Examples of social forces include moral panics, patriarchy, cultural norms, traditions, and mass media. Social forces influence individual and social processes that contribute to social stability and social change.
Recognizing and studying social forces are important components of macro-sociology. Macro-sociology explains individual choice and action through the impact of social forces. Individual choices do not occur in a vacuum but emerge from interactions with society.
The founding fathers of sociology, Durkheim, Marx, and Weber, paid attention to social forces.
In the mid-20th century, C. Wright Mills (1959) drew attention to social forces with his concept of “sociological imagination.” Through this, Mills made us understand the strong relationship between personal issues and the social forces that shape society.
Definition of Social Forces
Social forces are patterns of behavior that influence people to think, behave, act, and relate to one another in specific ways.
Here is a scholarly definition of social forces:
- “…a term used by Durkheim to indicate aspects of society external to the individual that act upon the individual. An example of a social force might be a wave of patriotism that could sweep up the individual, who would then both contribute to and be propelled by it.” (Lawson & Garrod, 2012, p. 230)
Social forces do not directly determine individual choices, but provide a certain context and direction. They act as a force that leans upon us and informs our decision-making.
Social Forces Examples
Shortlist of Social Forces
- Social movement
- Popular ideas and ideologies
- Public health issues and concerns
- Patriotism and nationalism
- Economic factor
- Population dynamics
- Cultural tastes, trends & fashions
- Patriarchy and gender norms
- Cultural values
- Social norms
- School curriculum
- Mass media
- Social stereotypes (positive and negative)
- Police forces
- The military
- Social media
- Demographic shifts
- Socioeconomic class systems
- Caste systems
- Technological changes
- Regulatory regimes
- Family structures
- Markets and market forces
- Social institutions and total institutions
- Subcultures and countercultures
- Capitalism and socialism
- cultural biases
- Universities and researchers
- Cultural elders
- Environmentalist and activist groups
- Sports and sporting cultures
- Population dynamics & demography
- Ethnic and race relations
- Dominant corporations
- Charismatic leaders
- Influential books, films, literature, etc.
- Foreign aid
- Moral panics
- The Overton window
- Legal systems and laws
- Celebrities, influencers, and role models
The economy is the system of activities around the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. It is a social force constraining and facilitating people’s access to resources.
The economic system satisfies the needs of the members of a group regarding goods and services. It also specifies the share as to who gets what from the available resources.
The modern economy is capitalistic, which is based on the endless accumulation of capital.
Whether an individual owns capital or not has a grave influence on the individual’s choices and chances. The type of employment, whether a seasonal tourism employee or a financial advisor, creates a huge difference.
Equally, the level of inflation, savings, unemployment, interest rates, trade balance, competition, investments, purchasing power, wage levels, the existence of welfare benefits, etc. are all part of the structure that influences our daily lives.
2. Population dynamics
As populations change over time, we also find that values, beliefs, and worldviews also shift. These impact upon our lives – for example, it can lead to changes in laws that impact how much tax we pay.
Population dynamics concern how the populations of a species change over time. Demography is the science that looks into the human population dynamics. Three central processes in this regard are birth, aging and death, and migration.
Demographic dynamics and developments affect individual lives. They have an impact on political and economic policies that influence the lives of all citizens. In the 21st century, the global trend is toward increasing life expectancy and aging populations in many parts of the world, especially in the Global North.
Aging along with a slowdown in population growth has implications for economic growth, healthcare and pension systems, migratory decisions, and the carrying capacity of the environment.
3. Social Movements
Social movements are made of organized groups of people seeking to achieve their common goals. Social movements, like the #metoo movement, are social forces that have changed human behaviors across the world.
Social movements act to bring about or halt social change. Such action takes place outside of established patterns of action and against (partially or completely) established political systems.
Frequently, social movements are sources of lasting political change. Social movements occur due to various reasons. Among them are social unrest, ideology, injustice, and deprivation.
For example, the 19th-century working-class movement contributed to the institutionalization of universal suffrage, parliamentary democracy, and welfare regimes as well as the emergence of socialist and social democratic political parties.
The feminist movement in the 20th century contributed to the awareness of gender equality and the dissolution of patriarchal structures.
Poverty is the condition of people having little or no wealth, income, or possessions necessary to continue a decent life. Living in poverty is not a preference of individuals. Various economic, political, and social factors cause poverty.
Poverty, in return, causes or deepens economic, political, and social problems. It is usually women, children, and members of minority groups that experience the worst regarding poverty.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has a multidimensional index to define and measure poverty. The United Nations also adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty and protect life on earth.
The documentary “Poor Us” portrays the evolution of poverty through the ages.
Technology can be a force for social change or a tool to maintain social stability. For example, technological and technical advances led to the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
Thereafter, there was a speed-up in technological innovations that contributed to the improvement of human lives and social transformations. Before the widespread use of the internet in the 2000s, the invention of the Gutenberg press in the mid-15th century, for example, created a huge leap in literacy and education.
With the steam engine and railroads, humans became much more mobile. Medical technologies have contributed to improvement in health conditions. Electrification, motorization, automation, and digitalization have been important developments shaping human lives everywhere.
Social forces are things that have a sway on our lives and impact upon our day-to-day decisions. It can include patterns of behavior that influence how people think, behave, act, and relate to one another.
Social forces are past human actions that influence present human actions. This means that present human actions under the past’s impact will shape the future. Social forces do not determine individual choices but provide a certain context and direction.
Integration of social forces into sociological analysis is a challenge to analysis based on individualism and individual power. It underlines the fact that social forces influence individual choices, ideas, and actions.
Lawson, T., & Garrod, J. (2012). Dictionary of sociology. New York: Routledge.
Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination. Oxford University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.