Social change may be described as the development of a backward society into a more modern one. This means that the society will develop more differentiated institutions and a more egalitarian structure. For social change to occur, some authors believe that socioeconomic development has to happen first. This makes the topic of social change interesting to those studying developing countries.
This essay seeks to draw the link between culture and social change and to apply it to the case of the Philippines at the macro level. This essay will use the term modernization to describe the social change that is going on.
This essay shows that the relationship between culture and social change is a very complicated one and that it will be foolish to make the simplistic conclusion of culture as either a hindrance of a facilitator of social change. There will certainly be some cultures that are more receptive to social change and others that are less tolerant of change. Social change may also occur from outside the “mainstream culture”—i.e. coming from subcultures and even from diaspora communities. Social change may even be “planned” such as when government imposes a language policy. The main lesson this essay would like to impress is that one should never disregard culture in modernization of society. A culture may adopt well to a modernizing environment while another culture may hinder modernization from taking place, in which case, culture and modernization must be reconciled by looking for techniques or processes that make use of the existing elements of the culture of that society.
Culture and Society
Culture may be defined as a set of values, norms, traditions and language in social structure (Geertz, 1973). Culture also has a set of sanctions (feelings like guilt or shame for example) that provides incentives for a society’s members to act according to what the culture prescribes.
A group of people that share a similar culture is called a society. Members of society learn this culture and then pass it down from one generation to the next in what is known as socialization. Socialization in turn is carried out in social structures known as institutions (Schaeffer, 2006). In the Philippines, the major institutions that carry out socialization are the family, schools and religious institutions (Wurfel, 1988). Thus one can say that institutions are the means through which culture is transmitted and society is formed. In this case, social change is heavily dependent on social institutions.
For this essay, I will use the term “modernization” to describe social change. Some authors would use modernization and social change synonymously, however, there is a normative connotation with the word modernization whereas social change refers to any change whether good or bad (Haferkamp & Smelser, 1992). A modern society must thus be described as one in which institutions have become more differentiated and specialized; human behavior becomes more rational and; society generally becomes more secular.
Social change is seen in changes in social structure and social institutions. In a traditional society, social structure places emphasis on authority. As society modernizes, it increasingly places greater emphasis on bargaining relations: meaning that a society will, over time, come to prefer democracy over authoritarianism; gender equality over gender bias; greater value of self-expression; etc. (Inglehart & Welzel, 2005).
Lastly, social change occurs together with socio-economic development. This means that an increase in productivity and income has to occur before specialization, differentiation and shift in social structure takes place (Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). Thus, for a developing country, in order to have social change, it would have to uplift the lives of the majority of its people.
Culture and Modernization in a Developing Country: Path Dependence?
Given the above relationship between culture and social change, in a developing country, we can arrive at the generalization: “Cultural traditions are enduring” In other words, there is such a thing as “path dependence” in social change. In other words, a society’s culture three generations ago may still manifest itself in the present (Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). This explains why countries with the same religion one-hundred years ago, seem to share the same development history (for example, the Islamic Middle East and Roman Catholic Latin America) and even though a country becomes secularized and religion no longer plays a significant role, its influence is still seen in the values that a society holds (For example, resistance to divorce and Abortion in predominantly Catholic European countries until recent times and the role of women in the Islamic Middle East).
Traditional cultures are generally wary of innovation and tend to protect the status quo. Therefore, the inability of some societies to cope with pressures stemming from modernization may simply be due to “culture lag” or when the non-material aspects of culture have not yet adjusted to changes in technology or other influences (Shaefer, 2006).
Thus, culture in terms of a developing country can be conceptualized as a constraint to modernization. The solution in this case would be to work around the problem, i.e. developing production processes that use local know-how and and available raw materials such as through the making of local crafts for export, and, as in the case of the Japanese Zaibatsu, utilize pre-existing social networks in order to make enterprise work.
While cultures and traditions may be enduring, they are also subject to change. For example, the authoritarian values that the mainland Chinese held may erode as their culture modernizes.
Modernization in the Philippines
The Philippines has its own very specific experiences in relation to culture and modernization. In this article, we look at Philippine Language policies and the role of diaspora communities in the propagation of a “modern society.”
In the context of this macro-level analysis of Philippine culture, language policy is very significant. Language acts as the vehicle through which culture is transmitted to other members of society. Institutions will not function without some form of language. The institution of education will be particularly affected by any language policy.
Language is one area in which social change may be stunted or facilitated. Depending on the context, the institution of a national language may facilitate the modernization of society through the introduction of specialized technical vocabulary and the writing of scientific literature. One can also see what values, norms and traditions a society values by studying the vocabulary the language of that society contains. Languages also expand their vocabularies over time in response to new developments in science, production processes and ways of life—a society’s level of advancement may be measured in terms of the number of words its language contains relating to philosophical, scientific, technical or other abstract concepts as well as the size of its literary corpus.
Throughout history, states have often embarked on language policies in order to facilitate communication throughout its territory. Notable examples are the French who almost completely wiped out non-Parisian French and instituted the Académie Française in 1634 in order to regulate the French language and to keep it pure. Spain also embarked on a similar policy of establishing and propagating the Castillian dialect through the Real Academia Española (founded in 1713). Castillian Spanish was also propagated throughout its colonies and regulated by the same academy. These measures facilitated communication within their countries and also fostered a sense of nationalism and a sense of belonging to a society and culture. In the Philippines, when Tagalog was chosen as the national language, the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa was established and this was expected to fill the same role as the language academies of France and Spain.
To be sure, the language situation in the Philippines is less homogenous as contemporary France and Spain. From the beginning, there were many languages and dialects spoken in pre-hispanic times. When the Spanish came, they learned these many languages and used them to spread the gospel, and never seriously attempted to impose Spanish on the natives. Thus, the native dialects were preserved and formalized.
When the Philippines came under American rule, English was first used as a medium of instruction and communication. It was taught to the masses of Filipinos during the American period. During the Commonwealth, Tagalog was chosen as the “National Language” of the Philippines. One of the reasons for its choosing was that Tagalog had the most well developed literature and vocabulary of other Philippine languages.1 At the time the Philippines was granted independence from America in 1946 and up to today, the Philippines has underwent many different language teaching policies. This ranged from bilingual education at all levels to Tagalog/Filipino/Vernacular education at the early grades (Asuncion-Lande, 1971).
These language policies has been linked by educators to the poor performance of Filipino students relative to other countries. Whereas students in other countries may learn in their native language, Filipinos have to learn in a foreign language, even in their formative years. This stunts the ability of students to think properly and to use both the mother tongue and other foreign languages. At the present, Philippine education recognizes the educational value of local dialects in promoting “mother tongue” education in the first grade.
Therefore, culture may also be subjected to government planning, at least to the institutional level of Education (more basal institutions such as the Family maybe somewhat more difficult to penetrate and manipulate). The effects may not be optimal, but the point is that it may be manipulated by factors external to the culture itself.
Subcultures and Diaspora
One cannot assume that a society is homogenous. There will be those members who belong to subcultures, there will also be those who exist outside of the traditional boundaries associated with a society or diaspora. these two divisions in culture have roles to play in social change.
Subcultures are those groups that exist within a society which distinguish themselves from that society by having “different patterns of mores, folkways, and values that differs from the pattern of larger society” (Schaeffer, 2006: 44). In the Philippines, Wurfel (1988) lists down two major subcultures, the Chinese and the Muslim. in the case of the Chinese subculture, they exert n influence in society disproportionate to their population and distribution by virtue of their economic power and international connections. the Muslim subculture on the other hand is marginalized, economically and politically compared to the rest of the Philippine society. The existence of these two subcultures seems to challenge the dominant social norms: Muslims dream of a “Bangsa Moro,” which opposes the very idea of being a “Filipino”; while the Chinese maintain economic and diplomatic ties to Chine while contributing to social change though their efforts in economic activities.
A culture’s diaspora can also serve as a source of social change. These groups of people who belong to the larger society while living living in a different culture would develop a unique way of looking at the world because of their exposure to different cultures. This diaspora may have the ability to look at the society in which they belonged and compare it to the society which adopted them. If this diaspora returns, they can bring with them new ideas. This is the principle underlying John Lie’s (2001) claim that nationalist movements often originate from a diaspora. This can also apply to the case of social change, a society may apply what is learned from one culture to their own, thus bringing about social change. This happened to the Philippines in the 1880s-1890s when the Ilustrados in Spain dreamed up the idea of a “Philippines.” It is also expected that the current diaspora, should they return to the Philippines, bring with them what they learned from abroad.
One can see that social change is a complicated process. Culture is made up of the values, norms, language and sanctions of a society. Social change will be dependent on the conservatism or openness of that society as well as the knowledge already contained within that society. A developing country is disadvantaged in the sense that its indigenous culture may not be open to adopting modern economic and political processes that are known to work well in other countries. This can be solved not by adopting the process wholesale, but to adopt it in such a fashion that it is compatible with the existing culture. Alternatively, a country can embark on cultural policies aimed at developing culture although the track record shows that this contains many uncertainties and often fails.
Asuncion-Lande, N. (1971). “Multilingualism, politics and “filipinism””. Asian Survey. 11(7), 677-692
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of culture. New York: Basic Books
Haferkamp, H. & Smelser, N. (1992). “Introduction.” In Social change and modernity. H. Haferkamp & N. Smelser (Eds.). University of California
Inglehart, R. & Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, cultural change and democracy: The human development sequence. Cambridge
Lie. J. (2001). “Diasporic Nationalism.” Cultural Studies, 1(3), 355-362
Schaefer, R. (2006). Sociology Matters 2nd ed. McGraw Hill
Wurfel, D. (1988). Filipino politics: Development and decay. Cornell University Press
1The selection of Tagalog is interesting in the discussion because it was selected because it was supposedly well-developed or more “modern.” Social change may be seen as the object of the propagation of a more modern culture in this case.