Definition, Typology, Characteristics, Factors Influencing and Sources Rural Social Change in Nigeria


Definition, Typology, Characteristics, Factors Influencing and Sources Rural Social Change in Nigeria

You would recall that we have treated communicationin rural society. In this article, we are going to study rural social change. The following post objectives show what you should accomplish at the end of this article. 

At the end of this, you should be able explain the concept of rural social change, identify and explain types of rural social change, identify the characteristics and sources of rural social change and explain the factors influencing the rate of change in the society.

Definition of Rural Social Change

We often hear older people say “the world is not what it used to be any longer”. This statement may mean that values or physical structures have changed or that there have been so many innovations in the society that keeping abreast with them is becoming a frustrating experience.

The foregoing statement however sums up the meaning of the term. “Social change”. Rogers (1989) defined social change more specifically as “the process by which alterations occur in the structure and function of a social system”.

The social system in this definition may be a social group, a community, a city, a region or a nation. Any change that occurs either in ideas, norms, values, roles and social habits of a people or in the composition or organization of their society can be referred to as social change.

Moore (1983) defined social change as “the significant alteration of social structures (i.e of patterns of social action and interaction), including consequences and manifestation of such structures embodied in norms (rules of conduct), values, and cultural products and symbols”.

One basic feature in the life of all living and non-living things is change. When it takes place in the lives of interacting human beings, it is termed social change. When it is viewed within the rural setting, it is termed rural social change.

The fact is that changes take place in the rural, suburban and urban areas. Change could be in all attributes of a societal unit such as in number, quality and importance. It could be introduced from internal or external sources to the society or both. It could be planned, when it is more effective and predictable, or unplanned.


Typology of Rural Social Change

Many types of social change are noticeable in the lives of the rural population in Nigeria. With the rise in aspiration and outlook brought about through colonialism, improved transportation and communication systems which led to increase in contact with the advanced industrial world, great social changes are taking place in the less developed societies. The various types of such changes are:

1. Economic Change

Rural areas of the developing world had undergone some degree of economic change particularly during the post-independence era. In Nigeria for example, with the increase exploitation of petroleum resources, salaries of workers have increased in government establishments over the past three decades.

A greater number of roads have been constructed to link rural with urban areas. Some dual carriage expressways have been constructed in the economically most active parts of the country to link goods from the rural areas and major cities to the sea for export. It is obvious that changes in the processing, storage and distribution of economic goods have been rather slow.

Processing of agricultural commodities is virtually non-existent. Storage of agricultural products such as maize, cowpea and rice is still largely in bags, grounds, bare flour and ceilings of buildings. A recent practice of storing in cribs is only fairly satisfactory. The use of silo for grain storage or refrigeration for preserving fresh fruits, fish and vegetables is not a common feature.

2. Political Change

This deals with the change on the distributions and operating mechanisms of social and political power within the social system. For example, some of our traditional societies had a monolithic power structure with recognized chieftains-Emirs and Obas-whereas some had no paramount chiefs ruling over the entire group but rather governed themselves on the basis of lineages.

With the arrival of the British, chiefs were created where none ever existed; later on with independence, provinces, regions, districts, local government areas among others were introduced which completely changed the preexisting political boundaries and structures. The laws of the land became a centralized issue and law enforcement and maintenance of peace and order were removed from the immediate jurisdiction of the traditional leaders.

Therefore erstwhile powerful traditional rulers have now been reduced in power status to mere titular heads. Western concept of democracy has also been introduced into the political system thereby making citizens of today more aware of their rights and to challenge and eschew any form of authoritarianism. These are all, political changes.

3. Technological Change

Technology entails ways of applying scientific and other organized knowledge to practical task. Technological change therefore is a continuous process of change within technical material and physical practices in a culture.

Technological changes are evident in our society in the areas of:

a) Transportation, where river crafts have been modernized for greater speed and comfort, head portage and use of animals have been replaced with Lorries, trucks, railway trains etc, narrow foot paths have been replaced by wide mechanized thoroughfares.

b) Communication, where oral transmission of messages by personal contact or through messengers has been replaced by the postal system, newspapers, wireless and electronic media.

c) Health, where traditional healing based on superstitions beliefs in supernatural forces has been largely replaced by scientific medicine and hospital care.

d) Education, where socialization by imitation and direct teaching of basic skills has been enriched by formal instructions in schools using books containing scientific knowledge and other scientifically designed audio-visual equipment.

e) Economy, where traditional farming has been transformed through the introduction of cash crops, improved breeds of crops and livestock, agricultural chemicals, improved processing and storage techniques.

f) Leisure, where specific scientific knowledge has been applied in the enrichment of the quality and variety of leisure and recreational facilities now abounding in our society. The cinema, television, various games and sports, etc. are direct results of technological change.

g) Housing, where traditional houses constructed with mud, sticks and leaves are gradually giving way to permanent structures constructed out of cement blocks, iron, glass and other products of modern technology. These are just a few areas where a great deal of change has taken place as a result of technology.

4. Cultural Change: Culture consists of material and non-material aspects. Cultural change is thus interactions in the non-materials and artifacts of the society. The material aspects of cultural change are mainly technical.

Examples are use of aluminum cooking pots instead of clay pots, use of metal eating plates and utensils instead of clay plates and wooden utensils, use of clucks and wrist watches to observe time instead of observing the position of the sun and relying on cock crow.

The change in non-material aspects of culture are also numerous. If the institution of the rural family is considered as social system in terms of its elements and processes, the cultural changes which had taken place can be elucidated with some examples.

The norm of not calling elders by their name still persists as a reflection of the value of respect for age which is universally resistant to change. Premarital virginity has declined as a value with increased contact of rural females with more people beyond their communities.

Sanctions are exercised largely by the police and the courts when these are beyond the control of the family and the community elders. The change from the traditional way of worship which entailed the recognition of several gods (Polytheism) to Christianity and Islamism which emphasize one god (monotheism) is a good example of cultural change.

5. Behavioral Change: This may also be regarded as part of cultural change but it specifically embraces changes arising from the influence of education on the attitude and overt reactions of people. Behavioral change includes favorable change in the knowledge, skill, and attitude of people as a result of their exposures to educational experiences.

Residents of rural areas are often exposed to information which had led to acquisition of better knowledge, skill and attitude in the economic and social spheres. Agriculture is the major occupation of rural people. Improvements in knowledge of crop and livestock pest and disease control measures, higher yielding crop varieties, better spacing of crops, weeding, cultivation, harvesting storage and marketing operations had taken place.

The skill to practice such knowledge is also taught largely by extension workers via the method demonstration technique, various attitudes such as clearing of livestock pens without getting scared by the odour of droppings, handling young animals such as piglets without developing the goose skin, waking up early in the morning to take care of livestock, are also learned.


Characteristics of Social Change

A basic characteristic of every society is change in nature. Societies are in a continued state of change. We have to always be conscious of the time frame and identify the time span and take an analytical assessment of what people have written before arriving at a conclusion.

Social change has the following characteristics:

1. Space and Time Characteristics

In analyzing any change process, the researcher must specify both the geographical location and the period of time. If it is not done, level of generalization becomes very high.

2. Resistance to Change

In any change process, there will be some forces which will be resistant to change. These forces tend to promote status quo even though there may be very strong forces working towards change.

Forces like industrialization, urbanization or scientific innovation will promote change. But processes like socialization and social control will attempt to maintain the same status quo. In any change that you want to introduce, there must be resistance.

3. Differential Rate of Change

It is important to understand that not all societies or all parts within a given society change at the same speed. Urban areas may change faster than rural areas; educational characteristics may change faster than religious characteristics. We have to realize that societies change at different rates.

4. Change is Inevitable

It is normal, necessary and expected. Since people have different ideas, there are bound to be changes. 

5. Unchanging Elements in a Changing Society

We do have certain bias, beliefs (religions) that we do hold on to, something that can give a certain kind of meaning. We hold on to them as a kind of security. There are certain things that people hold onto even though the society keeps on changing. The importance is that when there is a change and the rural people still hold on to their beliefs and values, you have to realize that there are some elements of importance to it and allow them to hold on to it.

6. Subjective Nature of Progress

Change itself can be evaluated objectively, but progress requires a subjective evaluation as to what is an improvement. What you may see as progress may not be progress at all to others. Improvement must not be from the agricultural agents’ perspective alone but from the ruralizes’ perspective too.

7. Planned and Unplanned Changes

Many of the changes societies go through are unplanned but as the societies become more complex with different challenges they meet, the need for planning becomes more acute. 

Therefore, it is no longer acceptable to simply wait for what will happen or to hope for the best, but we must actively seek for solution to our increasing complex problem.


Sources of Change in the Society

Social changes are brought about mainly through invention, diffusion and discovery.

1. Invention: This involves the recombination of existing cultural traits to fashion new things and the rate at which this takes place is directly related to the existing cultural base.

2. Discovery: It is the sharing with others of a perception of a fact, object or relationship which has always existed but was not known. Therefore, discovery can enhance the cultural base in a society and thus the rate of invention.

3. Diffusion: It involves the spread of cultural traits from one group to another. Cultural diffusion takes place both at the material and non-material levels and this process has been enhanced today by:

a) Increased and more efficient communication facilities

b) The speed at which people can now travel from one part of the world to another

c) The existence of specially trained personnel for the diffusion of innovations.

Other sources of social change in the Nigerian society include:

4. Religious Institutions: These have brought changes mostly in the world view of individuals through formal preaching, indoctrination and the use of metaphors to convert people from one way of life to another, and by the opening and support of formal educational institutions where a great number of Nigerians have submitted to instructions in many aspects of life which together has remolded the benefiting population.

5. Government Polices: A number of changes have been brought about in the Nigerian society generally, via governmental policies. Perhaps, at no particular point in time could this be more dramatic and impressionable than during the thirteen years of military rule (1966-1979) when hardly a week passed by without the promulgation of a decree which required major social changes to be effected.

