Social Conflict Essay

The ubiquitous nature of social conflict often leads to an intuitive understanding that human beings are inherently conflictive by nature. Typifying this view was Sigmund Freud. Although he noted the importance of social processes in its unfolding, Freud thought that the fundamental causes of social conflict existed in a priori drives. Human beings, according to him, are not “gentle creatures” who always prefer to be at peace with one another. Rather they are endowed with a death instinct, the instinctual capacity to be aggressive at best or self-destructive at worst. Sociological understanding, on the other hand, transcending a person-centered approach that gives undue emphasis to intrapsychic dynamics, assumes that the sources of social conflict reside in social relations.

The structure of these social relations render as inevitable the eventuation of conflict that ultimately leads to a major social change or alternatively, if the social mechanisms for properly managing it are available, the reproduction of the existing social order. In extreme cases, social conflict could be reduced to a benign level. By and large, human beings are not characteristically aggressive or amicable, for social structure has the capacity to enable or constrain members and groups of society to go either way.

Sources and Functions of Social Conflict

Although social scientists agree on the social nature of conflict, they differ on its source. Karl Marx was among the first modern social scientists who examined its causes, and according to him, social inequality, accompanied by social institutions that reinforce disproportionate distribution of resources, is the foun-tainhead of all conflicts. To the extent that processes reproducing social stratification are intact, social conflict remains steady and pervasive. However, conflicts between contending classes open only at critical historical moments. Insofar as superordinate groups do not exhaust their rulership role, social conflicts remain hidden until a legitimization crisis ensues. Such a crisis arises when a subordinate class turns itself from a “class-in-itself” into a “class-for-itself”; that is, a class aware of its interests that works toward attaining the historical mission of constructing an alternative social order.

Although not fully subscribing to Marx’s view, Max Weber, like his predecessor, was deeply interested in the social causes of conflict. Going beyond Marx’s economic theory of conflict, Weber added the dimensions of political and cultural factors to an understanding of social conflict, thereby suggesting a tripartite view of social stratification. From his perspective, social conflict arises when there is “status consistency.” Whereas status inconsistency refers to a condition wherein groups fare differentially in the multiple areas of social organization, thereby forestalling the feelings of powerlessness, status consistency is a condition in which certain groups have disproportionate power, wealth, and prestige simultaneously. Conflict reaches a critical stage when some members—denied access to the cultural, political, and economic capitals of their societies—become indignant at the existing system of social arrangements.

However, Weber did not, like Marx, assume that acute conflicts ultimately lead to a perfect social order. Societies are full of historical accidents that detract a linear development of society from unfolding.

By synthesizing these arguments, Ralf Dahrendorf provided an alternative approach that addressed the contemporary sources of social conflict. In his dialectical conflict perspective, Dahrendorf assumed that the grounds for conflict reside in what he called “imperatively coordinated associations” (ICAs), organizations within which two antithetical roles with an unequal power differential exist.

In the ICAs, power is legitimated when it is viewed as an authority relation; that is, when the ruling are endowed with a “normative right” to exercise their domination over the ruled. This authority relationship does not remain permanent, because power and authority are scarce resources that rival groups seek. Whereas the ruling groups are interested in maintaining the social order, the ruled seek to alter the existing power and authority relations. The normative right of the ruling is challenged when the ruled, due to the availability of technical, political, and social conditions, transform themselves from a quasi group into a conflict group, a group aware of its interests and committed to the redistribution of power and authority. The tug of war between the contending groups ultimately leads to successful social changes as a result of which the institutionalization of alternative ICAs becomes possible. This in turn sets the stage for another organizational setup prone to conflict and change.

In addition to examining the sources of social conflict, sociologists have addressed the social functions of social conflict as well. Georg Simmel and Lewis Coser are among the most important thinkers who dealt with this issue in some depth. Simmel was the first sociologist to insist that we should not perceive conflict as a source of discordance that causes social disruption alone. Rather, conflict can have an important impact on society, such as creating social solidarity among members of a group. In a conflict situation, wherein individuals see a clear distinction between themselves and “others,” cohesion among individuals who share the same perception is reinforced. Conflict also acts as a stabilizing mechanism by causing the centralization of authority and the management of disputes and deviance. Extending the insights of Simmel, Coser notes that, in addition to fostering collective identity among groups, in open societies the social functions of conflict lie in creating the condition for the emergence of safety valve institutions that allow the release of tensions. Most important, open societies, by permitting the expression of rival claims and through the constant adjustment of an existing system of social organization, are able to avoid catastrophic results that harm society. Moreover, through the process of revitalization of existing norms or by creating alternative ones, these societies deal with the demands of new social conditions.

Types of Social Conflict

Social conflict assumes various forms, ranging from micro- to macro-processes. The minutest type of micro-conflict takes place at an individual level, with role conflict (caused by the coexistence of multiple roles corresponding to different statuses) and role strain (caused by the contradictory expectations of the same status) among the most important ones. However, much sociological analysis has focused on middle-range as well as macro-conflicts that emerge as a result of the place groups occupy in the existing system of class, race, and gender relations. The system of social stratification related to these relations leads to collective reactions that focus on issues of economic justice and human, political, and cultural rights. The three social categories, however, do not operate disjointedly. Rather the social realm is an interlocking system in which the simultaneous functioning of all three takes place. In addition to this intersectional approach, a growing recent interest lies in the study of global conflict caused by processes that have far-ranging implications for economic, cultural, and geopolitical relations between nation-states.

There are diametrically opposite views on the nature of global conflict, with the perspectives of Immanuel Wallerstein and Samuel Huntington among the most notable ones. According to Huntington, the end of the cold war brought the movement of international conflict out of a Western context. The contending powers are now the West and “the Rest,” and the new fault lines are rival civilizations and not ideologies or economic paradigms. The “clash of civilizations” is the latest phase of conflict in the history of modernity, preceded by conflicts that took place between princes, nation-states, and adherents of different ideologies. Despite its cultural emphasis, critics note that the fundamental problem in Huntington’s argument lies in its mistaken assumption of civilizations as though they are compartmentalized cultural monads. On the other hand, Wallerstein provided a more nuanced approach to the understanding of global conflict through his world-systems analysis, an analysis that benefits from a historicist and eclectic approach yet centered on conflict theory. Wallerstein views the world-system as a modern historical construct that evolved into three major politico-economic zones: core, periphery, and semi-periphery. Core nations have the advantage over the other two because of their economic and military might. Peripheral nations rank the lowest in the world economy. Often they are appendages to the core because of their least-developed economies that put them at an ill-fated position in the world market transactions. The semi-periphery—mostly acting as a go-between among the two zones—are on a higher plane than peripheral nations, although lower in rank than core nations. Global conflict, accordingly, is nothing but a manifestation of the dynamics of opposing interests and capabilities and balance of power of the three zones. Core nations certainly have more power than others in maintaining their hegemonic status.


