Influencing Social Change Essay

Learning Objectives

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Students will:


Bui, Q. (2012). Antidepressants for agitation and psychosis in patients with dementia. American Family Physician, 85(1), 20-22.Influencing Social Change Essay

Dingfelder, S. F. (2009). Stigma: Alive and well. American Psychological Association, 40(6), 56. Retrieved from

Jenkins, J. H. (2012). The anthropology of psychopharmacology: Commentary on contributions to the analysis of pharmaceutical self and imaginary. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 36(1), 78-79. doi:10.1007/s11013-012-9248-0

Price, L. H. (2010). Violence in America: Is psychopharmacology the answer? Brown University Psychopharmacology Update, 21(5), 5.

Optional Resources

Bennett, T. (2015). Changing the way society understands mental health. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from

Mechanic, D. (2007). Mental health services then and now. Health Affairs, 26(6), 1548–1550. Retrieved from

Rothman, D. J. (1994). Shiny, happy people: The problem with “cosmetic psychopharmacology.” New Republic, 210(7), 34–38.

To prepare for this Discussion:

· Reflect on how you might influence social change for psychiatric mental health.

Post an explanation of how you, as a nurse practitioner, might become a social change agent for psychiatric mental health. Include how you might advocate for change within your own community.

Social change is a concept many of us take for granted or don’t really even understand. No society has ever remained the same. Change is always happening. We accept change as inevitable, and it is, end of story, right? Well, not exactly.

Sociologists define social change as changes in human interactions and relationships that transform cultural and social institutions. These changes occur over time and often have profound and long-term consequences for society. Well known examples of such change have resulted from social movements in civil rights, women’s rights, and LBGTQ rights, to name just a few. Relationships have changed, institutions have changed, and cultural norms have changed as a result of these social change movements. That’s pretty heady stuff. Don’t you think?Influencing Social Change Essay

What interests me, and what I hope interests you, is our collective power to influence social change. While we accept that change is constant, we do not have to accept that we are powerless in its wake. It is the extent to which we care about the direction of social change that we can try to shape it and help to create the kind of “change we wish to see in the world.” Whether or not Gandhi actually uttered these words doesn’t matter. What matters is that the phrase begs the question, what kind of change do we wish to see in the world?

As executive director of the 43+-year-old nonprofit, Global Citizens Circle (GCC), I think about this question every day as I work to carry forward the mission of the organization to foster constructive change in our communities, our nation and our world. I imagine that our partner and host institution, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), also thinks about this question on a daily basis as it seeks to “transform the lives of students.” And surely, our Belfast-based partner, The Social Change Initiative (SCI), thinks about it as it strives “to improve the effectiveness of activism for progressive social change.” We, all three institutions, care and understand that we can influence social change for the better. We may exercise our power to influence change in different ways. GCC does it through discussion among people of diverse opinions and backgrounds. SNHU does it by offering affordable and innovative educational social science degree programs online and similar campus majors, and now even in refugee camps in Africa. SCI exercises its influence by bringing together social activists with philanthropists around the world.

These are lofty goals to be sure, and they demand our constant attention and unrestricted imagination to envision a better world. You may think that’s great, but wonder why you should care, why you should take time out of your incredibly busy schedule to take action and more importantly, how you can even go about helping to create positive social change. I’d like to suggest that it’s not that hard if we begin at the most basic level, that of relationship building.Influencing Social Change Essay

Change Begins With How and When We Interact With Others
When we listen respectfully to others who have different opinions and life experiences than our own, we take the first step in listening; we accept that there are myriad perspectives and points of view on most issues of concern. If we truly want to be a participant in real change, we cannot stop at acceptance, but we must have conversations that push and pull, that asks us to give and take. And if we are willing to do that, we can find those points of agreement and come together on them. We needn’t concede those points that define our values but find ways to work together towards positive change that reflects our shared values. It is the art of principled compromise that has the power to create a more lasting change.

Global Citizens Circle has for over four decades brought together diverse groups of people for challenging discussions on issues ranging from conflict resolution and reconciliation to education reform and economic equality. We’ve seen Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland sit down together and discuss their shared hope for peace. We’ve hosted South African exiles who were once labeled “terrorists” in their own country and who later became leaders of that country. At our discussion circles, we’ve seated powerful business people next to the homeless and disenfranchised, and activists next to academics, and we have born witness to the change that has occurred.Influencing Social Change Essay

Causes of Social Change
Changes to technology, social institutions, population, and the environment, alone or in some combination, create change. Below, we will discuss how these act as agents of social change, and we’ll examine real-world examples. We will focus on four agents of change that social scientists recognize: technology, social institutions, population, and the environment.

