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Cultural Lag Theory

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This is a theory expounding a notion that social problems arise from a culture’s inability to catch up with new ideas, technology or innovations. The theory is a development of Dr. Woodward James, who explained that when there is a change in the material conditions, the adaptive culture feels the pressure for change; it is the lack of synchronization of the adaptive and the material change that occasion a lag. Sociologist, William Ogburn fathers the coinage of the word cultural lag from his work in 1922. The cultural theory postulates that there exists a period of occurrence of maladjustments between new and non-material culture. The theory defines the material culture as those physical aspects that a society gives meaning to. Until something has been used in a society, it has no material meaning and is not a part of such society (Lynch 2000).

The non-material culture that struggles to accept new ideas and technology comprises of behaviors and thoughts of a people. This is what the society espouses and holds as notions defining them. It includes beliefs, politics, values, rules, economics, and family, among others.  The theory focuses on technical ideas and postulates that technology has independent impacts on the entire society. Ogburn proposed four stages in development of new technological ideas; this includes invention, accumulation of the idea, diffusion to the society and adjustment (Eason, Richardson and Yu L 2000).

Invention is dependent on a society’s knowledge and represents a society’s technological creations. They contribute to the already existent base of knowledge. Accumulation is the pile up of technology stocks, this is because new inventions outstrip obsoleteness of old inventions hence the pile. Diffusion is the movement of the new idea or technology from one social hierarchy or culture to a new one. The combination of technical knowledge through diffusion to another area with existing ideas blends to form new one. Adjustments on the other hand, are the response to the invention by the non-technical dimensions; cultural lag is a consequence of this retardation in adjustment. Cultural lag will always result since the material part of a society accepts the new idea and change well while the non-material part is still resistant. The conflict between the two parts resulting from non-material parts fixity makes adaptability of new ideas difficult and slows (Dafron 2007).

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