  1. Jayaram, Narayana and Satish Saberwal, eds. 1998. Social Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Klare, T. Michel. 2002. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. New York: Holt.
  3. Tyagi, S. P. 2006. Sociology and Social Conflict. Jaipur, India: Sublime Publications.

Genetically Modified Organisms Essay

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are produced by transferring genetic material from one species to another. Genetically altered or modified (GM) foods contain materials derived from such processes. Whereas traditional plant and animal breeding involves the crossing of individuals with desirable traits within a single species, genetic engineering allows more rapid and radical transformations. Examples include the transfer of genes from Arctic halibut into tomatoes to confer frost resistance, and the incorporation of Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria into corn or potatoes as a “natural” pesticide. Genetic engineering has also made possible the cheap and rapid synthesis of common food ingredients, such as yeasts, and of products like recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which vastly increases an animal’s milk production.

The criteria for classifying genetically altered foods vary among countries, depending on the strictness of their regulatory systems. Broadly speaking, these foods include genetically modified crops that people consume directly (ranging from strawberries to radic-chio to rice); processed foods containing ingredients made from GM crops or products (corn syrup, soy flour, cheese made with GM rennet); and meat or produce from genetically modified or treated animals (GM salmon or rBGH milk). Some people would also include meat or produce from animals fed GM cereals.

The world’s first GM crop, the Flavr-Savr tomato, was patented by the U.S. biotech company Calgene and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1994. By 2005, 90 million hectares of GM crops, predominantly soy, corn, canola, and cotton, were grown globally; the United States was world leader, with 50 million hectares. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that roughly 75 percent of U.S. processed foods contain GM ingredients; however, less than half the population is aware that GM foods are sold in supermarkets. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, supermarkets label foods containing GMOs, and pubs and restaurants proclaim their dishes “GM-free.” In Brazil, farmers smuggled in GM soybean seed from Argentina to overcome an official ban, whereas French cheese makers and South Indian rice farmers demolished buildings in campaigns against GM crops. Biotech corporations insist that GM crops are essential to prevent world hunger, yet when famine loomed in 2002, the government of Zambia, after a public debate, chose to refuse GM corn sent by the United States as food aid. Why are there such radically different responses to GM foods?

GM crops and foods are new life-forms that promise great benefits, including higher yields, longer growing seasons, greater disease resistance, lower pesticide use, or extra vitamins. Any new technology also carries a spectrum of risks, however, and most battles over GM foods concern how risk should be defined and evaluated, and by whom. Proponents of GM foods try to restrict the debate to immediate health and environmental effects. Opponents insist that long-term effects and social and political impacts must also be considered.

No serious health risks related to GM foods have been demonstrated to date, and for developed world consumers, the advantages of GM foods would seem to outweigh the risks. From a farmer’s perspective, however, the cost-benefit analysis is more complicated. One contentious issue is intellectual property rights. There are some public research programs working on GM subsistence crops for unrestricted use by poor farmers—for example, virus-free potatoes in Peru. But the design and testing of GM crops is expensive.

Highly capitalized biotech corporations thus produce most of the new varieties. For highest returns they concentrate on important commercial crops; design new varieties to respond only to their own agrichemical products; patent the gene sequences; and sell seed to farmers as the equivalent of software, bringing damages for any infringement of copyright, like replanting or exchanging seed. The promise of lower overall costs and better output led to rapid adoption by commercial farmers in the United States, but peasant farmers around the world passionately oppose GM seeds as a tool of corporate dominance and control, deliberately designed to deprive them of ownership of their seeds and control of their production methods.

In all organized protests against GM food, including the refusal of U.S. corn as food aid by the Zambians, there is an element of resistance to what is portrayed as American corporate imperialism: Although French and Swiss companies number among the biggest biotech corporations, the industry figurehead is the U.S. company Monsanto.

Another political formulation of risk is prominent in Europe, where issues of trust and governance come to the fore. The U.S. public generally has faith in the virtues of technology and business enterprise and trusts its regulatory bodies, but few Europeans trust government institutions or corporations to assess or manage technologies in the public interest. Citizen groups opposed government licensing of GMOs without public consultation as an example of “democratic deficit.” The national debates that ensued broadened the issues from primarily health concerns to encompass environmental risks, citizen rights, the critique of industrial farming, definitions of a healthy society, and concerns for global justice. Consumer boycotts of GM products and of retailers who stocked them drove the message home, and sustained public pressure rapidly brought much stricter regulation of GMOs. Public action in other nations, such as Thailand, Japan, and New Zealand, followed similar patterns, linking consumer, producer, and citizen rights and building transnational coalitions. The global knock-on effects have impacted markets, dented the confidence of GM food producers, and forced biotech corporations to reconfigure their strategies.

Biotech corporations and U.S. trade officials like to argue that foreign opposition to GM foods stems from irrational emotionalism and scientific ignorance. Yet research shows that the more technical information individuals acquire about GM crops and foods, the more likely they are to oppose them. A better understanding of how GMOs are designed, produced, and controlled inevitably extends perception of risks beyond the narrow framework of space, time, and stakeholders that the GM industry and its supporters have sought to impose. The case of GM foods thus illustrates intrinsic tensions between technocracy and scientific literacy within contemporary democracies.


