Cyclical theories of social change focus on the rise and fall of civilizations attempting to discover and account for these patterns of growth and decay.
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Spengler, Toynbee and Sorokin can be regarded as the champions of this theory.Spengler pointed out that the fate of civilizations was a matter of destiny.
Each civilization is like a biological organism and has a similar life-cycle, birth, maturity, old-age and death. After making a study of eight major civilizations including the west he said that the modern western society is in the last stage i.e. old age. He concluded that the western societies were entering a period of decay as evidenced by wars, conflicts and social breakdown that heralded their doom.
Arnold Toynbee's famous book 'A study of History' (1946) focus on the key concepts of challenge and response. Every society faces challenges at first, challenges posed by the environment and later challenges from internal and external enemies. The nature of responses determines the society's fate. The achievements of a civilization consist of its successful responses to the challenges; if cannot mount an effective response it dies. He does not believe that all civilizations will inevitably decay.
He has pointed out that history is a series of cycles of decay and growth. But each new civilization is able to learn from the mistakes and to borrow from cultures of others. It is therefore possible for each new cycle to offer higher level of achievement.
Pitirin Sorokin in his book Social and Culture Dynamics - 1938 has offered another explanation of social change. Instead of viewing civilization into the terms of development and decline he proposed that they alternate of fluctuate between two cultural extremes: the sensate and the ideational.
The sensate culture stresses those things which can be perceived directly by the senses. It is practical, hedonistic, sensual and materialistic. Ideational culture emphasizes those things which can be perceived only by the mind. It is abstract, religious concerned with faith and ultimate truth. It is the opposite of the sensate culture. Both represent pure types of culture. Hence no society ever fully conforms to either type.
As the culture of a society develops towards one pure type, it is countered by the opposing cultural force. Cultural development is then reversed moving towards the opposite type of culture. Too much emphasis on one type of culture leads to a reaction towards the other. Societies contain both these impulses in varying degrees and the tension between them creates long-term instability. Between these types lies a third type 'idealistic' culture. This is a desirable blend of other two but no society ever seems to have achieved it as a stable condition.