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MSL Reading #56: American Social Trends

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Malcolm Mac Kinnon

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American Social Trends
Reading # 56, Pg 627-640
Charles L Harper & Kevin T Leicht
Social change can be viewed in three different ways
1.Significant social events. (ex: WWI, 9/11, etc)
Each event had an impact on society
2.Macroscopic/social trends and cultural themes
Change processes enable you to see patterns and make more general sense out of
particular historical events by revealing underlying patterns and direction
3.Change in population and social institutions
Occurs in social life and is closely connected to individuals and groups of people
(families, communities, etc.)
Structural trends are not unique to American society and have been taking place in
many societies way before the 1950s
Structural Trends
Structural trends have to do with changed in our relationships with other people
in society and in the organizations and communities in which we participate
1.Growth in Scale of Social Life:
Peoples lives are increasingly connected with larger numbers of people in big
structures that operate in a vast scale over large geographic area (such as
communities and organizations)
Your life is regulated by a huge national government
You have connections, direct and indirect with anonymous people working in
large organizations very distant from you
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This growth is a process of urbanization: increasing scale means the existence
and sometimes the absorption of small social systems within enormous ones.
2.Centralization of Control (power, authority):
Growth in size means the growing concentration of power to make important
decisions in the hands of fewer people limited by the huge organization that
dominate our economic, political, and social life.
3. Increasing Differentiation and Specializing in Social Life:
Specialization in occupations, for example, doctors is a generalized terms for
physicians, heart surgeons, optometrists, dentists, etc.
We occupy increasingly narrow niches in a large and complex social system
Demassification: the process of changing a mass medium into one that is
customized to fit the needs of individual consumers (wikipedia)
4.Growing Interconnectedness and networked nature of social life
Between 1950-1980, social life was dominated by bureaucracies. A bureaucratic
organization is a social system with a formal structure, clear lines of authority,
and work roles that are designed for special purposes
Bureaucracies were created to deal with massive amounts of information where
it was filtered based on the layers of the bureaucracy local level information
was dealt with right away and information that was as a higher level was sent to
higher levels of the bureaucracy
Most people dont like bureaucracies because they dont recognize individuality
and each person is part of some kind of statistic (basically just a number)
Network society:
-Social life is becoming increasingly governed by networking technology such
as the internet, cell phones, overnight delivery, and standardized cheap computer
software. (does not fit traditional bureaucracy)
5. Increase in technical complexity and sophistication
Related to growth, diversity, and interconnectedness
Technology is cultural in that it includes formulas for doing things related to
manipulating our environment
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