  1. Bray, Francesca. 2003. “Genetically Modified Foods: Shared Risk and Global Action.” Pp. 185-207 in Revising Risk: Health Inequalities and Shifting Perceptions of Danger and Blame, edited by B. Herr Harthorn and L. Oaks. London: Praeger.
  2. Conway, Gordon. 2000. “Genetically Modified Crops: Risks and Promise.” Conservation Ecology 4(1):2. Retrieved March 29, 2017 (
  3. Gutteling, Jan, Lucien Hanssen, Neil van der Veer, and Erwin Sydel. 2006. “Trust in Governance and the Acceptance of Genetically Modified Food in the Netherlands.” Public Understanding of Science 15:103-12.
  4. Murphy, Joseph, Les Levidow, and Susan Carr. 2006. “Understanding the US-European Union Conflict over Genetically Modified Crops.” Social Studies of Science 36(1):133-60.
  5. Mwale, Pascal Newbourne. 2006. “Societal Deliberation on Genetically Modified Maize in Southern Africa: The Debateness and the Publicness of the Zambian National Consultation on Genetically Modified Maize Food Aid in 2002.” Public Understanding of Science 15:89-102.

Socrates Essay

Socrates is one of the three greatest philosophers of Greek classical thought and, together with Aristotle and Plato, helped to provide the foundations of Western thought. Socrates was the first of this triumvirate, although he did not produce any written records of his beliefs. A number of issues concerning his beliefs remain controversial, and there is still doubt about the reasons for his death and whether he could or should have sought to escape his fate.

Socrates was born in Athens a decade after the Battle of Salamis signaled the end of the Persian attempts to conquer Greece. Consequently, he was born into a society that was coming to terms with its physical independence and matching that with intellectual independence, although that had been expressed by what are now called the pre-Socratics in terms mostly of vague metaphysics and religious speculation. The main event during his lifetime was the Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta, which was also seen as a struggle between personal independence and the militarization of society. The ultimate defeat of militarism did not occur until the long and perilously difficult years of warfare had passed, with the coarsening of public life and morals that accompanied the war.

Socrates was at the forefront of public life in Athens. Xenophon describes him as being part of the circle of Pericles and the other prominent leaders of Athenian society. It is also possible that he worked for a period with Archelaus, a pupil of Anaxagoras, who is reputed to be the first Athenian philosopher. He also may have been familiar with the subjects of geometry and astronomy. Notwithstanding these advantages in society, it is believed that the later part of his life was lived in poverty, as he is so depicted in a play by Aristophanes. Socrates spent most of his working life teaching and practicing philosophy, and he has been depicted as a man so captured by the world of the mind that he could be found unmoving like a statue, completely rapt in thought.

He married Xanthippe comparatively late in his life and had three children with her, who survived him when he was arrested by the state on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens and not worshipping the gods of the city. He was brought to trial and condemned to death. Socrates chose to swallow the hemlock that killed him even though it is likely that he could have escaped from confinement had he so desired. However, Socrates believed it was his duty to continue to serve the state and so acquiesced in the process.

Socratic Beliefs

It is from Aristotle and, especially, Plato that understanding of Socrates’ beliefs may be found. Aristotle’s main commentary is contained in Metaphysics, while Plato created a number of dialogues in which Socrates was supposed to have been a participant, notably in Crito and Phaedo, while his Apology of Socrates claims to be a set of speeches the philosopher made at his trial in making a case for his vindication. Both Aristotle and Plato report that one of his main philosophical methods is the use of syllogism in the effort to ascertain what a thing is. Socrates was concerned with the application of reason in the search for the true nature of humanity and of society, which was quite a different body of knowledge from that which occupied pre-Socratic philosophy.

The syllogism is a technique that requires the pupil to question personal beliefs through answering the questions of the teacher. The pupil must first state a position in respect of some ethical concern, which is one that cannot be settled by an immediate objective test and is subjective. Socrates then poses supplementary questions that the pupil is required to answer by either an affirmative or a negative response. Socrates guides the dialogue until the pupil is obliged to come to the opposite of his or her original statement. Socrates uses this technique both as a philosophical tool, with which he develops knowledge by adding premises to those already existing and thereby developing the argument, while also claiming that he had no real knowledge of any sort, which could be demonstrated by the same method. This technique can be used by the skilled questioner to demonstrate the opposite of any moral position and comes close to the accusation made against the early Sophists that they would use debating technique merely to advance their own interests rather than in the pursuit of truth.

Socrates tried to bypass this accusation by claiming that he never taught anybody anything and that his technique merely pursued the answers to genuine questions, and that it was beyond his control (or even interest) what those answers ultimately turned out to be. Socrates left himself open to accusations of impropriety by this method, and he was condemned by a number of people who supported the concept of immutable truths or moral guidelines for a variety of reasons. But this form of inductive reasoning is at the heart of the beginning of the scientific approach, which was subsequently used by Aristotle to start the classification of existing knowledge. The word Socrates used for the opposing premise used in constructing a syllogism was irony, and this concept has survived to the modern day as meaning an action that contradicts the words used to describe it.

Despite the complaints made about Socrates, he believed he was a staunch defender of the concept of absolute morality. He considered this the center of the soul’s quest for truth and virtue, a quest on which the great majority of people had scarcely embarked. Only through a rigorous application of reason could there be any kind of understanding of true morality, which is that which also provides the greatest level of pleasure to the soul, the soul being identical with the individual. He rejected the existing religious concept that held the soul separate from the individual. Consequently, what is good for the soul is also good for the body. This leads to a connection with hedonism, which became more fully expressed through the work of Epicurus and his followers.

However, Socrates was more concerned to show that the pleasure a person derives from life and to some extent the value of a person’s life depends on the soul’s ability to understand true goodness. Only true goodness brings happiness, according to Socrates, because any activity that is not inspired by the quest for goodness will bring unintended unhappiness or misfortune to the individual, the surrounding people, or society as a whole. For this reason Socrates opposed early innovations with the concept of democracy since the majority of people were not to be trusted to be motivated by true goodness but, instead, false and probably unexamined desires. This should not really be construed as elitism since Socrates believed that the elite of society was no more likely to be properly educated in morality than anyone else. However, he would have maintained that he was the only person in Athens suited for rule, and that the optimum arrangement would have seen him installed as a tyrant like Peisistratus.

The Legacy Of Socrates

As one of the seminal thinkers of Western philosophy, Socrates’s legacy has been enormous. Perhaps his most influential legacy was one of the earliest—the distinction between idea or concept and reality that was to become such an important part of Plato’s thought. Socrates was also influential in the development of the educational system. He opposed the utilitarianism of the early Sophists and their tuition that was aimed at educating people and empowering them into achieving a better type of life. Instead, he believed that since virtue was the true goal of humanity but could not be taught, the proper type of education should center on the rigorous and personal search for reality. This led to a debate as to the purpose of education in society that has persisted until the present day. However, the Socratic idea that it is possible to lead the mind to profound truths without previous knowledge of the background to those truths is no longer widely supported in academic institutions. Instead the Western tradition features the mastery of content as well as the ability to guide the mind to the truths behind or beyond that content.

