DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes Chapter 11 Thorstein Veblen (1857—1929)
Discuss Veblen’s Theory of Social Change. How far does it differ from that of Kari Marx ?
Compare and contrast Mara’s and Veblen’s Theories of Social Change.
Karl Marx in his theory of social change has laid too much stress on economic factor. He has also been criticised for his one factor theory. Like Marx, Veblen has also given his theory of social change, which has also been called as one factor theory.
Veblen’s Theory of Social Change. According to Veblen, all social changes come as a result of technology. When new technology gets introduced with that even the habits of the people auto¬matically change. They try to have new habits, an altogether different life style, and also their way of behaving, dress and eating on the one hand and social values on the other hand. It is technological change which changes material environment. Accord¬ing to Veblen, material environments are always changing and every person will have to adapt itself to those changes. As technological changes come with that social relationships as well changes.
Veblen is of the view that process of social change is bound to continue. It never stops and each change in turn results in another change. Though some may try to resist the change, but none will be in a position to do because change is inevitable. Since Veblen believes that technological and social changes are inseparable, he has also said that every social change in turn reflects techno¬logical advancements and vise versa.
According to Veblen, in every society there is a leisure class, which does not produce anything but plays a bit role in social life. It is this class which controls the society and also decides social norms. It. tries to ensure that these norms should be continued and not changed because these suit the convenience of this class.
Stress on Habits. Veblen has laid too much stress on habits. When the habits of the people changes with that social change come. In his own words, “social structure changes develops, adapts itself to an altered situation only through a change in the habits of thought of the several classes of community, or in the last analysis through a change in the habit of thoughts of individuals which make up community.” Continuing he has said, “The evolution of soc:ety is substantially a processs of mental adaptation on the part of individuals under stress of circumstances which will no longer tolerate habits of thoughts formed under and conforming to different set of circumstances in the past.” He has thus laid stress on habits in so far as social change is concerned.
Social Change and Environments. According to Veblen, in social change environments also play a big role. He feels that every social system is the product of and is influenced by the circumstances in which one..works and lives. Economic institutions and industrial system, as well as the habits are closely linked with environments. Habits and environments embody themselves in institutions which in course of time intervene between material exigencies of life and speculative scheme of things. Veblen has thus given significant place to environments in his theory of social change.
Karl Marx’s Views about Social Change. Karl Marx, already pointed out, believes the economic factor is the only factor which is responsible for bringing about sociai changes. His theory has also been called the theory of Economic Determinant of Social Changes. He has given economic interpretation of History and theory of Dialectical Materialism. He has also said that when the classes which own and control sources of production and distribution change with that the whole social system changes. For him social change is the by-product of economic system He has very strongly pleaded that history of hitherto existing society is nothing else that of class struggle. In his book, ‘Critique of Political Economy’, he has said “With the change of economic foundation, the entire super structure is more or less rapidly transformed”
All social, economic and cultural institutions ate influenced by the transformation of the economic system and that also establishes as well as breaks down social relationship.
Marx believes that mode of production has two aspects, namely, forces of production which include machine tools, labourers etc. and production relationship which determines as well as influences religious, political and social telationship. The former is ever chang¬ing and changes with changing situations. He has also said that social change is natural outcome of changes in economic structure. The existing social order has inherent seeds for bringing new social order because no social order is permanent of lasting for ever.
Revolution and Social Changes. Karl Marx believes that the existing social order most appropriately suits the capitalist, who are in power in all. walks of life. They are not likely to leave that and as such for this the working classes will have to struggle and use force and if need be they will be ready for a bloody revolution as well. Such, a revolution will establish new production relations which will lead to social and other changes. The revolution can be with the blood-shed or by peaceful means. He has also said that since every change is resisted, therefore, social changes will also be resisted. The changes thus come easily as well as with some difficulty but usually these are not welcomed by a vast majority of people.
Circumstances of Social Change. As already pointed out, social changes do not come easily. Like changes in every other field in social field too changes can come only when certain conditions conducive for that prevail. The most important condition for this is that alternative system, which is likely to replace the old system, is fully developed one and has reached a stage of maturity. Not only this, but it is to be ensured that the society is prepared to accept the changes and as such those who resist the changes are in a definite minority. Unless the society is responsible to changes, no change can come in the society. Since the forces of status quo always resist the forces of change, therefore it is essential that their strongholds or basis should be shaken. What need be cared by forces for change is that even the state machinery will side with the forces of status quo.
