Social Change

Park conceived of the process of social change as involving a three-stagesequence, or "natural history," beginning with dissatisfactions and the result-ing disturbances and social unrest, leading to mass movements, and ending innew accommodations within a restructured institutional order. Social unrest"represents at once a breaking up of the established routine and a preparationfor new collective action." Crowds as agents of unrest were, as Park said ina discussion of the French social psychologist Le Bon, "not merely any groupbrought together by the accident of some chance excitement." They were"the emancipated masses whose bonds of loyalty to the old order had beenbroken." The crowd, in Park's view, is an elementary and rudimentary socialformation. It "has no tradition. . . . It has therefore neither symbols, cere-monies, rites, nor ritual; it imposes no obligations and creates no loyalties.''Yet religious sects and social movements have their origin in the excitement ofthe crowd. To the extent that leaders emerge from previously amorphouscrowds, ephemeral and unreflective actions give way to more stable and per-manent forms of organization. The leaders of emerging social movements orreligious organizations impose social control on the previously unstructuredcollective behavior of the crowd, thereby transforming it into an audience."The crowd does not discuss and hence it does not reflect. It simply 'mills.' "In contrast, "in the public, interaction takes the form of discussion. Individualstend to act upon one another critically; issues are raised and parties form.Opinions clash and thus modify and moderate one another." When un-thinking crowds are transformed into reflective publics, there emerge newsocial entities that may, if conditions are propitious, make successful claimswhich break the cake of custom and thus prepare the way for novel accom-modations characterizing a new social order.

The notion of "natural history" conceived as a sequence of stages is centralnot only to Park's account of the rise of social movements but to many otherof his analyses as well. He attempted to write a natural history of the press,"not a record of the fortunes of individual newspapers, but an account of theevolution of the newspaper as a social institution. He inspired his studentLyford Edwards to write a natural history of the stages of revolution, witheach stage inevitably triggering the emergence of the next. Above all, his urbansociology is anchored in his conceptualization of various stages in the processof invasion and succession through which various groups carve out theirecological niches, their natural areas, in the urban environment.

From Coser, 1977:362-363.


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