutions (b) Incompatibility with other institutions
(c) Incompatibility with the society itself (d) Incompatibility with human nature and the
human spirit (e) Incompatibility with natural and ecological laws (f) Incompatibility with
g) The mode of termination which includes (a) Upheaval and revolutions (b) Cataclysmic
collapse (c) Slow decline (d) Reform (e) Change introduced through external agency.
h) The interrelationship between the mode of termination of an institution and its inherent
A Theory of Endogenous Institutional Change Avner Greif and David D. Laitin Stanford University, American
Political Science Review, Vol. 98, No. 4 November 2004
Comparing Theories of Institutional Change: Christopher Kingston Amherst College, Amherst,
Massachusetts, USA Gonzalo Caballero University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain
i) A study of endogenous and exogenous factors accelerating change of institutions or
j) A study of endogenous and exogenous factors delaying or preventing change of
institutions or ideologies.
k) A study of endogenous and exogenous factors accelerating the decline, decadence and
eventual demise of ideologies.
l) A study of endogenous and exogenous factors prolonging or preventing the decline and
demise or ideologies.
m) A study of how ideologies can be modified or altered through proactive measures.
n) A scholarly study of how ideologies can alter human behaviour or perception and lead
especially to undesirable behavioural change.
o) A scholarly study on the interplay between ideology and social and cultural change, and
how the former inevitably and inexorably impacts the latter.
p) A scholarly study on ideology and economic progress and the interrelationship between
q) A formal study of internal and external paradoxes in institutions, and their compatibility
with other institutions, and how these paradoxes can shape or alter their own success and
survivability. We would like to define different types of paradoxes in this context (a)
Paradoxes within the institution and its subtypes (b) Paradoxes between the institution
and its parent culture (c) Paradoxes between the institution and other institutions (d)
Paradoxes between the institution and other cultures (e) Paradoxes between the parent
culture and other cultures leading to a destabilization of the institution. (e) Paradoxes
between two sub-cultures leading to destabilization of the institution. This would include
listing paradoxes, rating their severity and ranking them. Paradoxes in this case may be
termed structural dissonances.
r) A formal study of how other factors can ensure success of failure of these institutions,
prolong their existence, or precipitate their downfall e.g. Maintenance of power through
brute force techniques, maintenance of power through obfuscation of knowledge, use of
allure, use of comatose-inducing techniques, use of a carrot and stick approach, making a
claim that the ideology is a solution of another societal problem, promotion of hatred
against another group or community, using the drawbacks or lacunae of another
institution as a source of strength.
s) Paradoxes and their impact on a culture’s equilibrium or homeostasis, and their impact
on human culture and civilization as a whole.
Per our approach, paradoxes will inevitably be left by the wayside, and ideologies will only
survive in the long-term if they meet the all the tenets of Neo-centrism discussed in this paper
including the principles of Aeternitism and Omnimodism. Ideologies with deep-rooted and
fundamental paradoxes will then be left to bite the dust. Their demise may be prolonged,
through artificial methods, but disappear, they certainly will.
5. Economic policy and economic infrastructure
Economic policy can play a major role in social development. This is because sustained
economic growth leads to better standard of living and improved infrastructure. It also leads
to a reduction of poverty and can play a major role in solving social problems.
The type of economic system followed can also have a bearing on social change. There are
different types of economic systems in place, and these are explained below:
Capitalism is a common economic system that is based on private ownership of capital and
the means of production. The state plays a minor role in the economy, and is restricted to
legislation and the provision of infrastructure. Individuals have a high degree of economic
freedom with minimal interference from the government. An extreme form of capitalism is
laissez- faire economy which is characterized by no government role. Capitalism in some form
or the other has existed from time immemorial, even though the term itself may be of
relatively recent origin.
Communism is an economic system in which the state has collective ownership of the means
of production and distribution. In socialism, the natural resources and the means of producing
goods and services are collectively owned, and there is no private ownership. Communism
was proposed by Karl Marx as a reaction to what he believed were the evils of capitalism. Karl
Marx believed that private property was the root of all evil, and had to be abolished. Even
though Communist societies made impressive strides in alleviating poverty, the merits and
demerits of capitalism and communism are a matter of debate. Communism collapsed
worldwide more or less by the 1990’s, and communism is seen today as an aberration, and as
a God that failed. This does not robotically exonerate us from the lacunae of most capitalistic
As of today, most countries have adopted some form of Capitalism as a basis for their
economies. However policies and the institutional frameworks vary widely from country to
country, and policies are often shaped by legacies, politicians’ proclivities and social and
economic traditions. A formal analysis however continues to elude most policy makers and
dogma, hunches or tradition are pervasive in economic decision making. Capitalists refuse to
acknowledge their own failings or the relative advantages of communism in some domains.
Consensus on optimal generalized and specialized economic models eludes us. In the USA,
some Republicans are against social security and minimum wage enactments. Are such
stances preceded by structured and comprehensive analyses? A comprehensive assessment
of different economic modes is lacking to this very day leave alone the generation of new
ones. Theorizing is a must, but it must be followed by testing with empirical data, and
eventually implementation. This can make a quantum of a difference to human welfare and
destiny, but may require time and most certainly a generation change.
6. Social inclusivity and strength of social institutions
Social inclusivity refers to the degree of inclusion or marginalized communities in the
socioeconomic development process. Social inclusivity has been compromised in several
societies, due to the presence of social classes, the presence of other forms of social
stratification, the presence of elites, and multispeed social and cultural change. Developing
countries and less developing countries usually show a lower level of social inclusivity than
The Gini index is often used to represent the wealth distribution among the citizens of a
country. According to some studies, the inequality between rich countries and poor countries
increased steadily till the 1990’s, but since then the position has been somewhat reversed.