Marx’s Theory – An Evaluation. Marx’s theory has been criticised for its being only one factor theory in which he has made economic factor, as the only one factor for all social changes. He has also been criticised for over simplification of a complex problem. For bringing about changes sevetal factors and forces combine together. He has not even recognised the importance of religion in social changes.
By over simplification scientific character of the theory is lost. Not only this but, they also argue that it is not always essential that every economic change must also bring with it social change and vice versa. Marx lias tried to stress that social changes are the by-product or outcome of revolution. But he forgets that the changes come in the society even without revolution or by peaceful means. Thus, whereas they appreciate the place of economic in bringing social changes, they have criticised him for not taking other factors of social change into consideration.
Veblen and Marx’s Theories in Contrast. Both Marx and Veblen have, of course, expounded theories of social change. One common factor in both the theories is that both are one factor theories. Whereas Marx has laid stress on economic factor, Veblen has emphasised on habits and environments. But beyond that there is ho simjarity between the two. Marx’s theory is based on the ideal that a stage will come when a casteless and stateless society will be established. At that stage social changes are bound to come. On the other hand, Veblen has not based his theory on any ideal conditions or situations. Then another difference between the two is the role of technology in bringing social changes.
According to Veblen, technology is directly responsible for bringing social changes, but Marx believes that such a resposibility is only indirect. According to him, technology brings changes in economic system which in turn brings social changes. Still another difference between the two is that whereas Marx, in his theory of change has laid stress on past and on history, Veblen has stressed on the present. For him, past is not that important as it is with Marx.
Still another difference between the two is that whereas Marx has laid stress on material wants and needs, Veblen has put stress on material environments. For him wants and needs are not very important. But perhaps the most important difference between the two is that whereas Marx has laid stress on class, in Veblen’s theory such a struggle does not occupy any important place and position.
Thus both Marx and Veblen have certain basic differences in so far as theory of social change is concerned but both are known for their one factor theory, though the factor round which they develop their theories is different.
Briefly discuss Veblen’s views about cultural lag. ‘
Critically evaluate Veblen’s theory of cultural lag.
Veblen has given his ideas about cultural lag. He has started with the basic idea that the individuals have practically no control over the forces of change. These forces must play their part irrespective of the fact whether an individual likes these or not. According to him, human behaviour is guided by instincts and habits, e.g., love for parents, respect for the elders and sympathetic attitude towards kiths and kins. In the habits, he has included the pattern of conspicuous consumption and that of maintenance and integration.
Veblen’s Views About Cultural Lag. According to Veblen in every society certain technological advancements are taking place and each such advancement brings with it certain social and economic changes. Social problems arise when social institutions and organisa¬tions do not keep pace with changes which technology brings with it. He has quoted the example of machinery in the west without first introducing necessary labour laws and safety ‘measure resulting in many social problems like child labour, health haza etc.
He has also pointed out that right of the elite to hold p “iv’ate property on the one hand and the present concept of national sovereignty on the other, is another example to quote. Whereas the former is 18th century concept and the latter is 20th century philosophy. He has also talked of triumph of imbecile institutions. In very simple language he has said that this lag takes place because of divergence between improvement in science and technology and static social institutions.
According to Veblen, such a lag is bound to occur in every society because social systems and institutions are deep rooted and usually do not keep pace with changing times. According to him, the forces of status quo are always stronger in society then the forces of change. This results obviously in a lag between changes in techno¬logy and non-changing of change resisting social systems. It is because of this lag that several subsequent problems arise.
Veblen has also said that technological changes help in changing the habits of the people and material environmems. Since the latter are constantly changing, ’therefore every person will have to adopt itself to such environments. These changes also bring with them changes in thoughts and relationships. A serious lag occurs when social systems and institutions refuse to accept the existence and necessity of such changes and wish to strictly adhere to the past. The extent of lag is relevant and related to the extent of resistance.
He also believes that change is a chain process in which one change results in another. It is a continuous process and must be allowed to continue. He has also said that technology advancement and social changes are so inter-linked that one is reflected by the other.
Critical Evaluation of Veblen’s Theory. In this theory of cultural lag Veblen has laid stress only on one factor, namely, techno¬logy. According to him, lag always occurs because social changes do not keep pace with technological advancement. But it is basically wrong because no single factor can be held responsible for all social changes and consequent lag. In this regard, he is as much at fault as Marx who laid stress again on one factor, i.e., economic factor. He has completely forgotten that social change and cultural lag are complex problems and thus not linked with any single factor.
He has also been charged with over simplification. According to him, if technology advancement and social systems are made to keep pace with each other, there will be no lag. But he is wrong. Even if both go hand in hand, lags in several groups will take place because of several other factors.
