Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.


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core definition

Transformation is the process of moving from one state (of being) to another: this may apply inter alia to abilities, awareness, knowledge, consciousness, environment, social status, fortune or wellbeing.

explanatory context

Transformation is about a fundamental change of form (and often functioning). It is much more than adjustment or repositioning; and implies more than reform, reawakening or reconsideration. It is closer to revolution in meaning and requires a fundamental re-evaluation and reconstruction.


'Social transformation' is a term that has been applied in a wide array of situations, such as the transformation of economies to communism in the wake of feudal or capitalist oppression, the tansformation of China, under communism, to a market economy, and the social transformation of underdeveloped countries.

analytical review

Kimanthi (2011) states:

Social transformation implies an underlying notion of the way society and culture change in response to such factors as economic growth, war or political upheavals.

Social transformation refers to the process of change in values, norms, institutionalized relationships, and stratification hierarchies over time. It affects patterns of interaction and insti­tutional arrangements within a society....

Social transformation should not be defined simply as a negation of something else.

Social transformation studies do imply a rejection of some central assumptions of development studies. The very notion of development often implies a teleological belief in progression towards a pre-fixed goal: the type of economy and society to be found in the ‘highly-developed’ western countries. Social transformation, by contrast, does not imply any predetermined outcome, nor that the process is essentially a positive one.

Social transformation can be seen as the antithesis of globalization. I mean this in the dialectical sense that social transformation is both an integral part of globalization and a process that undermines its central ideologies. Focusing on the social upheavals which inevitably accompany economic globalization can lead to a more critical assessment. Trends towards economic and cultural globalization accelerated, largely due to the information technology revolution. The structure and control mechanisms of global markets changed rapidly. The new media allowed an increasingly rapid diffusion of cultural values based on an idealized US consumer society. A leap in military technology shifted the global balance of power to the United States and its allies. Globalization and industrial re-structuring also led to marginalization, impoverishment and social exclusion for large numbers of people in both the older industrial countries and the rest of the world, undermining the supposed dichotomy between developed and underdeveloped economies.

Business Dictionary (2013) states:

In an organizational context, a process of profound and radical change that orients an organization in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness. Unlike 'turnaround' (which implies incremental progress on the same plane) transformation implies a basic change of character and little or no resemblance with the past configuration or structure.

Daszko and Sheinberg (2005) argue that:

Transformation has become a popular, overused and misunderstood word in organizations in the twenty-first century. Hundreds of organizations hear the mandate for transformation. ...Often the response, however, is a reaction, actions and mere incremental changes that are neither sustainable nor systematic. Unfortunately, few individuals understand transformation or why there is an imperative for transformation, not merely incremental or transitional change. Often, people confuse transformation with any kind of change, technology breakthrough, innovation, process improvement or transition. However, few changes are truly transformational.
Management typically interchanges the words and thinking for changing and transforming an organization. But there are unique distinctions—and those distinctions, applied and realized, not only result in a competitive edge but in unparalleled leadership that is rare to find and that can make a difference for society. However, while all transformation is change, not all change is transformation.
To transform means to change in form, appearance or structure. Transformation in the context of the management of organizations and systems occurs first in individuals, and then, in the organization.
Transformation is the creation and change of a whole new form, function or structure. To transform is to create something new that has never existed before and could not be predicted from the past. Transformation is a “change” in mindset. It is based on learning a system of profound knowledge...and taking actions based on leading with knowledge and courage.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Transformation in the context of quality in education

Quality: metaconcept for an argument that transformation is a metaconcept of quality.


Business Dictionary, 2013 , 'Transformation ' available at, accessed 9 May 2013, still available 29 December 2016.

Daszko, M. and Sheinberg, S. 2005, 'Survival is optional: only leaders with new knowledge can lead the transformation', available at, accessed 9 May 2013, still available 29 December 2016.

Kimanthi , K.S., 2011, 'Social transformation' 14 September 2011, available at, accessed 9 May 2013, still available 29 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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