Many developing countries also likewise improved their score due to the rapid rise of middle
classes and declines in the number of poor.
Social stratification: An introduction by James Littleton: George, Allen and Unwin ltd, 1972
Multi-speed cultural and social change
Multi-speed cultural and social change which arises from social differentiation can be sub-
divided into two broad categories, i.e. Inter-cultural differences and intra-cultural differences.
Multi-speed cultural change arises due to various intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and these are
sometimes known as a society’s metabolic rate.
Inter-cultural differences refer to differences across cultures, say between Culture A and
Culture B. This would again need to be compartmentalized into and analysed across
dimensions, for example education, social infrastructure or physical infrastructure.
Intra-cultural differences refer to differences between various components of a culture, say
within sub-culture A and sub-culture B. Intra-cultural differences can arise across the following
a) Differentiation by geography
b) Differentiation by sub-culture
c) Differentiation by class, rank or social group
d) Differentiation by gender
e) Differentiation by age
f) Differentiation by level of education
g) Urban-rural differences
h) Differentiation by religious affiliation
i) Differentiation by material and non-material aspects of a culture
In our view, the following are the common stages involved in bridging inter-cultural gaps and
intra-cultural gaps. These stages would be common to both internally-induced changes and
externally-induced changes and would work commendably in both scenarios.
1. Stage One: Generation of awareness of other cultures or sub-cultures and positive
aspects of other cultures or sub-cultures
2. Stage Two: Overcoming Social Inertia
3. Stage Three: Setting the ball rolling
4. Stage Four: Feedback, achieving dynamic re-equilibrium and further action
Typically, any culture is at or between any of the four stages enunciated above at any given
point in time. The nature of the proactive measures to be taken depend on which stage the
culture or sub-culture is, and the researcher must tweak and hone his strategies accordingly
to reach the goal post. In these days of globalization and the ready availability of information,
most cultures or sub-cultures would have easily crossed stage one. Proactive measures would
however be required to ensure that the goals are met without jeopardizing social stability,
harmony or the society’s dynamic equilibrium. According to Convergence theorists, this is a
natural process as societies and economies develop.
Identifying areas of Cultural lag
Cultural lag typically denotes the difference in evolution and maturity between material and
non-material aspects of a culture. Cultural lag arises due to cultural inertia, over-reliance on
tradition, lack of social infrastructure, or several other factors. Identifying cultural lag would
be a crucial component of proactive change.
From a Neo-centrist perspective, a society is said to be in equilibrium when there are no
internal and external paradoxes of any kind, or any paradoxes across space or time. Paradoxes
are also inextricably interwoven with the idea of cognitive dissonance, and Leon Festinger and
others have proposed that humans seek out psychological consistency to not only to thrive,
flourish and prosper but also to survive. Thus, cognitive dissonance and paradoxes are
antithetical to human nature and progress, and as such humans actively seek to eliminate
them, either consciously or sub-consciously. Some work has already been done in the field,
including the attempted extension of TRIZ in the field of social sciences. The elimination of
paradoxes may be difficult to achieve in the short-term, but an action plan must nonetheless
be worked out to achieve it in the long-term. Given its potential to tread upon and offend
human sensibilities, this may be a task easier said than done. However, multitudinous
possibilities may present themselves, if context-specific studies are initiated, and workable
proposals and propositions formulated accordingly.
In addition, we may also have the following types of paradoxes arising from multispeed
a) Clash between two sub-cultures within a culture: This may arise due to a multi-speed
cultural change (the difference between the rate of cultural change observed between
b) Clash between two or more cultures arising due to different mores, values and norms.
7. Physical infrastructure
Infrastructure plays a crucial role in not just securing a country’s economic progress but also
promoting social equality, progress and harmony. Infrastructure consists of a nation’s
highways, roads, ports, airports, electricity, telecommunications network and its social
India’s attention to physical infrastructure in the early years of independence was rather poor.
While many state-owned enterprises were set up, the amounts allocated to the development
of roads, ports and telecommunications was poor. In the World Economic Forum’s Global
Competitiveness Report for 2011-2012, India was ranked 89th out of 142 countries for its
infrastructure, and this was largely due to abysmally low investments in this sector for
decades. Even at the end of the 1980’s India’s telecommunication sector was outdated and
the number of telephone lines woefully inadequate. The electricity grid, similarly was
antiquated with outdated transmission lines, and frequent power cuts. This impacted business
competitiveness, the pace of economic growth, and ultimately its social progress as well, given
the fact that there is major correlation between economic growth and social progress.
What’s Social Policy Got to do with Economic Growth? By Ravi Kanbur January 2006
The Role of Social Policy in Economic Development Some Theoretical Reflections and Lessons from East Asia
Ha-Joon Chang United Nations Research Institute for Social Development
Better economic growth and better rural infrastructure in the 1980’s and 1990’s lead to better
awareness among people living in rural parts of India, a greater thrust on education, greater
social progress, and even better social inclusivity.
8. An assessment must also be made of a culture’s value system
Values are principles, standards or qualities that an individual or a society follows or considers
sacrosanct. These values guide most aspects of people’s lives. They are also greatly influenced
by the values of culture or society or a particular social group.
