Research Committees


Published in ISA Bulletin number 29, year 1982
Prepared by Kurt Jonassohn ISA Executive Secretary 1974-1982


The Committee grew out of an exchange of ideas at the Working Group on “Modernization and Innovation” during the Seventh World Congress of Sociology held at Varna (September, 1970). At the meeting, many delegates expressed reservations on the ideological implications and current usage of the modernization concept.

“Modernization” should necessarily be an evolution toward the life patterns and techniques of dominant or advanced nations by-passing the issues of modernization goals and their supporting attitudes, the meaning of social processes, and the causes of conflict in modernization.

Consequently, it was decided that the updated concept of "social change process" would avoid some of the biases and could cover the gamut from development to subversion.

Several national groups that participated in the meetings of the Working Group sent different letters to the ISA asking for the constitution of a Research Committee:

  • Letter from seven Colombian sociologists (November 1970) in order to propose to the ISA the Constitution of a Research Committee on "Innovative Processes in Social Change."
  • Letter from four Italian sociologists, in the same sense (December 1970).
  • Letter from thirteen Mexican sociologists demanding the constitution of a Research Committee on "Las Fuerzas Sociales en el Cambio Social" (Social Forces in Social Change) (February 1971).
  • Letter from six Norwegian sociologists, asking for the recognition of a Research Committee on "Innovative Processes in Social Change" (February 1971).
  • Letter from seven Israeli sociologists (February 1971).
  • Letter from six Finnish sociologists (February 1971).
  • Letter from six American (USA) sociologists in relation to the constitution of a Working Group on “Modernization” (letter that led to the mistake of thinking that this group was separate from the other groups that participated in Varna; in fact, they belonged to the same common initiative).
  • Letter from seven Swedish sociologists (March 1971).

In May 1971 the ISA Executive Committee accepted the Committee recommendation to change the title to "Modernization and Innovation," looking for a coordination with the USA group. After it became clear that they were coordinated, and that the group as such was not interested in adopting the concept of "modernization" because of its ideological implications, the first name of the Research Committee became: "Innovative Processes in Social Change."

Executive and Members

The first provisional Board included the following persons: Orlando Fals Borda (Columbia), Ellen B. Hill (Italy) and Peter Park (USA).

In the beginning of 1972, an election was held by mail ballots and a new Board was elected:

President Orlando Fals Borda (Columbia)
Vice-Presidents Astrid Nypan (Norway)
Raymond Apthorpe (England-Uganda)
Secretary Ellen B. Hill (Italy)
RC Delegate Elihu Katz (Israel)
Alternate Ulf Himmelstrand (Sweden)

Membership figures for 1972-73 were:

  • February 1972: 40 members from 8 countries.
  • May 1973: 55 members from 21 countries.

The only change in the Board after the Congress in Toronto (August 1974) was that Ellen B. Hill was nominated delegate to the Research Council for the period 1974-78.

In September 1978, one month after the Ninth World Congress (Uppsala, August 1978), the Research Committee reported a membership of 109 persons, coming from 32 countries.

Toward the end of 1978 an election took place by mail ballots for the period 1979-82. The following Board was chosen:

President Orlando Fals Borda (Colombia) - alternate-
Vice-President Ulf Himmelstrand (Sweden)
Secretary-Treasurer Ellen B. Hill (Italy) – delegate to the RC-
Members Y. Michal Bodemann (Canada)
Anders Rudqvist (Sweden)
Karoly Varga (Hungary)

The membership decided in 1981 to change the name of the Committee to "Social Practice and Social Change" in order to reflect better its current scientific interests.


At Varna (September 1970), the Working Group "Modernization and Diffusion of Innovations" developed a three sessions program, under the chairmanship of Orlando Fals Borda (then in Switzerland), the vice-presidency of Everett M. Rogers (USA) and the secretariat of B. Grushin (USSR), as follows:

Session 1: Social Changes and Modernization (5 papers)
Session 2: Diffusion of Innovations (6 papers)
Session 3: Overcoming Resistance to Change in Organizations (3 papers)

During the Eighth World Congress of Sociology (Toronto, August 1974), the Committee had its first program of sessions as a Research Committee. This program included four sessions on the following topics:

Session 1: Mechanisms of Innovation from Below (5 papers)
Session 2: Innovation and Social Problems (5 papers)
Session 3: Counterpoints in Social Change (5 papers)
Session 4: Methods and Concepts in Social Change (9 papers)

The authors of these papers came from: USA (6), Canada (5), Colombia (2), England (2), India (2), Hungary (1), Iran (1), Israel (1), Japan (1), The Netherlands (1), New Zealand (1), Sweden (1).