Socrates has also been considered a founding father of science and of agnosticism, although these attributions depend on contested ideas of exactly what he originally said and believed. It is perhaps in his trial and death that Socrates remains most central to the Western imagination. Some have conflated the charges of corrupting the youth of Athens with homosexual activities with his followers, which would have been a common enough activity at the time. He has been viewed as both foolish pederast and heroic supporter of the truth in an age of religious persecution and the suppression of freedom of speech. Existing Athenian popular sources referring to Socrates are mostly those found in satirical plays in which he is lumped together with Sophists as a kind of disreputable wordsmith with questionable hygiene habits. This representation clashes noticeably with the striking and compelling personality of Plato’s descriptions.

His legendary status as defender of personal liberty has been buttressed by the notion that he would have been able to escape from confinement in Athens had he so desired. That he chose to stay and administer to himself the fatal poison renders him something of a martyr. According to Plato’s account, at the moment of his death, Socrates was concerned with ensuring that all his remaining domestic duties and chores were complete.


  1. Brickhouse, Thomas C., and Nicholas D. Smith. Plato’s Socrates. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996;
  2. The Last Days of Socrates. Ed. by Harold Tarrant; trans. by Hugh Tredennick. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003;
  3. Rudebusch, George. Socrates, Pleasure, and Value. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002;
  4. West, Thomas G., ed. Four Texts on Socrates: Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, and Aristophanes’ Clouds. Trans. by Grace Starry West. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998;
  5. Conversations of Socrates. Trans. by Robin H. Waterfield and Hugh Tredennick. New York: Penguin Classics, 1990.

Social Change Essay

Social change can occur throughout an entire society or within parts of a society like groups, communities, or regions. It can have a variety of causes, including the efforts of individuals and groups to address social problems.

For analytic purposes, social change may be considered as any fundamental alteration in (a) the structure of existing relationships of a society or parts of a society, (b) the processes or common practices used in everyday life, (c) population composition (for instance, the size of a society or ethnic groups within a community), and (d) the basic values, ideas, and ways of thinking that prevail in a society or its parts. In actuality, when significant alteration takes place in one of these aspects, it is accompanied by change in one or more other aspects. For example, structural changes in U.S. race relationships during the 20th century were accompanied by alterations in discriminatory practices and in the idea of race itself. In Japan during the late 19th century, as new ideas and policies affecting national unification and relationships with world powers emerged, alterations in occupations and urbanization of the Japanese population also took place.

Types of Social Change

Social change may be categorized into three types: radical, reformist, and transient change. Radical (or foundational) change is made up of extensive transformations in the basic character or nature of a society, community, or group. Successful revolutions, for instance, sometimes bring widespread and profound transformations of many social institutions. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949 brought such transformations in government, religion, education, and economic life. Later in the 20th century, in many societies the affordability of personal computers and sophisticated software contributed to profound alterations in modes of communication, entertainment, storage of information, research procedures, types of occupations available, and the curriculums of schools and universities. Sometimes, radical or foundational change occurs when people seek resolutions of what they consider important social problems. The elimination of the apartheid system in South Africa during the early 1990s encompassed foundational change resulting from initiatives to eliminate existing problems. In other cases, radical changes may follow as unanticipated consequences of natural events or new governmental programs.

Reformist social changes are modifications to a society, community, or group that are less extensive and less transformative. Reformist social change typically results from focused efforts to address specific social issues or problems. For example, individuals and groups in the women’s movement that gained momentum in the United States during the 1960s found the situation of women unsatisfactory and through efforts achieved some reforms in gender relationships, the types of education and occupations available to women, and beliefs about women’s abilities and rights. Persons seeking social justice goals frequently pursue social reforms. The efforts on behalf of better housing and health care for poor people in U.S. cities early in the 20th century by individuals like Jane Addams, Mary Kingsbury Simkovitch, and Lillian Wald were concerned with bringing about reforms, and these produced lasting changes.

Currently, individuals may become “change agents” who are trained and sponsored by private or governmental organizations to create reforms in groups or communities. In the United States, for example, agencies like the Peace Corps and the Agency for International Development have provided field representatives with training for introducing changes in education and farming practices in developing societies. In other cases, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) may place trained “community organizers” in localities to build or strengthen public support for social reforms. When many people become concerned with addressing complex social problems, individuals and groups committed to radical foundational changes and those seeking reforms may share some goals and cooperate in some actions. However, because the types and extent of changes sought by each are different, cooperation is necessarily limited.

Unlike radical and reformist change, transient social change is change that may be expected to occur periodically and refers to variations that have a minor or temporary effect on the character of a society or its components. For instance, in societies where new production procedures are welcomed, the nature of work may be understood as changeable and people may expect retraining cycles during their careers. Societies can also experience variations as fashion changes and fads, which are passing enthusiasms that have little lasting effect on social arrangements and actions.

Sources and Causes of Change

The emergence of significant changes within a society is a complex process. In identifying sources behind a past change, or that might produce a future reform, it helps to be aware that multiple causes are usually involved. For example, social movements (collections of groups and individuals combining to produce change) have been behind many reforms. But understanding causes involved in these reform changes may require examination of specific variables within social movements—for instance, how movements coalesced, produced leaders, identified specific objectives, organized resources, and responded to resistance. Understanding may also require examination of conditions inside or outside a society that allow change to occur. Analysis of change often calls for identification of primary and secondary causes; it may also call for determining that factor or variable that operates as the immediate precipitant of change.

There are many possible sources of social change. As suggested earlier, new technologies (tools and procedures) may contribute to change. Historians and social scientists have written about the social effects of technologies including (to name a few) the printing press, steam engines, trains, assembly lines, light bulbs, movies, forestry techniques, automobiles, televisions, and programmable chips. Change can also result from new policies introduced by national governments (for instance, the immigration policy changes developed in the United States during the 1960s) or by actions of foreign governments or groups that threaten or actually invade a society. Environmental variables have also been important in bringing about social change; prolonged droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions have contributed to social transformations in societies around the world. By the last decades of the 20th century, globalization (the establishment of elaborate transnational networks for finance, production, and marketing) became a powerful source of change in many societies.

