Why are social reforms important? Do they have the potential to completely transform a society? Are these changes always perceived as a positive alteration of societal norms? Do all sections of society benefit from these reforms?
Social reforms can be seen as a positive change within societies, and even to some degree on a national or global scale. Societies have been stratified based on social types. Usually in the past this has been centred on property and wealth, birth, and even religious affiliation. Hierarchical structures dictated which class or group an individual belonged to and in turn this dictated their place in society. Yet many social reforms were fought for in order to cut across such stratifications and give opportunities and rights to all, particularly marginalised groups.
Karl Marx envisaged a classless society, in which subordinate groups would become class conscious and rise against their oppressors. This social revolution would level out these social stratifications and breakdown these hierarchical structures. Although there was no such socialist revolution, class consciousness can be seen in relation to ‘social-position consciousness’. This consciousness would allow those marginalised groups to realise their subordination and denial of rights in order to fight for change.
So why are social reforms important? Social reforms have in the past given marginalised groups the opportunity to enter public positions that were previously denied them. They allowed them to have a say in the society in which they lived. They gave many the basic human rights they needed to function as a part of their society. They gave them a sense of belonging and even in some cases a sense of importance to the communities in which they lived.
Do social reforms have the potential to completely transform a society? Are these changes always perceived as a positive alteration of societal norms? Societies can be completely transformed by such reforms. If a culture is predominant within such a society, these cultural norms can be challenged and change the way a society operates as well as altering customary practices. However, when tradition and culture are challenged they are not always perceived as a positive change and resistance by some sections of society will be met. In colonial India, a highly patriarchal society, granting rights to women, particularly those that interfered with religious beliefs, created tensions and protests among some of the indigenous people. These reforms, specifically the ones in the form of legislation, were difficult to enforce because of cultural resistance. To the marginalised groups that benefited from these reforms however, such change was warmly welcomed.
Do all sections of society benefit from such reforms? Reforms can still be class or group specific. Enfranchisement in most places was granted slowly to different groups based on property, wealth, nationality, gender and class. Social reforms in the area of gender equality also initially targeted the better-off of female groups, gradually extending to all.
Social reforms are important and have been very important in the past. Without them many of us would not be able to take on roles in society that we do today. Although there are still some groups that benefit more than others, class and other social stratifications are less of an issue, and integration and connections across such structures are more common. Even as a threat to cultural norms they can be seen as a positive change, particularly within cultures that marginalise or subordinate one group under another. Social reforms transform the world we live in and help provide equal opportunities to most individuals. It can be argued that those in power positions still hold much control over our ability to fully participate in society, yet slowly these powers are being ceded to the people.