Social change can be defined as a shift or remodeling of how human beings interact and the relationships that cause cultural transformations in social institutions. Social changes take place over a long time, causing extreme and deep-rooted consequences for the members of society. Social change results from many factors that cause shifts in how human beings think, behave, react and carry themselves. The law refers to the customs, practices, and rules of conduct of a society or community that are accepted to govern the members of society and recognized as binding by the people. The law comprises principles and regulations founded in a community by a particular authority to guide their actions and interactions. Politics refers to the actions and exercises that influence the policies and activities or obtaining and maintaining power in a particular government. Additionally, politics can be explained as actions or activities relating to obtaining and using power in a specific territory.
The interaction of the law, politics, and social change forms the most significant dynamics that drive the society towards growth and development in various aspects of life. A positive interaction among these social elements could lead to progression in the norms of a community, while a negative interaction among them could only lead to a progression in vices within a community. This essay aims to shed light on whether the law is a valuable engine of social change or whether change must always happen in society before it can occur in the law. This paper also gives an insight into the relationship between law and politics. The question of if the law should be used for social change is tackled.
The Relationship between the Law and Politics
The law and politics are two social phenomena arising from the same integral system but separated into two different entities by the pluralistic human view of the world. The distinction between law and politics can only be considered an illusion from an ontological perspective. Nevertheless, the contemporary degree of human development provides a different perspective concerning law and politics, disregarding such findings. Such a view argues that the two social phenomena are distinct; this view is necessary and indispensable. Fundamentally, the law operates proportionately with politics in three principal features.
Firstly, the law can act as a goal in relation to politics. Politics can present particular principal legal values or institutions as its objective. The political comprehension of such values or institutions becomes closely similar to the authentic legal comprehension of the same values or institutions. Secondly, the law can function as a means in relation to politics. In this case, it can be concluded that politics understands the law as a means or method to achieve particular political interests. In this instance, politics holds a neutral attitude towards the law.
Thirdly, the law can function as an obstacle or deterrent in relation to politics. In such a perspective, it can be interpreted that politics understands the law as a deterrent that blocks the achievement of particular political objectives or goals. In such a case, it can be concluded that the law prevails over politics; the converse is also true. Therefore, it means that politics can accomplish its objectives while disregarding the law and that the sovereignty of the law is protected through the decisions made by courts or actions taken by lawyers, activist groups, the public, and other organizations to obstruct the activities of political players.
An indispensable fact about the law is that it is inherently a means of particular politics. But such an argument cannot hold much strength because the law is not a pure method to achieve or fulfill political interests: the law is fundamentally autonomous. However, politics depends on the law for its existence; politics cannot exist without the law. The law forms politics and keeps it enclosed within particular boundaries outlined by justice, integrity, and social order, above all ideas. Nevertheless, the law could potentially not exist without politics. Politics provides the law with a driving force and specific substance, which are then absorbed and adapted into the autonomous structure of the law. Therefore, one of the most challenging tasks of every society or community is to continuously develop and maintain an appropriate balance between the law and politics.
The relationship between the law and politics in authoritarian or dictatorial countries is different from that in democratic states. In dictatorial countries, the law is subordinate to politics. Political players in dictatorial countries develop and apply the law to their advantage. In a democratic country, there is a dynamic and competitive relationship between the law and politics. In a democratic or constitutional country, the law and politics prevail over one another. The law prevails over politics under certain circumstances, and vice versa. In democratic societies, modern law and politics confront each other in legislative and parliamentary settings. The influence of politics on the law is dominant in such procedures, which require a popular vote.
Nonetheless, modern law inherently possesses a vast capacity for autonomy. The autonomy is met through the efforts of various players and factors within the democratic expanse. The autonomous judicial systems in democratic societies play a crucial role in ensuring that the law is kept “pure” and safe from the influence of politics. The judicial systems act in the interest of the law and limit the political aspirations of political players by maintaining their actions within the legal limits or standards. Additionally, legal awareness is a vital tool in maintaining the autonomy of the law: it develops in political players and directs them and gives them legal direction. Legal awareness helps the political actors develop an internal commitment to respecting and observing the law and the principal legal values.