Understanding Social Change

Social change has long received attention in a diversity of fields. Aristotle, writing in the fourth century BCE, inquired into the best form of social organization in which humans might live (the city-state, he concluded) and how this best form develops from changes in simpler forms of association. During the 19th and 20th centuries, social conditions in many societies inspired novelists, dramatists, and other writers to bring questions of change before the public. In various societies, such individuals (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Jacob Riis, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Upton Sinclair, Alan Paton, Yukio Mishima, Michael Harrington, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chinua Achebe, and Edna O’Brien) made issues of social change explicit or implicit parts of their work.

However, it was early 19th-century philosophers and social scientists like Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte who, influenced by major upheavals during their lifetimes and ideas of their Enlightenment predecessors, are credited with beginning modern efforts to understand social change. They saw change as progress and assumed that developmental dynamics governed change in all societies. Later in the 1800s, many social scientists and philosophers such as Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, and Lester Frank Ward made the phenomenon of social change a focus of attention and followed the same developmental assumption. By the opening of the 20th century, Spencer and his American followers had pushed Social Darwinism (including the ideas of societal evolution and the superiority of “more civilized” societies) into prominence, while anthropologist Franz Boaz and others were beginning to produce studies and articles countering evolutionary notions. Around the same time, the ideas of Marx about class conflict as the key source of change gained in influence; a few years later, the analysis of sociologist Max Weber concerning the causal importance of beliefs and values began gaining scholarly recognition. Around midcentury many social scientists were influenced by sociologists Talcott Parsons, Lewis Coser, and other “structural functionalists” who explained social change as resulting from strains or inconsistencies within social systems. Soon after, other sociologists like Ralf Dahrendorf, William Domhoff, and Pierre Bourdieu brought attention back to the importance of conflict and power differences as sources of change. By the later years of the century, the assumption that social change was governed by developmental dynamics had been largely discarded, and the focus was on describing and understanding change in specific societies and situations.


  1. Diamond, Jared. 2004. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking.
  2. Greenwood, Davydd J. and Morten Levin. 2006. Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  3. Harper, Charles L. and Kevin T. Leicht. 2006. Exploring Social Change: America and the World. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  4. McMichael, Philip. 2007. Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Gender Stratification Essay

Gender stratification is the stratification of individuals based on biological sex and the socially derived gender roles attached to sex. Stratification based on gender has existed in human society from the beginning of recorded history, if not before. In the United States, such stratification has traditionally existed in the institutions of education, work, and family, with men in the privileged position. Although great changes have occurred since the women’s rights movement, men and women still remain stratified from each other in these three domains.

Education, one of the main conduits to upward mobility and increased status in the United States, experienced change in recent decades, with girls increasingly reporting liking traditionally male subjects in school such as math and science. Girls have also surpassed boys in obtaining higher grades in both elementary and secondary school. At the collegiate level, women have made great inroads, now comprising over half the population of undergraduates. Additionally, the Census Bureau reports that women graduate from college at higher rates than men. However, despite these substantial inroads in the educational domain, women do not experience the same benefits as men in occupational upward mobility.

According to recent Census data, the female-to-male earnings ratio among full-time, year-round employees has increased since 1960, from roughly 61 percent to 77 percent. Such differences persist regardless of education. The gender gap in wages tends to be the largest for women in the highest-paying jobs, which often require the most education. In addition to obtaining less for the same work, women often face other barriers to upward mobility. Research indicates that women in high-status jobs often face a “glass ceiling” beyond which they can no longer advance in a company, an invisible barrier that their male counterparts do not encounter.

Gender stratification in the work domain often reinforces traditional distinctions between men and women within the family. Although biological justifications for women as homemakers and men as breadwinners are often employed to ensure women’s dependence on men, the desire to maintain a decent lifestyle has helped create many dual-earner families. Indeed, at least 58 percent of women have full-time, year-round employment. Such numbers might influence traditional gender stratification in the home, since many women now have an independent source of income. However, many women must take on a “second shift,” in which they perform their traditional tasks in the home in addition to working a full day in the paid workforce, a trend that reinforces traditional gender stratification in the family.

As society evolves, women will likely continue expanding their presence in the educational and work domains. However, unless cultural change in the status of men and women additionally occurs, gender has the potential to remain a stratifying characteristic in the United States.


  1. DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica Smith. 2007. “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006.” Current Population Reports: Consumer Income. Retrieved March 30, 2017 (
  2. Glass Ceiling Commission. 1995. Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation’s Human Capital. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  3. Hochschild, Arlie Russell with Anne Machung. 2003. The Second Shift. New York: Penguin.
  4. Mickelson, Roslyn Arlin. 1989. “Why Does Jane Read and Write So Well? The Anomaly of Women’s Achievement.” Sociology of Education 62:47-63.

Heckscher-Ohlin Theorem Essay

The Heckscher-Ohlin (HO) theorem is the cumulative work of two Swedish economists, Eli F. Heckscher and his student Bertil Ohlin, first published in the early twentieth century. The theorem revolutionized economic explanations of international trade, replacing classical accounts found in the work of Robert Torrens and David Ricardo. The theory purports to explain the conditions under which international trade takes place and what patterns of international trade to expect. Though it has been subject to some degree of criticism, the HO theorem, along with revisions from other economists, represents the foundations of contemporary thinking and policy making concerning foreign trade.

The centerpiece of the theory is relatively straightforward. The theory assumes that production-factor endowments of countries are different and that different industries use different factors with different intensities. The model concludes that countries will export those goods for which they have greater factor intensities. Hence, assuming two factors of production, such as labor and capital, countries with greater labor intensities relative to capital will export labor-intensive goods, while countries that exhibit greater capital intensity will export capital-intensive goods. In effect, the relative intensity of each factor gives each economy a comparative advantage in producing those kinds of goods.