Two years later, a regional Meeting for Europe was held in Zurich, at the Sociological Institute of the University of Zurich (Switzerland). Twenty persons attended the meeting which took place on September 11-12, 1976, on the theme "Innovative Processes in Social Change in Highly Industrialized Nations." Ellen B. Hill was responsible for its organization.

A World Symposium on "Action Research and Scientific Analysis" took place in Cartagena (Colombia), April 18-23, 1977. Topics of the meeting were:

  1. The range of utilization of action research: limits and possibilities.
  2. Convergence of action research with existing social theories.
  3. Theory-making, model-building and concept-making in action research.
  4. Historical and field techniques in action research.
  5. The ideological components of action research.
  6. The political consequences of action research.
  7. Personal commitment and the scientific approach.
  8. Case studies and content presentations.

More than a hundred persons from twenty-six countries attended the four Plenary Sessions, where papers by Himmelstrand, Fals Borda, Petras and Stambouli were presented, while 27 other papers were discussed in commissions. 

Papers came from: Colombia (5), Canada (2), Sweden (2), Argentina (1), Austria (1), Bolivia (1), Chile (1), Ecuador (1), Hungary (1), India (1), Liberia (1), The Netherlands (1), New Guinea (1), Peru (1), Philippines (1), Sudan (1), Tunisia (1), USA (1), Venezuela (1) and Vietnam (1).

Economic support for this meeting carne from Sweden's SAREC, Canada's IDRC, UNESCO and Colombia's COLCIENCIAS and Bank of the Republic.

For the Ninth World Congress of Sociology (Uppsala, August 1978), the committee developed the following program:

Session 1: Action research for radical change (5 papers)
Session 2: Method building in social processes (7 papers)
Session 3: Crisis and change in industria1ized nations (6 papers)
Session 4: Counterpoints in social change (6 papers)

The authors came from 13 countries: Italy (3), Switzerland (3), Australia (2), Canada (2), Colombia (2), Sweden (2), USA (3), Brazil (1) England (1), France (1), FRG (1), Hungary (1), The Netherlands (1), and Taiwan (1).


  • During the first years of activity, the Committee, and especially Orlando Fals Borda, began to send a series of circulars to the membership. The first of them appeared in January 1972 and to date (August 1981) 24 have been published.
  • Transactions of the Seventh World Congress of Sociology, II, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Publishing House. Five papers presented at the Working Group on "Modernization and Diffusion of Innovations."
  • Centro Sociale, XIX, 106-108 (December 1972). Special issue on "Modernization," edited by E. B. Hill, Preface by O. Fals Borda.
  • International Review of Community Development, XXXIIIXXXIV (Winter 1975). Special issue on "Innovative Processes in Social Change," edited by E.B. Hill. Contains a selection of papers presented at the Toronto World Congress (1974).
  • International Review of Community Development, XXXVII-XXXVIII (Summer 1977). Special issue on "Innovative Processes in Social Change in Highly Industrialized Societies," edited by E.B. Hill. Contains a selection of Regional Meeting, Zurich 1976, papers.
  • Revue Internationale de Sociologie, XXII, 1 (1981). Special section on "Innovative Processes in Social Change in Highly Industrialized Societies," edited by E. B. Hill. Contains a selection of papers from the Uppsala Congress.
  • O. Fals Borda (ed.), Critica y Politica en las Ciencias Sociales: El Debate sobre Teoria y Practica, Bogota (1978). Contains papers from the World Symposium on action research held in Cartagena (Colombia) in 1977.
  • E.B. Hill, "Notes on Innovative Processes in Social Change," in: M. S. Archer (ed.), "Problems of Current Sociological Research," Current Sociology, XXII, 1-3 (1974).
  • H. Moser and H. Arnauer (eds.), Intemationale Aspekte der Aktionsforschung, Munich: Kesel Verlag (1978). Selected papers presented at the Cartagena World Symposium.