Values can influence individual judgments and decisions. They can also have a bearing on the
quantum of social and cultural progress. A culture’s value system can be changed through
proactive measures. At times change can also be enforced through suitable legislation. Values
vary from culture to culture and these can have a bearing on social progress. For example,
American culture is regarded as highly individualistic with leeway for deviant behaviour. On
the other hand, Chinese culture is considered to be highly collectivistic with little room for
non-conformism. Some cultures like Japan are highly hierarchical, while some others like the
USA, are not. Such values will influence cultural and social change to a reasonable measure.
9. Harmony with nature
Fears of runaway global warming and irreversible man-made climate change have dominated
the headlines for the past one decade. Many governments have taken steps to bring about
legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Many new and promising technologies have
taken root in the past decade or so. Solar power is becoming ever more popular by the day,
and is achieving cost parity with coal. Wind and tidal power are also showing some signs of
promise. Electric car batteries are improving both in terms of efficiency and cost. Other new
technologies such as biodiesel production from algae have also been proposed, but with
varying degrees of success. Harmony with nature will be a core and intrinsic attribute and an
adjunct to healthy, holistic development especially from a long-term, neo-centrist
perspective. With the dangers of global warming looming large, there may simply be no other
10. Social security
Social security is a concept described in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. According to this article,
“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization,
through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the
organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights
indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
Social Security may refer to old age pensions, children’s education, medical treatment, social
insurance, unemployment benefits etc. The definition of social security varies from country to
country. Rules and entitlements also vary from country to country. While most developed
countries have well-thought through social security schemes, social security schemes in
developing countries vary from inadequate to non-existent. While some developing countries
like India have proposed measly social security measures to begin with, implementation of
even such measures has been tardy and bogged down by political squabbles or procedural
delays. It is believed that almost half of humanity has no social security at all, while of a fifth
of the world’s population is covered by social security measures that most experts consider
Per our approach, the following are the core drivers in any sociocultural transformation, and these
will play a key role in determining the pace and direction of any sociocultural change.
1. Forward-looking culture (Less reliance on traditions)
2. Outwardness of a society and awareness of other cultures
3. Individual assertiveness, aspiration and ambition
4. Importance given to achievement by the members of a society and overall attitude towards
5. Value attached to material progress
6. Hard work
7. Risk-appetite of individuals in a society
8. Importance given to innovation
9. Acceptance of ideas having an external origin (Cultural receptivity)
10. Desire to challenge existing ideas and paradigms
11. Social and cultural adaptability
12. Democratic social structures and absence of class differentiation
13. Avocations and pastimes of individuals in a society with particular emphasis on learning
14. Thrift and spending patterns
15. Cultural pride and desire to see the society develop
We now take up each of the factors listed above for a more detailed analysis, and explain what
impact these can have in any effort to bring about change:
1. Forward-looking culture (Less reliance on traditions)
Traditions are beliefs or norms passed down from generation to generation. Traditions are
usually rooted in a society’s history or its value system. The origins of some traditions are lost
in the mists of antiquity, but the origin of some traditions can be pinpointed with precision.
Different societies have different traditions, some of which are positive, and some of which
are not so positive. Traditions have a major bearing on social and economic progress, and can
either accelerate or retard change. Examples of undesirable traditions in India had include,
sati or widow-burning, child marriage and the caste system, but luckily, many of these have
been got rid of.
Effects of thought worlds in Indian culture
Here are some negative effects of thought worlds in Indian culture. In spite of this, many sects
of Hinduism encourage critical thought and inquiry.
Fatalism and belief in Karma
The doctrine of fatalism is typically characterized by the following core beliefs and
1. The belief that humans have no power to mould their own destiny, or do anything
other than what they do in the normal course of their lives.
2. An attitude of resignation towards some impending events which are believed to be
inevitable, unescapable or unavoidable.
3. A policy of non-action and inertness characterized by an inertia to bring about
Fatalism may have been shaped to some extent by Indian philosophy, and the philosophy of
Ajivika which is a doctrine in ancient Hindu philosophy. Ajivika proposes that the reincarnation
of the soul is determined by a personal and non-personal cosmic principle called niyati or
destiny, and that a person’s actions could have no bearing on his destiny. This is opposed to
the theory of Karma (Karma means action, or morally charged action, good or bad), which
states that good deeds contribute to good Karma, end the cycle of rebirth and lead to Moksha
or salvation. (SU 6.16, 18) A man becomes something good by good karma and something bad
by bad karma. (BU 3.2.13, BU 6.2.13-16)
Indian cultures may not also perhaps attach too much value to material progress and this is
something that needs to be researched objectively and dispassionately. Likewise, causes for
the low level of innovation and creative output in countries such as India in relation to its
culture may also need to be assessed.
Lack of historical sense
Historiography in India or the absence of it, is one of the most mystifying aspects of Indian
culture, and the Indian psyche as such is characterized by a vague timelessness.
Many Western scholars were struck by the absence of a historical consciousness in Ancient
India. McDonnell stated,
“Ancient India has bequeathed to us no historical works. History is one weak spot in Indian
literature. It is in fact, non-existent. The total lack of historical sense in so characteristic, that
the whole course of Sanskrit literature is darkened by this effect, suffering as it does from an
entire absence of exact chronology.”
However, F E Pargiter adds,
“Though historical works in Ancient India are wanting, yet tradition has handed down fairly
copious genealogies of the ancient dynasties. These state the succession of kings, and in that
way are historical. They are almost the only historical data found in Sanskrit books as regards
Ancient political development; and the list of teachers in professed chronological order set
out in some Brahminical books supply evidence as regards Brahminical succession. The
genealogies form the basis by which the investigation of tradition for historical ends may be
tested. They supply the best chronological clue, for the Vedic literature, is a sure guide in
Most western scholars who studied India were struck by the timelessness of Indian culture.
Indians, for example, believed that their culture was timeless, eternal and unchanging. A clear
sense of history had to wait till the emergence of Buddhism, and then too, western historians
had to depend on the chronicles of travellers to India.
The Hindus: An alternative history Wendy Doniger, Speaking Tiger 2015
A Cultural History of India, edited by A L Basham Oxford India Paperbacks 2014
Macdonell, Sanskrit Literature, page 10
Ancient Indian Historical Tradition by F.E Pargiter, Motilal Bansaridass 1922
Tolerance for dissent with ludicrous overtones
Sarvepalli Radhakrishna brought out the diversity of Hinduism as follows, “At the core of
Hinduism is the belief that truth is many-sided and different views contained different aspects
of truth which no one could fully express.” According to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, “recognition of
the fact that the means to salvation are diverse, and realization of the truth that the number
of Gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hinduism.” The
term ‘Hindu’ came into use only around ten centuries ago, and in the early days, the term
‘Hindu’ which was derived from the River Sindhu, was probably used in a geographical sense,
not in a religious sense in its early days. Hinduism encompasses numerous sects. There is no
Hindu canon in the strict sense of the term and the Bhagavad Gita is not the most important
book for all groups of Hindus. There are indeed six major philosophical schools of Hinduism
viz, Critical Inquiry (Mimamsa), Logic (Nyaya), Particularism (Vaisheshika), Numbers
(Sankhya), Yoga and Vedanta. Likewise, some sects of Hinduism such as the Lokayatas even
reject the idea of reincarnation.
One of the interesting debates in Hinduism is between the Dwaitist and the Adwaitist schools
of philosophical thought. Dwaitism was founded by the 13th-century scholar Madhvacharya.
Dwaitism postulates that God and the individual souls are separate entities. On the other
hand, the Adwaita school of Adi Shankara proposes the God and the individual soul are
inseparably united, and that the atman is identical with the Brahman. Some schools like the
Charvaka School and the Lokayata school of Hinduism even maintained that God did not exist.
Debates and perspectives such as these bring out the diversity of viewpoints and the seeming
irreconcilability between different Hindu schools of thought. Scholarly discussion were
common on topics such as these in Ancient India with different sides adopting dogmatic and
well-entrenched positions. Amartya Sen and other scholars have argues that this has impinged
on the modern Indian temperament and impacted the Hindu psyche as well.
On the whole, Hinduism has lent itself fairly admirably to reform despite the presence of less
than ideal elements even today. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the Bramho Samaj which was
founded in 1828, played a major role in ridding Hinduism of its more repugnant aspects such
as caste, sati, the plight of widows, endless and meaningful rituals, and animal sacrifice which
had dominated and plagued the religion in the early Nineteenth Century. Other notable
reformers were Dayanand Saraswati, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule, Debendra
Nath Tagore, Keshub Chandra Sen, Atma Ram Pandurang, R.C. Bhandarkar, Balshastri
Jambhekar, Pandita Ramabai, Kandukuri Veeresalingam and Mahadev Govind Ranade.
Impact of culture or science and scholarship
Another common criticism been that most Indians have not been able to understand historical
or cultural issues from a global standpoint, and have always approached all issues pertaining
to language, culture or religion from the parochial and narrow points of view of a Brahmin,
Dalit, ‘Aryan’, ‘Dravidian’, North Indian, South Indian, Marxist, Hindu, Non-Hindu etc., and
what glorifies their own community and what not is necessarily correct or desirable in the
interests of science or society. This perhaps stems from the caste system, but it not fully
uncommon or absent in the West and other societies as the dangers associated with
Eurocentrism are fully known. This has led to Dravidian nationalism, Hindu chauvinism and
Hindi chauvinism among others at various periods in the past, and the scale and magnitude of
The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen
such movements is some cause for consternation. It has also severely compromised the
quality of research carried on in India and this is naturally a cause for concern.
Effects of thought worlds in Islamic countries
Non-tolerance for dissent and the relative lack of religious freedom has been a hallmark of
many Islamic societies. For example, in Pakistan, Christians and Hindus form an infinitesimally
small portion of the population. They are however heavily discriminated against; they are not
allowed to enter many public areas, draw water from wells reserved for Muslims, or bury their
dead in graves reserved for Muslims. They are also censured and persecuted under Pakistan’s
notorious and Draconian blasphemy laws. In many Islamic countries apostasy or even criticism
of Islam can attract the death penalty. Some countries like Saudi Arabia have strict laws while
the laws in some countries like Malaysia are more lenient. However, complete freedom of
religion or expression is virtually absent in most Islamic countries. In Islam, the land controlled
by Islam is referred to as ‘dar-al-Islam’ or the abode of Islam, while the land not controlled by
Islam is referred to as ‘dar-al-harb’ or the abode of war. After being conquered by Muslims,
Non-Islamic subjects were even required to pay Jizya tax or a tax of submission.
The meaning and the origin of the word ‘Jihad’ is being hotly debated worldwide especially in
the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on the USA, and subsequent attacks in other
parts of the world including the UK and India.
The term Jihad is variously interpreted as holy war or struggle. The origin of the world ‘Jihad’
is thought to be ‘Jehaada’ which means power or abilities. (Munawwir, 1984: 234). According
to some scholars, jihad means fighting the infidels and the non-believers for the purpose of
glorifying Islam (Zuhaili, 2011: 6). Jihad is one of the most important teachings of Islam and
jihad is viewed a path to greatness and glory, and commitment to Jihad is evaluated on the
Day of Judgment.
Presence or absence of creativity
In Islam, the term used for innovation in matters of religion is Bid’ah. Many scholars consider
Bid’ah to be heresy, and cite the following verse from the Qu’ran in this context "This day I
have perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you
Islam as your religion."(Quran 5:4). Many other Islamic scholars have also spoken against
innovation, excepting for innovations that do not pertain to religion and could therefore even
be welcomed in specific instances. Examples of such innovations pertain to science,
technology or economic development.
In spite of this, science did flourish in the Middle
East on occasion, examples being the Ninth century. Many Islamic countries have also made
rapid economic strides in the past fifty years, and even in spheres such as woman’s education.
All balanced assessments on any nexus between religions and creativity must always take into
account such complex and seemingly contradictory data.
Jihad Academy: The rise of the Islamic state Nicolas Henin Bloomsbury, 2015
Identity as adaptation to social, cultural, and historical context Roy F. Baumeister and Mark Muraven Journal
of Adolescence 1996, 19, 405–416
Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the fullness of life: Stephen Jay Gould 2002
Language and Culture
The affinity between language and culture and language as a symbol of ethnic identity has
pre-occupied many generations of scholars. This study has now been formalized thanks to the
emergence of a new field of study called Sociolinguistics or the study of language in relation
to society. Such studies have been throwing new light not only on the nature of language but
on the nature of society as well. Language, which may be defined as “A purely human and
non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily
produced symbols.” (Sapir 1921:8) According to Bloch and Trager, “A language is a system of
arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group co-operates.” (1942:5) Ethnicity,
likewise, refers to a sense of identity among a group based on a sense of common heritage,
language, religion, or any other aspect of culture. Ethnicity, may manifest itself in a desire to
lead one’s lives according to one’s traditions, maintain status quo in the light of changes to
society or fights for one’s rights whenever one’s way of life or cherished beliefs are
The term ‘culture’ has many ramifications; most anthropologists such as Margaret Mead,
Julian Steward and Abraham Kardiner acknowledge it impacts personality as well, and group
behaviour. Language and culture are likewise inter-related due to many factors such as
semantic relativity and verbal intelligence, and Linguistic Anthropology is emerging as a major
field of study in its own right. There are several possible relationships between language and
society. One is that social structure may either inﬂuence or determine linguistic structure and
behaviour. A second possible relationship is that linguistic structure and behaviour may either
inﬂuence or determine social structure and the speakers’ worldview. A third possible
relationship is that the inﬂuence is bi-directional and that language and society may inﬂuence
each other. A fourth view held by a small but slowly increasing number of scholars such as
Steven Pinker is that the roots of language are much deeper and that language and language
structure may even have their roots in genetics. Such relationships between language, culture
and society form the foundation of the emerging field of sociolinguistics.
The centrality of language to culture also does seem to vary widely from community to
community, and this aspect may need to be understood in much greater detail by
anthropologists. Not all traits exhibited by various ethnic groups may be seen to desirable in
a universal context. Some cultures may exhibit a high degree of ethnocentrism, consciously or
unconsciously, and may in part be even driven by inward-looking approaches and a lack of
awareness of other contemporary cultures. Ethnocentrism has being observed in many
cultures across the world, cultural relativism being the exact opposite point of view. In any
case, Community sentiment, which R.M McIver and Page associate with a “we-feeling” and a
“role-feeling” is common throughout the world. In India, language is seen to be more central
to culture in the South and East of India than in the West or the North, and linguistic pride is
particularly high among some groups such as the Tamils many of whom strive for linguistic
purism. Deification of language is also widespread among the Tamils and the song “Invocation
to the Goddess Tamil” is the official song of the government of Tamil Nadu. Such a feeling can
also be found among the Telugus to a much smaller extent, and the song “To my Mother
Telugu” is likewise the state language of Andhra Pradesh. Research is ongoing into the extent
of social and linguistic accommodation of different cultures, variations of which include
assimilation and adjustment, and all these factors should have a bearing on language policies
Sociolinguistics, R.A.Hudson Cambridge University Press 1980
as well. These may vary widely from group to group, and must be evaluated on a case to case
According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language is a major determinant not only in shaping
culture but also in determining attitudes and thinking patterns. Some scholars also talk about
Verbal intelligence, and this would be greatly determined by language. Thus a speaker of a
particular language whose uses many variations for a technical term is able to mentally
conjure up variations of the same theme much more easily, than a speaker of another
language whose vocabulary may be limited in this regard. Many other scholars are also
likewise beginning to hold the view that language shapes worldviews and a speaker’s cognitive
All the factors described above would naturally create variations in perception and outlook
between say, a Hindi speaker, a Bhojpuri speaker, a Marathi speaker and a Tamil speaker
which in turn would shape attitudes towards language and language policy. Linguistic issues
and, in particular, the treatment of minority languages are have a high emotional appeal, and
have often resulted in explosive situations in the past all over the world. As Bretton (1976, p.
447) points out: “Language may be the most explosive issue universally and over time. This is
mainly because language alone, unlike all other concerns associated with nationalism and
ethnocentrism … is so closely tied to the individual self. Fear of being deprived of
communicating skills seems to raise political passion to a fever pitch.”
