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

Determinism is the view that all social events or phenomena are somehow determined by some underlying, intrinsic or even supernatural factor.

explanatory context

General Definition

Determinism is the idea of deterministic relationships being construed as a doctrine. It presupposes a necessary relationship between events and (underlying or intrinsic) phenomena.



Predetermination is the idea that all events including human actions are predetermined. This is opposed to the notion of freewill according to which people can choose and act as they will. When the theistic notion that god (in some form or other) controls human action then this is usually referred to as predestination.


Marxist Economic Determinism

Marxist economic determinism argues that social phenomena are determined by economic conditions of production. Similarly, the view that the anarchy of the capitalist mode of production will determine an economic crisis is a determinist view. Marxist economic determinism might be said to underpin much if not all of Marxist thinking. However, it should neither be taken in isolation nor should it be read as simple determinancy. To do so is to regard all Marxists as vulgar Marxists. Simple unidimensional economic determinancy (where everything is regarded as ‘caused’ by the economic system) is contrary to dialectical thought and at variance with the ideas of totality, praxis and ideology developed by Marx.

analytical review

The Information Philosopher (undated) site states:

Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.
More strictly, determinism should be distinguished from pre-determinism, the idea that the entire past (as well as the future) was determined at the origin of the universe.

Nor should determinism be confused with determination, the idea that events (including human actions) can be adequately determined by immediately prior events (such as an agent's reasons, motives, desires), without being pre-determined back to before the agent's birth or even back to the origin of the universe.

Since modern quantum physics shows that the universe is indeterministic, with profound effects on microscopic processes at the atomic scale, we will find it valuable to distinguish pre-determinism from the adequate determinism that we have in the real world. Adequate determinism is the basis for the classical physical laws that apply in the macrocosmos.

Counterbalance Foundation (undated) Glossary entry for determinism states::

A far-reaching term, which most widely states that all events in the world are the result of some previous event, or events. In this view, all of reality is already in a sense pre-determined or pre-existent and, therefore, nothing new can come into existence. This closed view of the universe sees all events in the world simply as effects of other prior effects, and has particular implications for morality, science, and religion. Ultimately, if determinism is correct, then all events in the future are as unalterable as are all events in the past. Consequently, human freedom is simply an illusion.

One area of contemporary discourse in science that relates to the issue of human freedom is the notion of genetic determinism. Here, the concept of determinism is linked directly to the genes in the DNA of a person. Because we already know that aberrations in certain genes can lead to various forms of physical and mental disease in humans, we can say with some certainty that people are physically determined by their genes. But genetic determinists want to extend this further, by claiming that even our behavior is determined by our genes. In this line of thinking, we are but victims of our genetic makeup, and any effort to change our moral nature or behavioral patterns is useless. This is sometimes termed "puppet determinism," meaning metaphorically that we dance on the strings of our genes.

The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines economic determinism as:

The idea that the economy determines all sectors of society. Usually used as a criticism of orthodox Marxist approaches.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Counterbalance Foundation, undated, 'Determinism', available at, accessed 13 April 2013, still available 17 December 2016.

Information Philosopher, undated, Determinism available at, accessed 21 January 2013, still available 17 December 2016.

McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 17 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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