Understanding social change

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  • Created by: TEWalker
  • Created on: 02-03-15 20:31

Key terms

Minority influence

A form of social influence where people reject the established norm of the majority of group members and move to the position of the minority.

Social change

When a whole society adopts a new belief or way of behaving which then becomes widely accepted as the 'norm'. E.g. women working/voting, gay marriage, recycling, smoking in buildings.

Social cryptomnesia

When people forget that the majority was ever the minority.

Snowball effect

When a situation changes and becomes the majority faster and faster.

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The role of minority influence

Serge Moscovici (1976)

Believed that majority influence was not the only way in which groups exerted pressure on individuals. Without an outspoken minority publically promoting a different way of doing things, we would have no innovation or social change. 

His explanation is based on the idea that if an individual is exposed to a persuasive argument under certain conditions, they may change their own views to match those of the minority.

He referred to this process as 'conversion', a necessary requirement for social change.

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Social change

How does social change come about?

  • Normal people
  • Minority view turns into a majority view

What are the factors which make social change successful?

  • Information gets out - attention
  • Media e.g internet
  • Protests
  • Validity of arguments
  • Strong/passionate/consistent/confident argument
  • Prepared to take risks

Social influence research also tells us how whole societies might change. It is the process of bringing about significant societal changes, which usually results in a conflict with those in authority or power. A group of people will collectively try to fight for their cause. Most importantly, always start out with a small group or a minority, trying to win over the rest of society.

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Conditions necessary for social change by minority


If we are exposed to the views of a minority then this draws our attention to the issues


If the minority view is different, this causes a conflict which we want to reduce. As a result of the conflict, we examine the minority's arguments more closely. We think more deeply about it.


Minorities are most influential when fighting for a social change if they are consistent. They express their arguments consistently with each other and across time. This means that they are taken more seriously as they are seen to truly believe in the cause.


If there are risks in putting forward an argument, then the views are taken more seriously. If the minority are willing to suffer for their views, the impact is increased (augmented). A minority position often risks abuse and media attention; sometimes imprisonment or death.

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Real life examples of social change


What happened?: Led the boycott of the Montgomery transit authority. Led the modern American Civil Rights Movement between 1955 and 1968. Non-violent movement to achieve legal equality for African-Americans.

Reasons for success: Power of words, acts of non-violent resistance such as protests, grassroots organising, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

Did the change contain any of the conditions neccessary for social change?:

  • Drawing attention to the issue - protests
  • Role of conflict - made to think more about rights
  • Consistency - 1955-68 leader of Civil Rights Movement (long time, 13 years)
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Evaluation - Evidence for the power of minority


A group of women organised into a social movement to fight for women's rights to vote.

  • Drawing attention to the issue - number of educational, political, and militant tactics
  • The role of conflict - Having been exposed to the issue, the majority would experience conflict because this was an issue that was not the norm. While some dismissed the suffragettes, others moved to the minority position and joined them (including men)
  • Consistency - They continued to fight for 15 years, regardless of attitudes around them. Even when imprisoned for civil disobedience, their protests continued in jail.
  • The augmentation principle - They were willing to suffer to make their point, risking imprisonment or even death from hunger strike, so were taken seriously. E.g. Emily Davison stepped in front of the King's horse during the Derby of 1913, she died 4 days later.
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Evaluation - Doesn't necessarily lead to change

Does the minority influence always lead to social change?

Some believe that majority group members want to avoid agreeing with a minority because they don't want to be seen as deviant.

Therefore this suggests that minority influence only creates the potential for social change, rather than actually causing it.

Not all minority groups are successful because it depends on the majority members too.

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Evaluation - Real-world applications

Kruglanski (2003) - social change may explain terrorism

  • The aim of terrorism is to bring about social change when social force is not possible (minority is weak)
  • Consistency and persistence - suicide bombings are often persistent, demonstrating commitment
  • Augmentation - The individuals are willing to lose their lives for their commitment
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Example exam question (4 marks)

Explain the role of the minority in bringing about social change. (4 marks)

Social change has four conditions necessary for social change through minority influence. The first is drawing attention to the issue; if we are exposed to the issue then it draws our attention to it. The second is the role of conflict; if the minority view is different then this causes a conflict we want to reduce, as a result, we examine the argument more closely. Thirdly is consistency; the minority must express their argument consistently across time and each other. Finally is the augmentation principle; if minority members are willing to take the consequences of their views, the impact is increased.

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