How easy is it to define change? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines change as either,
to exchange one thing for another thing, especially of a similar type
but this is very vague, offering the idea of difference or exchange, but nothing of how or why. Using the concept of ‘change’ in research requires a deeper consideration. We have a general understanding of what change is, but this is based in experiential, common-sense views which have little detailed or analytic/philosophical basis. This means that change as a concept remains vague and has many contextualised starting points. This is a good reason for highlighting change as an area for study in its own right, transdisciplinary in nature, by making the process and nature of change the focus of study.
One of the problems with change is its apparent ubiquity and therefore the multitude of contexts in which it is used as an active concept, often with few direct discussions or explanations of the concept itself. So how might change begin to be considered? Here I suggest two different ways of looking at change to enable me to begin to understand and characterise it.
1. Understanding change
This is work attempting to understand the nature change. This is difficult to do as it has so many different contextual meanings, but these at least give a basis for thinking through what change might be. Below is a sketch of just a small number of the potential contexts for thinking about change,
This leads to consideration of how we are trying to understand the nature of change, as there is a choice between trying to reduce the concept to a form of foundationalism, or alternatively working with the complexity. Is it possible to reduce the concept of change without leading to such a large degree of reductionism that the essential features of change are lost? A complex understanding of change, in contrast, would instead attempt to reconcile the multifaceted richness of the concept, a form of conceptual ‘bricolage’ of change as opposed to a single defining framework. This alternative fits well with a complex processual metaphysics where change is the result of tangles of processes, often non-linear and shifting over time. This then opens the door for a form of meta-change, i.e. understanding the change of change.
Change also occurs at different scales:
- individual change: Based initially on Reynolds and Branscombe (2015), change sets the individual within the context of environment, difference across time and context and shifts in behaviour and identity. This is focused on trying to understand and explore the complex nature of human existence and how it changes.
- organisational/communal change: Engaging with the extensive organisational sciences research into organisational change, the theories, the philosophical perspectives, and the empirical observations. This can then be considered within the less formal context of communities.
- Large-scale changes: What are the processes driving large-scale change such as societal change? This interlinks with political change and planetary change – geology, climate, biosphere, civilisations etc.
Finally, how do these different scales of change intersect? How do they generate the shifting complex networks of adapting systems which lead to the constant emergence of reality?
2. Generating change
Another way of understanding change is to actively generate change. By developing an understanding of change we are able to consider and enact change in innovative and interesting ways to execute change processes. Some of these might be generic, whilst others more context specific. Hence, the generation of change processes and agendas become a necessity to consider how it might be possible to effect change.
By thinking about the nature of change and also by working to affect change, we can gain a range of perspectives which help us to explore both the complexity and the common emergent processes involved in creating change.
Reynolds, K.J. & Branscombe, N.R. (2015) Psychology of Change. Life Contexts, Experiences, and Identities. Psychology Press: New York.