The relationship between politics and the law constitutes two fundamental functions or tasks: safeguarding and progressive functions. The law and politics (individually or conjointly) both motivate and subdue the growth and development of social relations. Additionally, both work as methods to achieve justice and order in society. The non-integral existence of law and politics is essential in creating basic boundaries. The boundaries create a checks and balances system that forbids excessive one-sidedness in the law or politics.
The Law and Social Change
For the longest time, theorists who study the law and society have made efforts to illustrate and analyze the correlation linking the law and social change. The theorists perceive the law as autonomous, dependent, and a fluctuating factor in society. However, they highlighted the complementarity of the law with supplementary social structures. In the most conclusive discernment, social change can be perceived as members of society participating in group tasks and relations distinct from those engaged in by their predecessors. Therefore, social change can refer to the remodeling and adjustments in the way people conduct various activities. Thus, social change implies changes in how human beings govern themselves, educate their offspring, and view life.
Notably, the law is a reflection of the desire and aspirations of the members of a particular society. If a person desires to study and understand society, they have to study the laws enacted by its members to understand whether the society is advanced or primitive. Even though the law is, to a great extent, a product of society, it is responsible for social changes. Nonetheless, there are two perspectives to the concept of social change: firstly, the law changes the society, and secondly, society changes the law. In the first case, the rule of law exercises authority over society and molds it to transform according to its specifications. In the second case, society transforms the law to suit societal needs: this means that society drafts the law in line with the provisions made by its democratic institutions.
Taking instances where the law changes society means that society has begun to develop and advance in various aspects of life. The law changing society implies that members of that particular society have accepted to change their ways and activities to achieve the common good; it signifies a change in beliefs to satisfy the specifications of the law. In situations where the society changes the law, it means that society has begun to mature. If society changes the law, it indicates that the members are not bound by their customs and are ready to change how they are governed and how activities are conducted.
Consider the case of Sevitribai Phule, the wife of Mahatma Phule: Sevitribai Phule was an Indian educationalist and social reformer. When she began teaching in a school focused on educating the girls, society considered it a taboo and a bad omen that would affect the community. The movement that Sevitribai established gradually grew and progressed to become a law that ensured girls get a good education in schools for their development. Ultimately, society could not fight the movement anymore, so they had to adapt to the fact that girls were getting an adequate education. Members of the society began sending their girls to educational institutions, which signified the establishment of development in society. Some colleges in India also started admitting female students to pursue further studies. Considerably, Sevitribai’s movement was not limited to the Hindu community.
The Aligarh Muslim College set an example in the Muslim community by starting to admit female students to pursue their studies. Sevitribai Phule, with the help of her husband, began a movement that acted as the foundation of progressive change in India. Many people in the Hindu society, though reluctantly, started to perceive a girl’s education as the future of their society. It took time for the movement to take root, especially in households that firmly stood in maintaining and protecting the community’s traditions from influence by “foreign laws.” In the end, the society accepted to teach the girls as per the law: this is a clear depiction of how the law is an engine for social change.
Various societies mostly use the law as a tool of social reform. One of the law’s inherent and most beneficial characteristics is its ability to adapt to the constantly changing societal needs and maintain stability even when abrupt variations and transformations disturb normal relationships that define the society. The law is a vital instrument in helping society acculturate or conform to transformations by modifying class advantages and damages resulting from the changes. Ultimately, the law can become a tool or engine of social change by influencing and modifying human relations in the social framework. Nevertheless, an argument can be made that the law is incredibly ahead of immense alterations in the society. Therefore, it remains unenforceable if the law is in synchrony with the trends of change: notably, the law induces, expedites, and systematizes social changes.
Various aspects of life are constantly changing within society. Technological innovation and advancement have given rise to crimes that did not exist in the previous less-technologically advanced eras. Therefore, the law inevitably changes to be at par with social changes. Social life has gone through transformations caused by revolutions in communication systems. Therefore, changes in the law are inevitable if it is to attain the same level as technological advancement. The law has to change to ensure that it can competently detect and prevent various crimes, most of which are conducted by the use of technology. Cybercrimes have been a significant threat to governments, organizations, businesses, and associations. Additionally, family life has been challenged through crimes of cloning, artificial insemination, and abortion. The law has to constantly modify itself to ensure that such crimes are detected and dealt with appropriately.
