Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, 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 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Conservativsm is, at its most general, simply an attitude or endeavour that attempts to retain or conserve social, political and economic structures.

explanatory context

Conservativism is thus averse to rapid changes.


Conservativism as a political doctrine is concerned to retain existing capitalist structures while at the same time promoting individualism.


So-called radical conservatism takes its endorsement of individualism to extremes (as in Thatcherism) while appearing to do so as part of a radical reconstruction of social structures and conservative thinking. What it really does is to return conservative thinking to its political roots as advocating and legitimating economically divided society, couched in opportunistic terms. Its apparent radicalising of society is nothing more than a return to the structural forms that enable social division, through its systematic dissolution of anti-individualistic organisations and features (such as free health service, state run education, trade unions, nationalised industries.)


Conservative has another sense, that of retaining a low profile, avoiding extremes and espousing moderation. This sense is often entwined with the notion of political conservatism and is often part of the political ideology. Nonetheless, anti-extremism or moderation are in no way intrinsic to political conservatism, which often espouses extreme forms of social control, endorses oppressive legislation and is quite immoderate in its views. This is particularly notable in radical conservatism.

analytical review

According to Müller (2006):

It is widely held that conservatism is hard to define precisely; it is frequently assumed that conservatism is more prone to internal contradictions than other varieties of political thought; and finally, as Michael Freeden has pointed out, it appears that it is mainly conservatives themselves who write about conservatism—giving rise to the suspicion that it might be hard to come by unbiased analyses.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Müller, J-W., 'Comprehending conservatism: a new framework for analysis', Journal of Political Ideologies 11(3) pp. 359–65 .

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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