Responses to Accelerated Change

(Coordination: H. Rosa)

Social change can be defined as (gradual or disruptive) transformation of the associational patterns and/or the institutionalised forms of knowledge and action of society. Hence, the rates of change are not invariant in society. Accelerated change can be the result of two types of social development: First, there are periods of short, disruptive (‘revolutionary’) social transformation, where social rules, norms, associations, and institutions are replaced by or superimposed on new ones. The French Revolution of 1789 and the transition from communism to representative democracy and market economy after 1989 are cases in point here. Second, there are inherently dynamic social arrangements which tend to gradually and endogenously to increase the rates of social innovation (technological, cultural, political etc.), without any apparent or disruptive break, such as the Industrial Revolution.

Fundamental Research Question
In contemporary Social Science, there is widespread agreement that Western societies in general and German society in particular are in a period of accelerated social change which is the result of two overlapping historical processes: First, the political transformation of 1989 with its ongoing repercussions brought about an extensive cultural and institutional break in East-German (and to a lesser extent also in West-German) social, political, technological and economic structures (CRC 580). Thus, social actors needed to respond to a situation of rapid and multi-dimensional social change affecting their jobs, their families, their social and technological environments, and their cultural and political settings. Second, the ongoing transformation of the Western nation-state model in general and the West-German welfare-state model and industrial structures (RTG 1411) in particular can be understood as a response to those processes of economic, technological and cultural innovation that are frequently referred to as ‘globalisation’. In these processes, the rates of change in Western societies appear to be significantly accelerated – at least during the period of adaptation to the new global social, political and economic order and the new technological, informational and ‘migrational’ realities. Of course, not all social groups and individuals are affected to the same degree by these transformations, thus opening up one route of explanation for differences in the observable patterns of response.