Additionally, technological advancements and innovations have significantly degraded the environment. The increasingly toxic carbon emissions from manufacturing plants and factories have severely affected the cleanliness of air and rain. Also, various industries release vast amounts of waste into the water bodies, polluting the water used by human beings and other aquatic life. Technology is often considered a blessing by society, but the environmental degradation it causes is a curse. The law has to be modified due to such social changes to ensure that the environment is protected and conserved for the good of the members of society and future generations.
Application of the Law in Social Change
Social change is inevitable; therefore, for a balance to exist between society and the people within a constantly transforming society, a certain level of control is required, which necessitates the use of the law. The law is required to ensure a balance that will enable the members of society to coexist interdependently and ultimately help in the accomplishment of social change. Society is a heterogeneous expanse constituting people of all classes, colors, religions, gender, and background. It is prudent that no differences should be developed among the people regardless of their identities: these calls for homogeneity, which can only be achieved by applying the law to bring social change.
A lawless society is full of chaos and conflicts, and the concept of peace or harmony is absent in the society and among its members. Society comprises various kinds of people; therefore, a particular group of people is likely to have authority and dominion over the other members of society. In such a situation, the law should be applied to ensure that people in positions of power have higher status and more money than other people do not use their authority to oppress the considerably weaker members of society. Additionally, every society has its vices that hinder progressive social change. Such vices include rape, child labor, discrimination of some people based on their color, ethnicity, gender, drug trafficking and abuse, and corruption. In such cases, the law functions as a driving force for society to eradicate such vices.
In conclusion, the law, politics, and social changes play a significant role in shaping society and its people. The law and politics paint their peculiar pictures of the real world. Nonetheless, both pictures are ultimately crucial for the social life of the members of society. Notably, law and politics may overlap or differ depending on the social issue involved. The law and politics relate to one another in three fundamental functions: the law works in relation to politics as a goal, means, or obstacle. The interaction of the law, politics, and social change generates a driving force that results in the growth and development of society. In the past decades, society has gone through various transformations, and the law has been a helpful instrument or engine in achieving social changes. It is prudent to observe that societal issues are advancing from time to time, and the law should be applied appropriately to achieve harmony in society. Remarkably, the time has come for society to effectively and efficiently use the law to achieve social change in its true sense and pure form.
Abebe, R., Barocas, S., Kleinberg, J., Levy, K., Raghavan, M., & Robinson, D. G. (2020). Roles for computing in social change. In Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (pp. 252-260).
Astara, I., Wisnumurti, A. A. G. O., Amerta, I., Artawan, I., & Wesna, P. A. S. (2018). Custom, Hindu religion, local law, and social change in Bali in the context of tourism.
Dewan, M. C., Rattani, A., Fieggen, G., Arraez, M. A., Servadei, F., Boop, F. A., & Park, K. B. (2018). Global neurosurgery: the current capacity and deficit in providing essential neurosurgical care. Executive Summary of the Global Neurosurgery Initiative at the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change. Journal of neurosurgery, 130(4), 1055-1064.
Mancini, L., & Sala, S. (2018). Social impact assessment in the mining sector: Review and comparison of indicators frameworks. Resources Policy, 57, 98-111.
Manheim, D., & Garrabrant, S. (2018). Categorizing variants of Goodhart’s Law. ArXiv preprint arXiv: 1803.04585.
McNeilly, K. (2019). Are rights out of time? International human rights law, temporality, and radical social change. Social & Legal Studies, 28(6), 817-838.
Mullings, L. (2021). Therapy, Ideology, and Social Change. In Therapy, Ideology, and Social Change. University of California Press.
Pistor, K. (2020). The value of the law. Theory and Society, 49(2), 165-186.
Schapera, I. (2021). Tribal innovators: Tswana chiefs and social change 1795–1940. Routledge.
Sittlington, S., & Harvey, J. (2018). Prevention of money laundering and the role of asset recovery. Crime, Law and Social Change, 70(4), 421-441.
Taylor-Gooby, P. (2019). Social change, social welfare and social science. In Social Change, Social Welfare and Social Science. University of Toronto Press.