Role of the Change Agent
Who proposes a change, and how does this person go about it? The identity of theorig- ' inator greatly affects acceptance or rejection.A Nigerian government effort to introduce new fertilizer failed because of the peasants'
bad past experiences with government officials [Lauer, 1977, p. 10]. Any proposal identified as "communist" is doomed to certain defeat in the United States. Opponents of all sorts of proposals often label them communist in order to defeat them. Jnnovations which are first adopted by petsons at the top of the prestige scale and pow,ell system are likely to filter downward quite rapidly; those first adopted by low-status persons are l kely to percolate upward more slowly, if at all. Successful change agents Q.ftenseek to make the change appear innocuous by identifying it with familiar cultural elements. King Ibn- Saud introduced radio and telephone to Saudi Arabia by quoting the Koran over them. Christian missionaries in Venezuela had little success with the Warao tribe until they rewrote thethe Christian doctrines in the form' of chants. which the Warao then sang with great enthusiasm [Wilbert. 1977]. Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership rested partly upon his ability to describe major reforms in terms of homespun American sentiments and values Change agents must know the culture in
which they work. This point is stressed in the many guidebooks for aid officials working in development programs in underdeveloped countries [Arensberg and Niehoff, 1971; Leagins and Loomis, 1972; Loomis and Beagle, 1975], or for business executives preparing to operate in an unfamiliar culture [Whiting, 1977], or even for change agents working to
promote change in our own society [Rothman, Erlich, and Teresa, 1976].
The thoughtless ethnocentrism 'of Western social scientists and technicians has often doomed their efforts to failure [Alatas, 1972; Selwyn, 1973]. Government attempts to settle Navaho Indians as individual families on
irrigated land were unsuccessful, for the Navajo were accustomed to work and cooperatively along extended kinship lines. An amusing illustration of how ignorance and ethnocentrism handIcapped a change agent is found in Micronesia, where an American labor relations expert sought to recruit Palauan workers for a mining operation. He first demanded to see the "chief"-a request which posed a problem since they had no chief in their social structure. Finally they produced a person with whom the American
expert sought to establish rapport by throwing an arm around his shoulder and laughingly tousling his hair. In Palauan culture this was an indignity roughly equivalent, in our culture, to opening a man's fly in public [User, 1952J. Needless to add, this expert was not very successful. Many of our "foreign aid" programs have made conditions worse not better in the lands
we sought to help. Due partly to American ethnocentrism and partly to the egomania of some Third World leaders, much of the development money was wasted on impractical heavy industry or showy buildings while agriculture was often neglected [Warren, 1979; Kronholz, 1982, The agricultural development ment program& were often ethnocentric efforts
to export American high-technology agriculture to underdeveloped countries which had a shortage of land and capital and a surplus of labor. This was a policy of sheer madness. Mechanized agriculture increases output per worker not per acre. This hightechnology agriculture failed to use the resource these countries had in abundancelabor- but created needs for expensive im-. ported machinery, repair parts, fuel, fertili- > zers, and. pesticides which they could not afford [Crittenden, 1982]. Thus our. "aid" programs often enriched the prosperous and impoverished the poor, who were pushed off their land to make room for large mechanized farms [McInerney and Donaldson, 1975; Bauer and Yarney, 1982; Tucker, 1982J. The result was a decline in local food production and an increase in economic inequality and hunger. A more rational aid program would have sought to improve the traditional labor-intensive agriculture and to improve the native strains of plants and animals which were already adapted to the local climate and did not demand expensive imports of fertilizer and pesticide. Not all foreign aid programs have been such dismal failures; many have been highly successful. Enough have failed, in the manner
descri ed above, to be a warning against the baleful effects of ethnocentrism. The efforts of the change agent are not always appreciated. The inventor is often ridiculed; the missionary may be eaten; and the agitator or reformer is usually persecuted. Radicals are likely to be popular only after they are dead, and organizations (like the Daughters of the American Revolution) dedicated to the memory of dead revolutionists
have no fondness for live ones. Those who sought to change the ··segregated racial patterns of American society may become heroes in the history books, but they faced jail and physical violence during their lifetime. Change agents do not always observe all laws, but even careful law observance is no protection. It was impossible to be a labor organizer in
the 1930s or a civil right worker in the 1950s without being beaten, jailed, or even worse. Persecution of change agents and social reformers has a ong history. Huss and Ser vetus were burned at the stake, while Luther and Wycliffe narrowly escaped. Florence Nightingale fought against family opposition, public ridicule and scorn, and official jealousy, ntrigue, and slander in her efforts to change the image of nurse from slattern to professional. The actions for which Jane Addams Was persecuted and reviled in her youth brought her showers of, honors in her old
THEDEVIANTASCHANGEAGENT. Many change agents, are deviants of some sort. The nonconformist may unwittingly launch a new fashion, speech form, or dance step. Inventors are people who love to tinker; they are more excited by the challenge of a new idea than by the possibility of riches [Barnett, 1953, pp. 150-156]. Social reformers are necessarily people who are -disenchanted with some aspect of the status quo. Without deviants, there would be many fewer social changes. age. Change agents are likely to be honored only when they are very old or very dead.