Moebius Strip II M.C. Escher

The paradox of social change

A paradox is a statement that tells a truth and at the same time contradicts itself. Paradoxes as well as oxymora are those tools of language or literary devices that exist because human beings are complex individuals, thus, the way they communicate with one another is and has to be as complex as each one of them.

Why do we need paradoxes?

We need them when there is something that requires to be explained by comparing or contrasting it with something else. Usually, paradoxes involve metaphors which at the same time contradict themselves.

How are paradoxes related to social change?

The reason to bring social change and paradoxes together is because thinking about ‘social change’ constitutes a paradox itself.

Gestalt Therapy which is a humanistic psychology approach that bases its theories on the idea of the ‘here and now’ and in the responsibility that each individual has about his/her life, has discovered that the more change is pursued the least likely it happens. This has been summarized in what has been called ‘the paradoxical theory of change’ (Beisser cited in Yontef, 2005).

According to the Gestalt Paradoxical Theory of Change, the more change is pursued, the less it is likely to happen.

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The paradoxical theory of change and its relation to social change

Even though there have been several theories of change and recent reports and studies about advocacy and policy change that have described in detail the way change happens taking into account the economic, political, psychological and sociological aspects (Krznaric, 2007; Stachowiak, 2013), our focus is on the importance on the individual in this equation. The reason for this, is because many of these theories are based on how social change is produced, focusing in the collective, by disregarding the importance of the changes that are produced inside each individual.

It is therefore necessary to understand the different dynamics that take place not only between the individuals that form the organism or system which in this case is ‘society’, but also those that happen inside each individual that makes part of the bigger organism to be able to elucidate how social change is really produced, and recognise its paradoxical nature.

Society as a living organism


Considering society as an organism which has its own needs and is composed by individual elements, meaning people, it could be said that the processes that happen inside each individual affect the bigger organism.

A metaphor on the way change is produced and how the individual parts interact in a complex system.
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The Gestalt approach has also developed the concept of organismic self-regulation which describes the capacity of organisms to regulate themselves, individually and also in their relation to their environment. Besides, in systems theory, which considers that all things ‘living and non-living’ could be understood as systems (Friedman and Allen, 2014 ), and in systems psychology, it has been said that the individual interacts with the system in a homeostatic process in which they change and modify one another.

Level Systems:
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Taking all of the above into account, it is even more necessary to debate about the importance of the individual and its relation to ‘social change’. This could help us understand that ‘social change’ on its own constitutes a paradox that cannot be easily resolved by referring to itself in an abstract manner, as if ‘social change’ was something that didn’t involve anyone with a name and a date of birth.

We should find the appropriate metaphor or metaphors in order to re-signify this complex paradox that will continue contradicting itself until we are able to name it with the appropriate terms.

What does really constitute ‘social change’?

Note to readers: This post is part of my reflections of Critical Issues in Campaigning at the University of Westminster MA in Media Campaigning and Social Change.

Do we really have a voice?

No more Trump please.



Krznaric, R. (2007). How Change Happens: Interdisciplinary Perspectives for Human Development. Oxford GB Research Report. Available from:

Friedman, B. and Allen, K. (2014). Systems Theory. In book: Essentials of Clinical Social Work, Edition: 1, Chapter: 1, Publisher: Sage, Editors: Jerrold R. Brandell, pp.3 – 20. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.1132.9281 Available from:

Stachowiak, S. (2013). Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts. Centre for Evaluation Innovation, ORS Impact. Available from:

Yontef, G. (2005). Gestalt Therapy Theory of Change. In.  A. Woldt and S. Toman (Eds.). Gestalt Therapy: History, Theory, and Practice. Pp 81-100. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. Available from:

The featured image on this post is Moebius Strip II by the artist M.C. Escher (1964). It was taken from: