The Human Experience of Social Transformation: Cross-Cultural Insights from Qualitative Comparative Analysis

Archaeologists and other scholars have long studied the causes of collapse and other major social transformations and debated how they can be understood. This article instead focuses on the human experience of living through those transformations, analyzing 18 transformation cases from the US Southwest and the North Atlantic. The transformations, including changes in human securities, were coded based on expert knowledge and data analyzed using Qualitative Comparative Analysis techniques. Results point to the following conclusions. Major transformations, including collapses, generally have a strong and negative impact on human security; flexible strategies that facilitate smaller scale changes may ameliorate those difficulties. Community security is strongly implicated in these changes; strong community security may minimize other negative changes. The relationships among the variables are complex and multi-causal; while social transformation may lead to declines in human securities, declining conditions of life can also push people to transform their societies. Finally, the considerable variability indicates that some societies are better able to deal with difficulties than others. These kinds of cases, in the past as well as today’s world, are worthy of much more attention.