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21.2H: Ogburn’s Theory

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    8585
  • William F. Ogburn’s theory suggests that technology is the primary engine of progress.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Summarize the main points of Ogburn’s theory of social change, in terms of its four main stages

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Ogburn’s four stages of technical development are invention, accumulation, diffusion and adjustment.
    • Although his theory is associated with technological determinism, the two are far from perfectly aligned.
    • Technological determinism is a theory that argues technology is responsible for determining a society ‘s structure and values.
    • Cultural lag is the period during which non-material culture strives to adjust to new technology and inventions.
    • Cultural lag is the period during which non-material culture strives to adjust to new technology and inventions.
    • Ogburn’s four stages of technical development are invention, accumulation, diffusion and adjustment.
    • Invention is the process by which new kinds of technology are produced.
    • Accumulation is the growth of technology as a result of new inventions outpacing the decline of old technology.
    • Diffusion is the spread of new ideas from one culture to another, or from one field of activity to another, which leads to the convergence of different technologies that then combine to form new inventions.
    • Adjustment is the process by which non-material aspects of society adjust to new technology.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • cultural lag: The term cultural lag refers to the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations, and that social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag.
    • soft determinism: Soft determinism posits that, although technology drives progress, people still may have the chance to make decisions regarding social outcomes.
    • hard determinism: Hard determinism is the idea that technology governs social structures and activities.

    William Fielding Ogburn (June 29, 1886 – April 27, 1959) was an American sociologist, statistician, and educator. Perhaps Ogburn’s most enduring intellectual legacy is the theory of social change he offered in 1922. He suggested that technology is the primary engine of progress, but it is also tempered by social responses to it. Thus, his theory is often associated with technological determinism, a reductionist theory that presumes a society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values.

    Hard Determinism versus Soft Determinism

    Hard determinists view technology as developing independent from social concerns. They believe that technology creates a set of powerful forces acting to regulate our social activity and its meaning.

    Soft determinism, as the name suggests, is a more passive view of the way technology interacts with socio-political situations. Soft determinists still subscribe to the fact that technology is the guiding force in our evolution, but maintain that we have a chance to make decisions regarding the outcomes of a situation. Ogburn, in fact, proposed a slightly different variant of soft determinism, in which society must adjust to the consequences of major inventions, but often does so only after a period of cultural lag. Cultural lag, a term coined by Ogburn, refers to a period of maladjustment, which occurs when the non-material culture is struggling to adapt to new material conditions.

    Stages of Technological Development

    Ogburn posited four stages of technical development: invention, accumulation, diffusion, and adjustment.

    Invention is the process by which new forms of technology are created. Inventions are collective contributions to an existing cultural base that cannot occur unless the society has already gained a certain level of knowledge and expertise in the particular area.

    Accumulation is the growth of technology due to the fact that the invention of new things outpaces the process by which old inventions become obsolete or are forgotten—some inventions (such as writing) promote this accumulation process.

    Diffusion is the spread of an idea from one cultural group to another, or from one field of activity to another. As diffusion brings inventions together, they combine to form new inventions.

    Adjustment is the process by which the non-technical aspects of a culture respond to invention. Any retardation of this adjustment process causes cultural lag.

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    Expansion of Communications and Information Technology: Ogburn posited four stages of technical development: invention, accumulation, diffusion, and adjustment.

     

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