One criticism of the theorem is that it rests upon several oversimplifications, such as identical production functions in different countries, making trade patterns in the real world inexplicable within the theorem’s parameters. Several empirical studies have shown that, in some instances, labor-intensive economies export capital-intensive goods, while some capital-intensive economies import capital-intensive goods. For example, Wassily Leontif (1953) found that in post–World War II America, the United States, a capital-abundant economy, imported capital-intensive commodities. Still others have argued that patterns of trade are best explained by economies of scale and strategic interactions in economic policy.

Defenders of the theorem argue that despite occasional anomalies or paradoxes in the empirical evidence, the HO theorem remains useful for explaining how international trade can occur in the context of the unequal geographic distribution of different resources.


  1. Heckscher, Eli F., and Bertil Ohlin. Heckscher-Ohlin Trade Theory. Translated, edited and introduced by Harry Flam and M. Jane Flanders. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991.
  2. Horvat, Branko. A Theory of International Trade: An Alternative Approach. New York: MacMillan, 1999.
  3. Krugman, Paul, and Robert Lawrence. “Trade, Jobs, and Wages.” Scientific American, April 1994, 44–49.
  4. Learner, Edward. “The H-O Model in Theory and Practice.” Princeton Studies in Trade, no. 77 (February 1995).
  5. Leontif,Wassily. “Domestic Production in Foreign Trade: The American Capital Position Reconsidered.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Sept. 1953, 332–349.
  6. Steedman, Ian. “Foreign Trade,” in New Palgrave, vol. 2. London: MacMillan, 1987.

Social Capital Essay

Social capital refers to the advantage embedded in relationships that enables individuals to achieve certain desired ends through networks and unites societies through trust and shared norms and values. Unlike other forms of capital—physical (material goods, possessions), financial (investments, money) and human (skills, education)—social capital can only be acquired and enhanced through relations with others, specifically in families, social groups, and formal institutions including churches, professional associations, schools, or the state.

Although the conceptual core of the term social capital dates back to the writings of Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Alexis de Tocqueville, its use in today’s meaning begins in the early 20th century in Judson Hanifan’s analysis of rural school communities, where he defined social capital as goodwill, fellowship, and mutual sympathy among a group of individuals and families.

Two key contemporary scholars instrumental in defining the concept are James Coleman and Pierre Bourdieu. Coleman defines social capital as a consolidation of structural resources to pursue goals of an individual or institutions. Coleman argues that social capital can also accrue unintentionally or as a byproduct of other economic and political activities. As such, social capital manifests itself in (a) reciprocal relations as social obligations and expectations, (b) norms and effective sanctions, (c) authority relations within groups, and (d) social organizations. For Bourdieu, social capital is one of the key elements in the reproduction of power relations in modern societies. Because social capital is rarely shared across the boundaries of social class defined by cultural habits and economic resources, individuals or groups cannot easily change their social standing.

Moving away from Coleman and Bourdieu’s emphasis on the structural dimension of social relations, Robert Putnam redefines social capital as a generalized civic good built upon the engagement in common activities. Following Putnam, social capital is often used interchangeably with the concepts of “civil society,” “civic participation,” “civic health,” and “social trust.”

Critics argue that this latter definition of social capital does not take into account the exclusionary nature of social group interactions. In response to this criticism, two types of social capital—bonding and bridging—were proposed. Bonding social capital refers to strong ties within homogeneous social groups, while bridging social capital is the sharing of resources by members of external social networks. An example of bonding social capital is a street gang, while a bowling club generates bridging social capital. Bridging social capital is particularly important because it increases generalized social trust and, by so doing, enables the functioning of formal institutions and economic relations.

Throughout the 20th century, the term social capital occasionally surfaced in the works of sociologists, economists, and political scientists, and in organizational behavior scholarship. Since the published work of Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam in the early 1990s, the use of the term social capital in scholarship as well as in political debates has been growing exponentially.


  1. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. Distinction. Translated by R. Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Coleman, James S. 1988. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” American Journal of Sociology 94(suppl):95-120.
  3. Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24:1-24.
  4. Putnam, Robert. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gender Segregation Essay

Gender segregation is the separation of individuals according to their gender or sex. It takes many forms in various social contexts, including schools, workplaces, religious organizations, sporting activities, and health facilities. The physical construction of public spaces, such as single-sex changing rooms and bathrooms, both reflects and reinforces gender segregation, as do cultural beliefs regarding the social roles of men and women. These divisions along gender lines result in part from historical and cultural assumptions about the meanings of gender (a term that emphasizes the socially constructed dimension of what it means to behave like a man or woman) and sex (a term that emphasizes the biological dimensions of designation as a man or woman).

As a result of these assumptions and beliefs, women and men may experience horizontal or vertical segregation. Evidence of horizontal segregation is the disproportionate number of women found in jobs or fields of study perceived as requiring nurturing qualities, such as elementary teacher or nurse, or of men disproportionately found in jobs or fields of study perceived as requiring manual labor or rational reasoning skills, such as construction or engineering. An example of vertical segregation is when men are more likely than women to hold leadership or supervisory positions within the same educational or job environment. Analysts frequently cite gender segregation as an influential determinant in maintaining contemporary inequalities, particularly in the economic sphere. However, in some instances gender segregation may ameliorate social inequalities. For example, a number of women’s colleges and historically black men’s and women’s colleges remain gender segregated as a means of countering prevailing norms imposed by dominant social groups.

Gender Segregation in Schools

In most cultures, girls at some point in history were denied access to institutions offering a formal education to boys. As a result of cultural beliefs regarding women’s familial roles, girls with economic means were often dissuaded from pursuing educational goals and instead steered to finishing schools and seminaries that would provide an education in morals and etiquette. In the United States during the latter part of the 19th century, abolitionist and women’s rights movements gained momentum, resulting in a number of colleges and universities opening their doors to women and racial minorities. Simultaneously, the number of women-only colleges steadily grew to accommodate the increasing number of women seeking higher education. However, during the mid-20th century, women’s access to colleges and universities slowed until demands for gender equality increased again in the 1960s. Most notably, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 enhanced women’s access to and within educational institutions. Title IX essentially prohibited schools from denying women both admittance and equal access to resources within publicly funded educational institutions.

