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.


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core definition

Economism is a term applied to some Orthodox Marxists who adopt an economic determinst approach, notably Stalin.

explanatory context


analytical review

Haubrich and Wollf (undated, pp. 1–4):

In its broadest sense, ‘economism’ is the claim that decision makers and theorists have overestimated the contribution that the economic realm can make to policy making...

Claims of economism can come in two disguises. The first is a psychological account about the motivation that drives human action, which is assumed to be predominantly spurred by economic motives so to improve one's own material well-being. First introduced in this sense by communist intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century, economism was seen as an antipode to class-consciousness, ideology and political activity. Sections within the socialist movement were accused, for example, by Lenin (1964, 29) and Gramsci (1971, 165) of betraying their common cause because they were too happy to settle for better economic terms and conditions on which to sell their labor power, found cozy arrangements with capitalist industrialists, and generally refused to engage in the more demanding revolutionary struggle to obtain political power. More muted instances of this account are still heard today: trade unions are said to direct their behavior depending on the extent to which employers are willing to raise salaries for their members; and political parties are accused of obtaining funds from pressure groups to sponsor the voting campaigns of their candidates - in exchange for which they support policies that these economic interests favor and at the expense of satisfying the preferences or their constituents.

The second account, which we are henceforth concerned with in this chapter, refers to the theoretical foundations on which public policy is and should be built. Economism understood in this political theory sense lays blame on public policy for delineating economic efficiency as the predominant policy objective; for applying elaborate economic tools to identify the policy option best suited to achieve that goal; and for relying on the market, or some proxy, as the institution best equipped to set the required framework. The policy choices made as a result, so the claim goes, trump, or at least reduce, other important values that guide human behavior and that society might therefore uphold, such as solidarity, community, equality or friendship (Henderson 1996).

associated issues


related areas

See also


Gramsci, A. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Q. Hoare and G.N. Smith, (Eds.) New York: International Publishers.

Haubrich, D. and Wollf, J., undated, 'Economism and its Limits', available at, accessed 25 February 2013, not available 23 June 2013.

Henderson, H. 1996. 'Fighting Economism'. Futures 28: 580-4.

Lenin, V.I. 1964, 'A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism'. in V.I. Lenin, Collected Works Vol 23, 5th edition. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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