6. Application of Science and Technology: Technology implies the application of scientific knowledge to the solution of specific task. The patterns of daily life in most rural settlements have changed considerably today as a result of rural electrification and water supply schemes.

A variety of alien food and cash crops have been accommodated within the traditional farming systems and we now raise and enjoy exotic breeds of livestock all as a result of research and improved technology.

7. Natural Physical Forces: These include natural forces like wind, flood, drought, erosion, insect and pest infestation and all such elements of the physical and biological environments. Erosion and floods have necessitated the relocation of villages while excessive droughts have caused the migration of the whole population within a region. These physical forces generally inflict disaster (which is a change in its own right) which then calls for the application of other mechanisms to bring about solution.

8. Urbanization: The growth of urbanization or cities has meant the attraction of youths and school leavers to urban areas. Within the cities themselves, increase in population, rise of industries, increase in retail and wholesale trades, etc. have called for great adjustments on the part of urban dwellers.


Factors Influencing the Rate of Change

The rate at which a society changes and the magnitude of change at any particular time differs from society to society depending upon a number of factors viz:

1. Physical Environmental Factors

These include climatic changes, winds, soil erosion, floods, landslides and earthquakes, etc. which may drastically change the way of life of a people or cruse great reduction in their population.

2. Migration and Population Changes

The movement of people from one place to another brings them in contact with new cultural traits prevalent in other areas. Therefore social and cultural changes are greater in societies where there is constant emigration and immigration. Small rural societies which are more or less closed to strangers generally change more slowly.

3. The Culture and Structure of Society

When specific cultural traits become tightly inter-woven with others in a mutually interdependent manner, change in that direction becomes almost impossible For example, to the cow Fulani, the cattle is not only an economic asset but a cultural object. His prestige or respect in the society depends upon the size of his herd and he obtains a wife with the exchange of cattle as the bride price. Asking him to reduce the size of his herd for any reason at all would become a direct challenge to his social status and he would strongly oppose such a change.

Similarly, societies in which tradition and custom dictate responses to present issues, very old people are given leadership positions and status mainly ascribed, and tend to change much more slowly than one in which individualism is accepted, and status is achieved and stratification is low and flexible.

4. Prevailing Attitudes and Values

A society that changes rapidly is one in which its members are critical and skeptical of aspects of its traditional culture and are ready to accommodate and experiment with new ideas. Therefore a society which censors the art, music, ideas or technology originating externally and suppresses all those that do not conform to its internal norms and values will change more slowly than one which is liberal.

5. The Emergence of Great Men

Occasionally, great men appear in some societies-i.e. men with a mission and vision, strong willed men. The emergence of such men may cause a great deal of change within the society. In contemporary Africa, military leaders have emerged from time to time sweeping changes in their different countries. Where such men have arisen (e.g Nigeria, Ghana, Libya, Benin Republic and Togo) more social and cultural changes have taken place than other places (e.g Malawi and Gambia), where there have been relative stability under the same leadership.

6. Perceived Needs

The types of changes which a society emphasizes are determined by the need it perceives. If Nigeria perceives food storage as a problem, it will emphasize changes in the agricultural production system (as in the case of ADP, OFN, NAFPP, etc), if it’s perceived need is in the area of science and technology, it will tend to concentrate its power and investment in that direction (e.g. Crash Training Programme for Intermediate Technical Manpower Launched in 1977 during General Obasanjo’s First Regime among others).

7. Relative Isolation and Contact

Societies which have close contact with other societies change more rapidly than those that are isolated. For example, slave trade and missionary activities brought Calabar in contact with the outside world as early as the 18th century but the Ibibio hinterland which is about 35 kilometers away from Calabar town remained isolated and unaffected by European civilization until about the 19th century. Areas of inter-cultural contact are thus centers of change whereas isolated areas are generally centres of stability and conservatism.

8. Cultural Base

This refers to the accumulated knowledge, techniques and trait in a culture. As knowledge techniques and traits accumulate, an increasing number of inventions become possible within the society. In some cases important socio-cultural changes have had to wait until the supporting gaps in knowledge and technique are filled. For example, the cure for sickle cell anemia, cancer and other terminal diseases which would greatly influence the longevity of millions of people are still waiting research and new knowledge.

Discoveries and inventions in one field usually cross fertilize other fields. For example, the various inventions and discoveries arising as by-products of the space programme in the U.S.A. have enriched advances in agriculture, medicine and other technical areas (Harton and Hunt 1989).


Conclusion on Definition, Typology, Characteristics, Factors Influencing and Sources Rural Social Change in Nigeria

This unit has examined rural social change. It has exposed you to some topics in social change which were discussed. From these discussions you would be able to understand some issues in Nigeria rural social change.

This article has treated the definition of social change as a concept in rural society, its types, characteristics, sources and factors affecting the rate of change. The knowledge gained from these should enable you comprehend various issues in social change.

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