In the United States, although girls and women have gained entry into most educational institutions, gender segregation continues in the subjects that students study and in how children play and work in schools. Researchers examining the social interactions of young children in traditional learning environments have long noted that boys and girls segregate themselves and that teachers or staff members sometimes encourage students to divide along gender lines. When in gender-segregated situations on the playground or in the classroom, boys and girls often differ in their actions and control of space, simultaneously fulfilling and creating gender “norms” in the process. Gender segregation also occurs in the later years, when students choose elective classes, sports activities, and programs of study. During the onset of adolescence, fewer girls than boys enroll in subjects such as math and science, and most sports activities are gender segregated (e.g., track, swimming, tennis) or single-sex (football, hockey, wrestling). In vocational programs, gender segregation is particularly visible, with a disproportionate number of girls studying child care and cosmetology and boys studying automotive repairs and woodworking. In colleges and universities, women have steadily enrolled in traditionally male-dominated programs, such as business and law, since the early 1970s. However, men are not moving as steadily into female-dominated fields, such as early education or nursing. Although more women than men currently receive postsecondary degrees, they remain under-represented at prestigious colleges and universities in educational programs leading to lucrative careers. Understanding the interrelationship of gender segregation and educational institutions with the construction of students’ educational aspirations is necessary to understand vertical and horizontal workplace gender segregation and gender inequality.

Workplace Gender Segregation

As with education, occupational gender segregation in the United States remained relatively stable until the 1970s, when it began to steadily decline, partly the result of changing cultural perceptions regarding women’s and men’s social roles and affirmative action policies and legislation. However, many researchers challenge the presumption that declines in occupational gender segregation represent substantial change in the gender segregation of the workplace. Women may have moved into all levels of occupations, but the jobs they attain within those occupational categories often remain divided along gender lines. For example, although many women are now entering the field of medicine, they tend to be clustered in lower-paying specialties such as geriatrics or general medicine. Additionally, men are more likely than women to have managerial authority and autonomy in the same workplace. Such horizontal and vertical gender segregation has dire economic effects for women, whose jobs often pay less than those traditionally held by men.

Although gender segregation, in part, may result from “supply side” or workers’ actions and preferences, researchers within the past 30 years have focused their attention on examining “demand side” or employers’ actions. Frequently, employers consciously or subconsciously make hiring and promotion decisions based on employees’ gendered personality characteristics or perceived family obligations (e.g., as breadwinner or caretaker). Such decisions frequently produce vertical and horizontal gender segregation. Even in countries with strong family policies, such as Sweden and Norway, workplace gender segregation persists, which demonstrates the deep-rooted processes producing both segregation and inequality. Consequently, recent theorists of gender segregation have focused on the gendering not only of individuals but of interactional and organizational processes at all levels of analysis—micro, meso, and macro. Understanding how processes and not just individuals are gendered provides important insights as to how social institutions play a role in the creation and reproduction of gender and gender segregation.


  1. American Association of University Women. 1998. “Separated by Sex: A Critical Look at Single-Sex Education for Girls.” Retrieved March 29, 2017 (
  2. Charles, Maria and David B. Grusky. 2004. Occupational Ghettos: The Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  3. Jacobs, Jerry. 1990. Revolving Doors: Sex Segregation and Women S Careers. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  4. Reskin, Barbara and Patricia A. Roos. 1991. Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads into Male Occupations. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Health Care Policy Essay

A health care policy is a type of social welfare policy. Like other social policies, it aims to improve the general welfare of citizens. A health care policy also distinctly aims to promote the physical and mental well-being of individuals in society.

Health care policies can operate in a variety of different ways. Some policies attempt to expand access to services; others try to improve the quality of medical benefits; some others focus on funding medical services. Health care policy operates in various ways in nations around the world, and major controversies surround the provision of health care in contemporary society.

Different Types Of Health Care Systems

One way to categorize different health care policies, at least at the national level, is to focus on the degree of government involvement. Using this criterion, there are three general types of systems. National health systems, such as those in Great Britain and Sweden, depend heavily on government involvement to provide benefits to all citizens. National health insurance systems, present in nations including France and Germany, rely on the government to establish general policies, but the private and nonprofit sectors play a key role in the process. Private health care systems, like those in the United States, depend almost extensively on the private sector for the provision of medical benefits, with only minimal involvement from the public sector, primarily to help finance medical services for particular subgroups of the population.

Although this typology is still used to describe different national health care policies, it is difficult to fit most health care systems neatly into one of these three categories. Each national system has its own structure and character, reflecting the particular context in which it has developed. Moreover, many national health care systems have changed over time— expanding or reducing the role of government, changing the scope of services, altering the covered populations, or adjusting the reimbursement mechanisms. As a result, other ways of describing the variability in health care policy are necessary.

Variability In Health Care Policy

Even when governments are involved in health care policy, their role is not the same in every nation. The government can serve as a regulator to determine minimum levels of quality and service, as in the Netherlands. A government can provide the financing so that health care services are available, such as in the United States. Or, government can actually provide health care benefits directly through publicly owned facilities, a practice in Great Britain and Portugal. These various governmental roles are not mutually exclusive of each other; governments typically assume several of these roles within the same political system.

Health care systems differ in terms of who receives care. In some nations, health care policies are universal in nature—all citizens are eligible to receive benefits. Universal health care policies can be found in Japan, Canada, Mexico, France, and Sweden. Alternatively, other health care policies are more limited in scope. In such systems, health care benefits are restricted to particular subgroups of the population, such as the elderly people and veterans, or to specific “needy” groups (low-income families, populations with special needs, etc.). The Medicare and Medicaid programs in the United States are examples of limited health care policies.

There are also noticeable variations in how health care policies across political systems are financed. Some countries, such as Great Britain, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand, rely on tax collections and government funds to finance health care. Other nations, like Germany, France, and Japan, use employer and employee contributions. Still others, like the United States, depend heavily on individual contributions to private health care plans in order to fund health care benefits for the majority of their citizens.

Health care policies also differ between those that are curative versus preventative in nature. Preventative policies try to address medical problems before they arise (or worsen).These include the use of vaccines to prevent the spread of diseases and routine checkups to identify problems in earlier stages before they become more serious. On the other hand, curative policies focus on dealing with medical problems after they have developed. These can include a range of typical medical treatments, such as hospitalizations and long-term care.

Concerns And Controversies

Since the 1980s, health care policies have received an increasing amount of attention because of the rising costs associated with providing medical services. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) demonstrate, quite clearly, the growth of health care expenditures. From 1991 to 2001, the growth of health care spending exceeded the growth of the total gross domestic product (GDP) in all thirty of the OECD nations. On average, health care expenditures now consume 8.9 percent of the GDP in the thirty democracies that make up the OECD.

