Social Change in New Zealand: Preliminary Investigation of the Last Two Decades of Social Background Characteristics

By Crothers, Charles | New Zealand Sociology, January 1, 2020 | Go to article overview

Social Change in New Zealand: Preliminary Investigation of the Last Two Decades of Social Background Characteristics


Crothers, Charles, New Zealand Sociology


... change continues to be all-pervasive, ubiquitous, and at times disconcerting. People from all walks of life talk about it, want it, oppose it, fear it and at times they even want to make sense out of it (Vago, 1999, p.1).

Introduction

An interest in social change was built into the very birth of sociology. Auguste Comte, and the Scottish moral economy school before him (Swingewood, 1984), developed trajectory theories of stages of societal change. Sociology became broadly concerned with the many changes constituting the development of modernity exemplified in the analyses of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim (Coser, 1977) and a more recent panoply of theorists-many of whom focus on particular sorts of change-were built into the constitution of contemporary modernity. However, as a topic in itself, social change is but lightly covered and is a study focus for few, and supported by limited sociological resources, such as textbooks (Vago, 1999 is one of a few exceptions). Indeed, when Hallinan (1997) reviewed studies of social change for her presidential address to the American Sociological Association, she reported that sociologists note the importance of its study while at the same time deploring its relative neglect.

An interest in social change was also built into the early establishment of formal sociology in New Zealand (NZ): the first formal text was Social change (Forster, 1969), although it had limited material actually fitting the title: a chapter on population growth and another on changing village structures. Since then, social change has often been a theme in NZ social analysis: for example, under the sponsorship of the New Zealand Planning Council several monitoring groups were set up and Judith Davey authored a series of cohort studies based on successive censuses (the last being 2003). A useful compilation of time-series statistics was also produced by Thorns and Sedgwick (1997).

On the other hand, the development of not just machine-accessible, but linked, NZ censuses has produced considerable potential to trace social change, through the ability to follow patterns amongst individuals over successive census time-slices. This research note first provides a brief review of attempts to fulfil this potential, focusing largely on systematic studies that use census or other survey data to tell us about social change. It then describes the methodology used for my own study of the latest 2018 Census data before summarising the key results from that study.

New Zealand studies of social change

The potential for tracing social change has been taken up by the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences (COMPASS) in successive projects, particularly the Family and Whänau Wellbeing Project (FWWP) which measured change census-by-census using a set of key social indicators (for example, McPherson et al., 2014) and then in a full-scale investigation using the linked censuses (Davis & Lay-Yee, 2019; see review by Crothers, 2019). For much the same time period, these developments with linked census data have been supplemented by many survey operations relating to social change (some longitudinal-see Crothers, 2015). NZ-on-Air (2019) has released an interesting 1990-2019 over-time comparison between two opinion surveys with repeated questions and, of course, there are many smaller, more-focused studies. Social change has also received episodic attention from journalists and some other agencies-and these are often interesting. There is limited attention from historians since they usually prefer studying more distantly in the past-see, however, Carlyon & Morrow (2013) which surveys the post-World War II period. Stats NZ (n.d-a, 2002, 2014a) had provided a few descriptive accounts of change: these include more general reports and many on more specific topics which are noted as appropriate below. However, there is a dearth of systematic study of the ways in which NZ society is changing, a gap which this research note attempts to fill. …

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