Some would say that improving technology has made our lives easier. Imagine what your day would be like without the Internet, the automobile, or electricity. In The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman (2005) argues that technology is a driving force behind globalization, while the other forces of social change (social institutions, population, environment) play comparatively minor roles. He suggests that we can view globalization as occurring in three distinct periods. Influencing Social Change Essay First, globalization was driven by military expansion, powered by horsepower and wind power. The countries best able to take advantage of these power sources expanded the most, and exert control over the politics of the globe from the late fifteenth century to around the year 1800. The second shorter period from approximately 1800 C.E. to 2000 C.E. consisted of a globalizing economy. Steam and rail power were the guiding forces of social change and globalization in this period. Finally, Friedman brings us to the post-millennial era. In this period of globalization, change is driven by technology, particularly the Internet (Friedman 2005).

But also consider that technology can create change in the other three forces social scientists link to social change. Advances in medical technology allow otherwise infertile women to bear children, which indirectly leads to an increase in population. Advances in agricultural technology have allowed us to genetically alter and patent food products, which changes our environment in innumerable ways. From the way we educate children in the classroom to the way we grow the food we eat, technology has impacted all aspects of modern life.

Of course there are drawbacks. The increasing gap between the technological haves and have-nots––sometimes called the digital divide––occurs both locally and globally. Further, there are added security risks: the loss of privacy, the risk of total system failure (like the Y2K panic at the turn of the millennium), and the added vulnerability created by technological dependence. Think about the technology that goes into keeping nuclear power plants running safely and securely. What happens if an earthquake or other disaster, like in the case of Japan’s Fukushima plant, causes the technology to malfunction, not to mention the possibility of a systematic attack to our nation’s relatively vulnerable technological infrastructure?Influencing Social Change Essay

Millions of people today walk around with their heads tilted toward a small device held in their hands. Perhaps you are reading this textbook on a phone or tablet. People in developed societies now take communication technology for granted. How has this technology affected social change in our society and others? One very positive way is crowdsourcing.

Thanks to the web, digital crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. Web-based companies such as Kickstarter have been created precisely for the purposes of raising large amounts of money in a short period of time, notably by sidestepping the traditional financing process. This book, or virtual book, is the product of a kind of crowdsourcing effort. It has been written and reviewed by several authors in a variety of fields to give you free access to a large amount of data produced at a low cost. The largest example of crowdsourced data is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia which is the result of thousands of volunteers adding and correcting material.

Perhaps the most striking use of crowdsourcing is disaster relief. By tracking tweets and e-mails and organizing the data in order of urgency and quantity, relief agencies can address the most urgent calls for help, such as for medical aid, food, shelter, or rescue. On January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake hit the nation of Haiti. By January 25, a crisis map had been created from more than 2,500 incident reports, and more reports were added every day. The same technology was used to assist victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011.Influencing Social Change Essay

The Darker Side of Technology: Electronic Aggression in the Information Age
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) uses the term “electronic aggression” to describe “any type of harassment or bullying that occurs through e-mail, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), or text messaging” (CDC, n.d.) We generally think of this as cyberbullying. A 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 27.8 percent of students aged twelve through eighteen reported experiencing bullying. From the same sample 9 percent specifically reported having been a victim of cyberbullying (Robers et al. 2013).

Cyberbullying represents a powerful change in modern society. William F. Ogburn (1922) might have been describing it nearly a century ago when he defined “cultural lag,” which occurs when material culture precedes nonmaterial culture. That is, society may not fully comprehend all the consequences of a new technology and so may initially reject it (such as stem cell research) or embrace it, sometimes with unintended negative consequences (such as pollution).Influencing Social Change Essay

Cyberbullying is a special feature of the Internet. Unique to electronic aggression is that it can happen twenty-four hours a day, every day; it can reach a child (or an adult) even though she or he might otherwise feel safe in a locked house. The messages and images may be posted anonymously and to a very wide audience, and they might even be impossible to trace. Finally, once posted, the texts and images are very hard to delete. Its effects range from the use of alcohol and drugs to lower self-esteem, health problems, and even suicide (CDC, n.d.).

