English definition πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§

Basic definition

Societal transitions are major changes in the way we think and act on important issues, such as health, environment, relationships and work, and these changes can have both positive and negative consequences for our society.

Examples of societal transitions are:

  • Within the domain of health, examples include (1) the abandonment of diagnoses within clinical psychology, (2) the shift in social perceptions regarding health-related behavior (e.g. the shifts in norms regarding smoking), (3) and even the broader changes in how we approach health as a whole, and there are also transitions within healthcare, for example (1) the movement towards patient autonomy and (2) an increasing use of digital applications within healthcare.
  • Within the domain of sustainability, examples are mainly related to climate change and associated transitions, such as the energy and protein transition.
  • Within the domain of social and cultural change, examples include (1) the aging of the population, (2) evolving norms regarding relationships, sexuality and gender, as well as (3) the general shift in approaches to traditions, and (4) a growing emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
  • Within the domain of economy and work, examples include (1) evolving social norms of behavior, (2) changing housing patterns, (3) an increasing influence of globalization and migration, and (4) the growing acceptance of working from home as a norm.

Extended definition:

Societal transitions within the Faculty of Psychology of the Open University of the Netherlands are defined as long-term, dynamic changes in norms, views and insights regarding complex topics. They have the potential to bring about behavioral change at different levels of society, with both positive and negative effects. Transitions go through different phases, develop slowly and influence various processes. They can arise unplanned, but can also be actively initiated. Politics always plays a role in transitions. Understanding and tackling societal transitions requires multidisciplinary involvement.

Examples of societal transitions include changes in health perceptions and norms, sustainability issues such as the energy transition, evolution of social and cultural norms related to gender and diversity, and changes in economic and work-related behavior patterns, such as working from home and globalization.

Full definition:

Societal transitions refer to conscious and unconscious long-term, dynamic, structural, visible changes in norms, beliefs and insights that are often irreversible with regard to complex topics in which both individual and collective interests are strongly involved. Therefore, they can also be described as a change from one stable state to another stable state.

These transitions have the potential to bring about behavioral change at various interconnected levels of society, which in turn can have both positive and negative effects on the functioning of society as a whole. During a transition, behavior that was initially considered exceptional increases in frequency and the norm about this behavior evolves from negative to neutral, from positive to compulsory.

In contrast to faster changes, societal transitions develop relatively slowly and influence a broad spectrum of processes. Although many changes can lead to societal transitions, societal transitions often arise unplanned, which raises questions about their manageability and the possibility of improving the situation. Nevertheless, societal transitions can also be actively initiated by individuals or groups, such as activists. Moreover, there is always a political element involved, and politics can both help and hinder societal transitions.

Understanding and intervening in societal transitions require a multidisciplinary approach, involving various stakeholders at different levels of society. Although psychology is often aimed at the individual, there are various subjective observations about how individuals should be or are involved in these processes.

These definitions and examples were prepared by Gjalt-Jorn Peters and Thomas GΓΌltzow following an interactive session at the Faculty of Psychology of the Open University of the Netherlands. During this interactive session, we worked together to formulate these definitions and examples through both individual and group work in an iterative process.