But even then, Veblen’s views are significant because he has touched one very important aspect of cultural lag, i.e., technology. There is no denial that technology is not the only factor of lag, but at j.he same time .jt is its very important factor.
Write a brief note on Veblen’s views about Conspicuous Consumption:
While discussing his views about cultural lag, Veblen has said that human behaviour is guided by instincts and habits. In the habits, he has included the pattern of conspicuous consumption.
Veblen on Conspicuous Consumption. According to Veblen. conspicuous consumption is as old as the human culture and thus nothing new. In fact, going far back it goes back to the days of primitive life and society. According to him, in the initial stages the society was divided into two broad categories. On the one hand was a superior class which consisted of able bodied men and on the other an inferior class which consisted of labouring women. At that stage, the women produced whereas the men consumed. Consump¬tion then was not directed to their own comfort of life. It being both productive and unproductive. “.
He has said that next stage came when the institution of slavery came in the society. He lias called it as quasi peaceful stage. At this stage it was believed that industrious or working class should consume only which might be necessary for their very existence, so that the slaves and workers could serve the master. This class was considered to have no right to use luxuries and comforts of life and as such as paid the minimum wage. Their consumption capacity was very low. On the other hand, there was a superior class or leisure class and all the comforts of life like nutritive food and use of beverages etc.
While developing his ideas further in this regard, Veblen has said that this qualitative excellence in eating resulted in differences not only in manners of life but also in capacity to understand and in all intellectual activities. Those who belonged to leisure class and had better food and drinking got social reputation and respect.
He also says that thereafter wealth began to get accumulated in this class which began to be utilised and used in developing contacts and in giving gifts, expensive feasts and in life entertainments. Those who possessed wealth formed a separate class. More the wealth higher the position in the hierarchical system and more respect. This situation prevails even today. They outrank the others who either do not possess wealth or are comparatively poor or weak. The people of latter category keep satisfied and demand on the courtesies or mercies of the rich and leisured class.
According to him, moneyed class always has capacity to purchase as well as consume. In all societies, those who consume more are considered rich and respectable. Thus consumption is directly linked with respectability. Those who consume also display their consuming capacity both to those who belong to their own category as well as to others. In fact, according to him show off is part of consumption capacity.
But the most important difficulty with his ideas is that he has not supported these with basic facts and figures but only on the basis of common knowledge. As a mature sociologist he should- have provided certain basic facts in supports of his arguments.
Veblen is of the view that the societies are stratified is a fact and basis of this stratification is that the society gets divided into leisureless and nonleisure less parts. There is a class in the society which has all luxuries and leisures and does no productive work. On the other hand, there is a class of people w hich undertakes all productive activities and yet its basic needs and requirements are not met. It is this leisured class, which is powerful and lays down such customs, traditions, rules and regulations which go in its favour.
Characteristics of Leisure Ciass. Since Weber has made leisure class as the basis of social stratification, he has discussed characteristics of this class as well. According to him, behaviour of this class is influenced by economic considerations and thus their whole outlook has economic orientation. This class believes in show off so that others get influenced in the society by their power and position. They indulge in conspicuous i.e., unproductive expenditure which has no relevance to social needs. Then its another character¬istic is that this class does not indulge in productive activities but wishes to impose its importance on’ others. This class has lot of property and controls means of production.
He has, however, pointed out that all are not equal in this class and thus within itself it is stratified between the high and the low. He is of the view that old concept of conspicuous consumption is now being replaced by the new concept of private property. This has also considerably changed the method of living of leisured class.
According to Veblen since the people of this class develop the habit of leading a luxurious life, therefore, they do not leave that when they become poor and do not have money to lead that type of life.
He feels that social stratification can also be studied with division of labour as the basis because this arises only in the case of working classes engaged in production and not in the case of leisured class which has nothing to do with productive activities.
Veblen’s theory of Leisure Class is the most important work of his social thought. This theory is based on economic considerations and rules. Veblen has himself remarked:
“Unproductive consumption of goods is honourable primarily as a mark of prosperity and a prerequisite of human dignity.”
According to Veblen in a society with a leisure class, the extra production that is made as a result of technological development, has more of a cultural value than the economic value and the wealth that is earned as a result of this extra production, is not dis¬tributed equitably, but it gets accumulated in certain hands. In such a set-up one group controls the means of production and earns profit while the other class which is the working class, earns its livelihood through labour and work.
Thus his classifications of social stratification is based on economic factor and he too has taken no other factor into consideration while’ discussing this important issue.