Health care spending has increased around the world as political systems have expanded program coverage to include more groups of the population, as more advanced (and expensive) medical procedures have become available, as demographic changes have produced older populations in need of more medical services, and as citizens’ expectations about necessary health care benefits have expanded. Hence, all nations struggle with rising health care costs and seek ways to decrease health care expenditures while maintaining services to their populations.

Health care policies also do not act in isolation from other public policies. For example, environmental policies affect the quality of drinking water which, in turn, influences the health of a population. Similarly, business policies can make the workplace a safer environment; for instance, requiring stricter standards and regulations improves the health care status of workers. Additionally, income support and assistance policies can provide citizens with the finances they need to maintain healthy diets and eating habits. Therefore, the impacts of health care policies often link to those of other public policies.

Health care policies can also trigger additional policy problems. Many health care policies aim to improve the life expectancy of the population. If successful, these policies will increase the size of the elderly population. Larger elderly populations possess greater health care needs, and they also require other, quite expensive, types of social services, such as retirement benefits and housing support. Similarly, health care policies that restrict benefits to certain population groups or problems may leave other segments of the population without adequate medical coverage. This, in turn, can put pressure on employment programs and other social services.


  1. Barr, Nicholas. The Economics of the Welfare State. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
  2. Burch, Hobart A. Social Welfare Policy Analysis and Choices. New York: Haworth, 1999.
  3. Grosse-Tebbe, Susanne, and Josep Figueras, eds. Snapshots of Health Systems: The State of Affairs in 16 Countries in Summer 2004. Copenhagen: World Health Organization, 2004.
  4. Heclo, Hugh. Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden: From Relief to Income Maintenance. New Haven:Yale University Press, 1974.
  5. Hill, Michael. Social Policy in the Modern World. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006.
  6. Huber, Evelyne, and John D. Stevens. Development and Crisis of the Welfare State: Parties and Policies in Global Markets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
  7. Peterson, Chris L., and Rachel Burton. U.S. Health Care Spending: Comparison with Other OECD Countries. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2007.
  8. Reinhardt, Uwe E., Peter S. Hussey, and Gerald F. Anderson. “U.S. Health Care Spending in an International Context.” Health Affairs 23 (2004): 10–25.
  9. Tanner, Michael. “The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World.” Policy Analysis 613 (March 2008): 21–36.
  10. Theodoulou, Stella Z. Policy and Politics in Six Nations. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Social Darwinism And Herbert Spencer Essay

The term Social Darwinism emerged in the mid-19th century and came to be associated most closely with the philosopher/sociologist Herbert Spencer. Spencer was born in Derby in the English industrial heartland. He was a descendent of a family of religious nonconformists with strong individualist traits and utilitarian views based on those of social reformer Jeremy Bentham.

Spencer’s childhood ill health led him to be homeschooled by his father until age 13, when he moved to Bath for further education by his uncle, a clergyman who was a social reformer with radical views for the time. His education was geared to math and science and less to Latin and Greek. Spencer did not progress to university but in 1837 joined the London and Birmingham Railway as an engineer. He was not seen as a cultivated gentleman in terms the existing society. He became interested in radical issues in the 1840s and started writing for the Non-Conformist. He came to view government as a threat to freedom and the individual. Although he returned to the railroad for temporary employment, he secured an editorial job with the London Economist in 1848, which secured a steady income.

Spencer lived at a time when Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species introduced evolutionary theory as an explanation for the development of plants and animals. Such evolutionary thoughts had previously influenced Spencer’s speculations on society itself, and he had earlier in Social Statics come to believe that competition in human society also led to social advancement. Spencer’s application of Darwinism to his own ethical and social thought came to be known as Social Darwinism. What emerged from this conviction in a simplified form was a notion of the survival of the fittest, a phrase Darwin never used.

Darwin’s struggle in nature could be transferred to society, and the strongest or fittest would and should dominate the poor and weak because they were more adaptable. The weak should ultimately disappear, for they could only reproduce those unfit for the competition of life.

Spencer’s theory in its most basic form led some to believe that natural selection, when applied to societies and government, meant that there was a natural dominance in the world that allowed certain races (principally European Protestants), individuals, and nations to dominate because they were superior in the natural order. In political and economic terms, competition and self-interest advanced the social order. Competition could cure social ills without the need for government social programs or intervention. In society, a liberal economic laissez-faire approach was best.

Some have also come to see 19th-century Social Darwinism as the intellectual rationale behind European colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism itself. This might be labelled the “might makes right” school of thought. A nation is strong because it is the fittest in the struggle for survival and has made the necessary adaptations to become superior.

Spencer’s works gained popularity outside of Britain and had a great influence in the United States. Often Spencer’s ideas were simplified to the point of absurdity, and much like Darwin, he was summarized and not read. He influenced Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist, and helped shape his philanthropic efforts. The most prominent American convert was William Graham Sumner, and then during the 1890s, historians such as John Fiske, who influenced Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and naval planner Alfred Thayer Mahan. The consequence of this influence was for some a justification of American imperialism.

The publication of Darwin’s Descent of Man saw concepts of natural selection applied to humans, and this gave further impetus to Spencer’s ideas. Other thinkers, primarily biologists such as Sir Francis Galton, entered the fray. Heredity, according to Galton, meant that biology was more important than environment in shaping human destiny.

Nevertheless, Herbert Spencer’s rational utilitarianism did have appeal and influence, and works such as his Principles of Sociology had significant impact on his era. He did define a system of moral rights, and he divorced himself from many, if not most, aspects of popularized Social Darwinism. To achieve the greatest happiness and to develop their talents Spencer’s humankind needed maximum individual freedom without the heavy hand of government interference, and this did not mean that the fittest were necessarily the best.


  1. Degler, Carl N. In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwin in American Social Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993;
  2. Dickens, Peter. Social Darwinism: Linking Evolutionary Thought to Social Theory. Berkshire: Open University Press, 2000;
  3. Hawkins, Mike. Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860–1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997;
  4. Spencer, Herbert. On Social Evolution: Selected Writings. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1975;
  5. Wiltshire, David. Herbert Spencer: The Social and Political Thought of Herbert Spencer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.