2. Outlook of a society and awareness of other cultures
The outlook of a society and awareness of other cultures can play a major role in bringing
about social change. Most societies today, especially after the advent of the internet have
seen a greater awareness of other cultures. This may at least appear to be the case upon a
superficial examination. However, a deeper analysis will reveal that the issue is far more
complex than meets the eye. On one hand, we have autarchic countries like North Korea,
which are characterized by state-induced xenophobia. The level of awareness exhibited or
demonstrated towards other cultures apparently varies very widely from culture to culture,
and existing theories fail miserably in presenting satisfactory explanations and a cogent
picture. Why are there wide differences in perception towards the outside world among the
people in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha? What are the differences between the
people of Odisha and Gujarat in this regard? What are the causes for such differences? Can
existing theories explain such differences or not? Can existing theories explain changes in
attitudes satisfactorily or not? Answers to such questions will be found only suitably diverse
data is used for theorization and hypothesis building.
3. Individual assertiveness, aspiration and ambition
Various sociologists, behavioural scientist and psychoanalysts have developed theories on
self-development and we reproduce them here. Almost all these theories ascribe a major role
to culture in shaping one’s personality, much like the Culture and personality school.
The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker Penguin Books 1994
Through the language glass: Why the world looks different in other languages Guy Deutcsher Arrow Books
Erik Erikson developed another theory of personality development and proposed eight stages
of development, beginning with birth and ending with death. Erikson’s model of self-
development gave weightage to social aspects, like the way we negotiate between our own
desires and what is socially accepted (Erikson 1982). According to Jean Piaget, the
development of self-evolved through a negotiation between the world as it exists in one’s
mind and the world that exists as it is experienced socially (Piaget 1954). According to George
Herbert Mead, a person’s personal identity is developed through social interaction. In order
to understand himself, an individual must view him or herself through the eyes of others.
Goal definition and goal attainment is another yardstick of positive orientation towards life.
Another important concept is the concept of personal meaning which can lead to a
purposefulness of life, and increased performance and efficiency (Wong & Fry, 1998). On the
other hand, a directionless individual may not have any purpose in life, and this may lead to
depression and reduced efficiency. All such attributes are intrinsic to the society’s value
system and are moulded by cultural values and the individual’s cultural experience.
Aspiration may be defined as “a desire or ambition to achieve something” (Oxford English
Dictionary 1989). Research is also ongoing to understand the relationship between aspiration
and culture and aspiration and poverty (Arjun Appadurai (2006) and Debraj Ray (2006)).
However, aspiration deficit in individuals may be greatly reduced through proactive social and
Human behaviour is largely shaped by experience. Experience is in turn shaped by cultural
settings. This includes parenting, peer-interactions, education, religious instruction and the
like. This naturally influences the way he thinks, interacts and behaves in any given context or
4. Importance given to achievement by the members of a society and overall attitude towards
Culture often appears to have been an impediment for progress; it has often served to hold a
country or an economy back, and has allowed it to be bogged down by inertia and sloth. Few
will debate the centrality of a society’s culture in influencing its charter for development, and
pace and direction of progress. It may even be the fulcrum and the anchor around which the
entire developmental process is orchestrated. The Senegalese poet L.S Senghor once even
stated that Culture was the be-all and end-all of development. Likewise, George Yudice stated
that culture and development were more often than not, used interchangeably. According to
the World Commission on Culture and Development “Development divorced from its human
or cultural context is growth without a soul.”
The importance given by a society to development and social progress can stem from its core
values. Different societies may attach more importance to different values. Examples of core
values in a society could include the importance given to parents, the spouse, children,
marriage, the extended family and other kith and kin, friends, neighbours, learning and self-
development, work, religion, music, entertainment etc. Dominant values very widely from
society to society, and even though most elements list above are cultural universals, the
weightage given to them by different societies tend to vary widely. Likewise, attitudes towards
social change may also vary widely from society to society and these tend to play a major role
in determining the pace of social change.
Social change can also be conditioned by beliefs and attitudes. Beliefs characteristically stem
from pre-existing thoughts, ideas, notions, or reinforcements. Beliefs are inculcated through
a long-drawn process often spanning decades, and can also be conditioned by beliefs passed
down from generation to generation, or beliefs commonly held by society.
The term ‘attitude’ refers to a set of permanent of long-term feelings, beliefs, viewpoints and
behavioural tendencies towards specific people, groups, or ideas. An attitude is a personally-
held belief about something, and even defines ideas or right or wrong. Strong attitudes are
called convictions, less strong ones are ideals and values, and more feeble ones are opinions.
Attitudes may be implicit or explicit. The former cannot be easily identified or assessed, while
the latter can. Attitudes, beliefs and viewpoints are often referred to as Cultural capital.
Cultural capital can be either positive or negative. Cultural capital, or the lack or absence of it,
be its most useful asset or can hang like a Damocles sword on a culture’s citizenry. This may
be referred to as Cultural Zeitgeist. Cultural Zeitgeist typically changes slowly, only through
the change in attitudes of its citizens, or through other externally-induced changes.
Several theories have been put forth how attitudes are formed, reinforced or changed. For
example, according to the belief-oriented approach, modification of people’s attitudes can be
brought about through better communication and information dissemination.