According to the Megan Meier Foundation web site (2014a), Megan Meier had a lifelong struggle with weight, attention deficit disorder, and depression. But then a sixteen-year-old boy named Josh Evans asked Megan, who was thirteen years old, to be friends on the social networking web site MySpace. The two began communicating online regularly, though they never met in person or spoke on the phone. Now Megan finally knew a boy who, she believed, really thought she was pretty.

But things changed, according to the Megan Meier Foundation web site (2014b). Josh began saying he didn’t want to be friends anymore, and the messages became cruel on October 16, 2006, when Josh concluded by telling Megan, “The world would be a better place without you.” The cyberbullying escalated when additional classmates and friends on MySpace began writing disturbing messages and bulletins. That night Megan hanged herself in her bedroom closet, three weeks before what would have been her fourteenth birthday.Influencing Social Change Essay

According to an ABC News article titled, “Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Death” (2007), it was only later that a neighbor informed Megan’s parents that Josh was not a real person. Instead, “Josh’s” account was created by the mother of a girl who used to be friends with Megan.

You can find out more of Megan’s story at her mother’s web site:

Social Institutions
Each change in a single social institution leads to changes in all social institutions. For example, the industrialization of society meant that there was no longer a need for large families to produce enough manual labor to run a farm. Further, new job opportunities were in close proximity to urban centers where living space was at a premium. The result is that the average family size shrunk significantly.

This same shift toward industrial corporate entities also changed the way we view government involvement in the private sector, created the global economy, provided new political platforms, and even spurred new religions and new forms of religious worship like Scientology. It has also informed the way we educate our children: originally schools were set up to accommodate an agricultural calendar so children could be home to work the fields in the summer, and even today, teaching models are largely based on preparing students for industrial jobs, despite that being an outdated need. A shift in one area, such as industrialization, means an interconnected impact across social institutions.Influencing Social Change Essay

Population composition is changing at every level of society. Births increase in one nation and decrease in another. Some families delay childbirth while others start bringing children into their folds early. Population changes can be due to random external forces, like an epidemic, or shifts in other social institutions, as described above. But regardless of why and how it happens, population trends have a tremendous interrelated impact on all other aspects of society.

In the United States, we are experiencing an increase in our senior population as baby boomers begin to retire, which will in turn change the way many of our social institutions are organized. For example, there is an increased demand for housing in warmer climates, a massive shift in the need for elder care and assisted living facilities, and growing awareness of elder abuse. There is concern about labor shortages as boomers retire, not to mention the knowledge gap as the most senior and accomplished leaders in different sectors start to leave. Further, as this large generation leaves the workforce, the loss of tax income and pressure on pension and retirement plans means that the financial stability of the country is threatened.Influencing Social Change Essay

Globally, often the countries with the highest fertility rates are least able to absorb and attend to the needs of a growing population. Family planning is a large step in ensuring that families are not burdened with more children than they can care for. On a macro level, the increased population, particularly in the poorest parts of the globe, also leads to increased stress on the planet’s resources.


The Environment
Turning to human ecology, we know that individuals and the environment affect each other. As human populations move into more vulnerable areas, we see an increase in the number of people affected by natural disasters, and we see that human interaction with the environment increases the impact of those disasters. Part of this is simply the numbers: the more people there are on the planet, the more likely it is that some will be affected by a natural disaster.

But it goes beyond that. Movements like describe how we have already seen five extinctions of massive amounts of life on the planet, and the crisis of global change has put us on the verge of yet another. According to their website, “The number 350 means climate safety: to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm” ( Social Change Essay

The environment is best described as an ecosystem, one that exists as the interplay of multiple parts including 8.7 million species of life. However dozens of species are going extinct every day, a number 1,000 times to 10,000 times the normal “background rate” and the highest rate since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. The Center for Biological Diversity states that this extinction crisis, unlike previous ones caused by natural disasters, is “caused almost entirely by us” (Center for Biological Diversity, n.d.). The growth of the human population, currently over seven billion and expected to rise to nine or ten billion by 2050, perfectly correlates with the rising extinction rate of life on earth.

The four key elements that affect social change that are described in this chapter are the environment, technology, social institutions, and population. In 2005, New Orleans was struck by a devastating hurricane. But it was not just the hurricane that was disastrous. It was the converging of all four of these elements, and the text below will connect the elements by putting the words in parentheses.

