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Social change refers to any significant alteration over time in behavior patterns and cultural values and norms. By “significant” alteration, sociologists mean changes yielding profound social consequences. Examples of significant social changes having long‐term effects include the industrial revolution, the abolition of slavery, and the feminist movement.
Today's sociologists readily acknowledge the vital role that social movements play in inspiring discontented members of a society to bring about social change. Efforts to understand the nature of long‐term social change, including looking for patterns and causes, has led sociologists to propose the evolutionary, functionalist, and conflict theories of change. All theories of social change also admit the likelihood of resistance to change, especially when people with vested interests feel unsettled and threatened by potential changes.