Cohen (1964), Hovland and Janis (1959), Rosenberg et al (1960), three factors can bring about
change in attitudes. These were communicator effectiveness, nature of the communication
and the recipients. The effectiveness of these three variables must be enhanced through
suitable strategies. For example communicator-related variables include expertness,
trustworthiness, prestige, impartiality, social power. The communication-related variables are
timing of communication, choice of target audience, channel of communication etc. Attitude
change also greatly depends on the preparedness and receptivity of the listener. According to
Breer and Locke (1965), attitudinal change depends on various factors such as individualism,
egalitarianism, theism and achievement. Other theories have also been proposed, notably by
Simonson (This was based on the principles of Cognitive Dissonance which was originally
developed by Festinger). Attitudes can also be changed through persuasion, and often
communicators are employed. Some models of Attitude change have been proposed. The Yale
attitudinal change approach, for example, proposes analysing the source of the
communication, the nature of the audience and the communication to get the message across
convincingly. The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (Petty and Cacciopo (1986),
Petty, Barden and Wheeler(1999)) specifies when people will be influenced by the logic of the
arguments, and when people will be influenced by more superficial arguments.
However, from our approach several components may be achieving attitudinal change. The
first is understating the reasons for a person’s attitude along with adequate theorizing. The
second factor is an assessment of a personality’s behavioural traits and the reasons for his
behavioural patterns. The third is an investigation into the past history of the person, if
possible. The fourth is mastering the ability to put oneself in to the other person’s shoes and
adopt his worldviews. The fifth is understanding a person in relation to his culture. The sixth
is convincing the subject of the benefits of the change in behaviour, and the dangers of
Strategies of Attitude changes, 1969 Robert Bandura
Fundamentals of Social Psychology Robert A Baron et al Pearson 2012
persisting with existing attitudes. Thus, achieving attitudinal change may not be easy, and an
individual approach may be required. If individual-attention proves impractical, group-
approaches may be applied, but groups may be defined based on attributes and
Theory of Convergence of Thought worlds
According to our theory of convergence of thought worlds, thought worlds possessed by
people pertaining to different segments of a society, or among people in different societies
tend to converge over a period. This happens due to three factors. The first is the freer flow
and circulation of information within or across societies due to improved technologies. The
key assumption here is that technologies will always improve because they satisfy the utility
factor. The second is that autarchic economic, political or cultural paradigms will not sustain
because they are against the human spirit, and are tantamount to the obfuscation of
knowledge. The third point that we would like to make here is that periods of positive
economic growth and progress are associated with positive attitudes and periods of economic
recession, depression or societal decadence. However, experience has amply borne out that
periods of economic growth and technological progress vastly outnumber the periods of
recession. This is because human endeavour and enterprise proactively seeks solutions to
problems, and the vested interests that desire progress in a capitalistic setup always
outnumber the vested interests that (if any) benefit from economic decline. However, the
convergence will never be complete as it there will always be room for individual differences.
The thought worlds and worldviews of individual groups of people (some of which are driven
by ideological predispositions) also tend to converge and aberrations are ultimately left by the
wayside. For example, both left-wing (Marxist) and right-wing (Hindutva approaches) to
history which are driven by self-imposed worldviews may be doomed and may be consigned
to the annals of history. The worldview of the Archetypal American and the Asian Indian, are
likely to move closer as time passes, driven chiefly by a generational change from both sides.
We will see a convergence of thought in all such cases, albeit slowly. We may refer to this as
the theory of Group Convergence of Thought worlds. A primary assumption and a pre-
requisite here is that the factors favouring convergence will always overwhelm factors
favouring divergence, at least in the long term.
The third hypothesis that we would like to introduce here is that the ‘Theory of General
Positive Drift of attitudes’. According to this hypothesis, human attitudes tend to improve over
a period and become more positive. By positive attitudes, we mean those attitudes which aid
in human or personal progress and are associated with constructive pursuits. This is because
positive attitudes are essential for survival in a cut-throat world, and other deviations and
irregularities will be left to bite the dust. There may be exceptions to this however, and these
can be (a) Individual non –conformities (b) group non-conformities (c) Economic cycle driven
non-conformities (Negative attitudes may be associated with recessions and depressions).
However, as per our hypothesis, attitudes in general have a positive trend. This is because
negative attitudes may be unsupportable in the long-term and may be fraught with disastrous
consequences both for the individual and the society at large. Thus attitudes tend to become
healthier in the longer-term (in spite of possible cultural-level, social group level and overall
fluctuations) and pessimism biases, cynicism-driven biases and optimism biases will reduce in
the long-term, instances of pessimism biases and cynicism-driven biases falling faster than
optimism biases. However, attitudes may improve up to a point, and then level off.
Improvement in attitudes will also trigger greater rationalization, and this will in turn, led to
convergence of thought worlds.
Activism will however, naturally lead to a faster rate of sociocultural progress and
convergence of thought worlds, and must be encouraged subject to other constraints and
5. Value attached to material progress
Progressiveness may be defined as that trait or characteristic of society which promotes
positive change, improvement or reform as opposed to the maintenance of status quo or
leaving things as they are. Social progress refers to the improvement of societies on social,
cultural and economic fronts. This may happen either as a result of proactive measures, or as
a natural part of sociocultural evolution.
Some cultures have apparently attached more importance to material progress while others
have not, and this has impacted their standard of living. The idea of judging a society’s
progress by its material progress alone is however debatable. Other measures such as ‘Gross
National Happiness’ have also been proposed.
6. Hard work
Work culture and work ethos vary from culture to culture, and in general, some cultures are
believed to be more work centric than others. The number of hours put in at work also varies
widely from country to country. In countries like South Korea, the number of hours worked is
very high. On the other hand, in countries like Italy, the number of hours put in at work is
relatively low. Work habits and occupational preferences also vary widely from culture to
culture. For example, in the Marwari community of Rajasthan in North-western India, few
people prefer the idea of working in regular jobs. Contrarily, family-owned businesses are very
common in this region, and this region is characterized by a passion for entrepreneurship. The
good news, rather unfortunately, ends there. Most set up family stores or small businesses.