Before Hurricane Katrina (environment) hit, poorly coordinated evacuation efforts had left about 25 percent of the population, almost entirely African Americans who lacked private transportation, to suffer the consequences of the coming storm (demographics). Then “after the storm, when the levees broke, thousands more [refugees] came. And the city buses, meant to take them to proper shelters, were underwater” (Sullivan 2005). No public transportation was provided, drinking water and communications were delayed, and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (institutions), was headed by an appointee with no real experience in emergency management. Those who were eventually evacuated did not know where they were being sent or how to contact family members. African Americans were sent the farthest from their homes. When the displaced began to return, public housing had not been reestablished, yet the Superdome stadium, which had served as a temporary disaster shelter, had been rebuilt. Homeowners received financial support, but renters did not.Influencing Social Change Essay

As it turns out, it was not entirely the hurricane that cost the lives of 1,500 people, but the fact that the city’s storm levees (technology), which had been built too low and which failed to meet numerous other safety specifications, gave way, flooding the lower portions of the city, occupied almost entirely by African Americans.

Journalist Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, presents a theory of a “triple shock,” consisting of an initial disaster, an economic shock that replaces public services with private (for-profit) ones, and a third shock consisting of the intense policing of the remaining public. Klein supports her claim by quoting then-Congressman Richard Baker as saying, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” She quotes developer Joseph Canizaro as stating, “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.”

One clean sheet was that New Orleans began to replace public schools with charters, breaking the teachers’ union and firing all public school teachers (Mullins 2014). Public housing was seriously reduced and the poor were forced out altogether or into the suburbs far from medical and other facilities (The Advocate 2013). Finally, by relocating African Americans and changing the ratio of African Americans to whites, New Orleans changed its entire demographic makeup.Influencing Social Change Essay

Modernization describes the processes that increase the amount of specialization and differentiation of structure in societies resulting in the move from an undeveloped society to developed, technologically driven society (Irwin 1975). By this definition, the level of modernity within a society is judged by the sophistication of its technology, particularly as it relates to infrastructure, industry, and the like. However, it is important to note the inherent ethnocentric bias of such assessment. Why do we assume that those living in semi-peripheral and peripheral nations would find it so wonderful to become more like the core nations? Is modernization always positive?

One contradiction of all kinds of technology is that they often promise time-saving benefits, but somehow fail to deliver. How many times have you ground your teeth in frustration at an Internet site that refused to load or at a dropped call on your cell phone? Despite time-saving devices such as dishwashers, washing machines, and, now, remote control vacuum cleaners, the average amount of time spent on housework is the same today as it was fifty years ago. And the dubious benefits of 24/7 e-mail and immediate information have simply increased the amount of time employees are expected to be responsive and available. While once businesses had to travel at the speed of the U.S. postal system, sending something off and waiting until it was received before the next stage, today the immediacy of information transfer means there are no such breaks.Influencing Social Change Essay

Further, the Internet bought us information, but at a cost. The morass of information means that there is as much poor information available as trustworthy sources. There is a delicate line to walk when core nations seek to bring the assumed benefits of modernization to more traditional cultures. For one, there are obvious procapitalist biases that go into such attempts, and it is short-sighted for western governments and social scientists to assume all other countries aspire to follow in their footsteps. Additionally, there can be a kind of neo-liberal defense of rural cultures, ignoring the often crushing poverty and diseases that exist in peripheral nations and focusing only on a nostalgic mythology of the happy peasant. It takes a very careful hand to understand both the need for cultural identity and preservation as well as the hopes for future growth.

Was it Hard?
The conversation topics often were, but listening and learning from others was not. Change begins this way. We must nurture civil discourse and work with intentionality to bring together people with different perspectives. Convening gatherings of people, educating students in classrooms and online, and supporting activists who put themselves in the forefront of advocating for social change are how Global Citizens Circle, Southern New Hampshire University and The Social Change Initiative use their influence and power to direct change towards a more equitable and inclusive society. Ultimately, however, it is not the programs that each of our organizations offers that create lasting change, but it is the relationships of trust and respect that do.Influencing Social Change Essay

Building those kinds of relationships, even when, no, especially when, it seems impossible, is the key to cultivating constructive social change. So take the lead, start now and stay at it.

Theo Spanos Dunfey is the executive director of Global Citizens Circle, a nonprofit partnering with SNHU in a shared mission to listen, learn and take sustainable actions to create positive social change. Dunfey is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University and Brown University. She has a wealth of global experience, most recently overseeing the Office of Citizenship and Civic Engagement at the University of New England, where she also taught courses in Citizenship and led several student groups on Global Citizenship service learning trips abroad. Prior to that, she’d led the World Affairs Council of Maine and produced numerous global editorial conferences for The WorldPaper. Influencing Social Change Essay

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