Investment in high-tech industries or technology-driven enterprises is virtually absent in the
region. In the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, many middle class families prefer to
send their children abroad, particularly to the USA. In the state of Kerala, it is common for
people to work in the Middle East. On the other hand, people is several other parts of India
such as Odisha seldom work abroad. Thus, work preferences are a function of not only
parental initiation but also societal and peer-pressure. What is more interesting is that trends
can change over a period in time.
In the USA, it is common, with the exception of a few large companies, for people to change
jobs regularly. Hire and fire practices are common and employment at will is the norm. In
Japan where employees were characterized by their loyalty to the organisation, and work is
considered central to human existence, the very thought of firing an employee would have
been considered sacrilegious a few decades ago, even if the company was incurring losses or
its market share was declining. After Japan’s long recession of the 1990’s, however, there has
been a considerable change in approach. Most company’s now prefer to hire a few permanent
workers and many temporary workers who can be fired at will.
Management Relations in the work culture in Japan as compared to that of the West, Ruth Wolf Innovative
Journal of Business and Management September – October 2013
Some cultures endow their employees with more freedom to innovate or take their own
decisions. On the other hand, other cultures respect group conformity and individuality is
frowned upon or treated as an undesirable trait. Work ethics and work culture can therefore
be a substantive basis for cultural change especially given the fact that it is inseparably
intertwined with economic progress.
7. Risk-appetite of individuals in a society
A Risk may be defined as the probability of either gaining or losing something valuable in an
uncertain scenario, and the possible quantum of such gain or loss. All human efforts involve
some risks, but some endeavours are riskier than the others. The risk appetite of individuals
depends or a culture’s history and value system. It can also be greatly influenced by parenting
and upbringing. Thus, cultural differences can alter one’s perception of reality, and interfere
with rational choice. Culture and organizational risk-taking are also tightly interlinked, and it
stands to reason why organizations belonging to different parts of the world operate
differently. Risk-appetite may also be quantified, and societies may be ranked as risk-taking
or risk-averse. A minimum risk appetite may be necessary to foster innovation and creativity
and bring about a social metamorphosis. Risk-appetite is also necessary for entrepreneurship
which fosters economic growth, and the quality and quantum of entrepreneurial efforts have
historically varied widely from culture to culture. According to a study by the Global
Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and
Switzerland ranked high on entrepreneurship while countries in Africa and parts of Asia were
right at the bottom. This may also be largely due to the absence of a supporting institutional
framework or low capital formation, and these countries are dragged down into a quagmire
and a cesspool of non-innovation and lethargic social change.
8. Importance given to innovation
An innovation refers to the development of a new concept or paradigm, or the improvisation
of an existing one. Innovations happen through four methods i.e., discovery, innovation,
improvisation or recombination. Discoveries uncover previously existing but unknown facts
E.g., the discovery of gravity. Inventions result when something new is produced from existing
objects or concepts. Example, invention of the automobile. An improvisation may refer to a
modification of an existing concept to make it better. Recombination involves recasting
existing concepts in new permutations and combinations to make them work in new
situations. Seemingly innocuous innovations such as the invention of the birth control pill have
brought about myriad cultural and social changes in the form of higher household savings,
better education and retirement planning. It has become one of the biggest sociocultural
drivers in the Twenty-first century.
Almost all societies around the world embody some form of a social control, which deals with
the enforcement of social norms. These are formalized in the form of rules. The means of
enforcing rules are known as sanctions. Sanctions can be positive or negative. Positive
sanctions are rewards given for conforming to norms. Negative sanctions are punishments for
violating norms. Sanctions can also be formal or informal. Formal sanctions are enforced by
some kind of an authority. Informal sanctions are typically not enforced formally but are
nonetheless imposed by society. For example dressing inappropriately for an occasion may
draw stares from others around you. Violating social norms may be referred to as deviance.
This can be mild or severe, and the latter implies flouting social norms with some impunity.
Some societies have more tolerance for deviant behaviour than others, and may mandate
conformism either formally or semi-formally. American culture however, is typically non-
conformist (Hofstede 1986, Kim and Markus, 1999). Over time, some societies may become
more lax in their tolerance of deviant behaviour. However, innovation and creativity often
require off-beat approaches and non-orthodox ways of thinking or doing things. They may
require upsetting the applecart or flouting well-entrenched norms. This may often not be
possible in a stifling or an ultra-conservative environment. The output resulting from a
creative endeavour may also not do down well with all sections of a conservative society. This
may also be represented in a ‘Creativity’ versus ‘Conformity’ graph. Some creative endeavours
may be conformist but some may not. How will society react to game-disrupting and norm-
Sociologists like Emile Durkheim and Robert K. Merton advocated the idea that deviance was
a necessary part of any society given its ability to institutionalize social change or initiate
According to the Global Innovation index rankings for 2016, Switzerland topped the list with
the first ranking, and Sweden had the second ranking. USA was given the fourth ranking, and
India an unimpressive sixtieth. There are however no comprehensive or satisfactory theories
to explain the correlation between innovation and other factors inherent in a society.
9. Acceptance of ideas having an external origin (Cultural receptivity)
Cultural Receptivity would determine a culture’s desire for change and progress, and how it
views other cultures and components of culture not forming a part of it. Even a culture which
is initially not receptive to ideas having an external origin, may undergo changes over a period
in time, and may become more receptive to change. Most cultures and societies today