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

Individualism is a perspective that advocates the free action of individuals.

explanatory context

Individualism is therefore a persective that denies group solidarity and at its extreme is literally anti-social.


Individualism, in more general terms, is simply self-centeredness, as exhibited in conduct or feelings.


Individualism is at the root of free-market economic theories and of most conservative political doctrine, as for example in the British Conservative Party, especially as espoused by the Thatcher governments of the 1980s.

analytical review

Zinn (2007) wrote:

Individualism emphasizes the importance of the individual, for example the individual's freedom, interests, rights, needs, or beliefs against the predominance of other institutions in regulating the individual's behavior, such as the state or the church. A range of theories in different societal domains contributes to the dissemination of individualistic ideas in society. In particular, economic and political liberalism are vehicles of individualism. The term individualism was introduced by de Tocqueville. Even though he distinguished individualism from egotism, his distinction is essentially one of degree, but individualism would in the long run lead to “downright egotism.”

Heath (2010) described 'Methodological Individualism' as follows:

This doctrine was introduced as a methodological precept for the social sciences by Max Weber, most importantly in the first chapter of Economy and Society (Weber, 1922). It amounts to the claim that social phenomena must be explained by showing how they result from individual actions, which in turn must be explained through reference to the intentional states that motivate the individual actors.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Heath, J., 2010, 'Methodological Individualism' in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Zalta, E.N. (Ed.), first published 3 February 2005; substantive revision 16 November, 2010, available at, accessed 6 June 2019.

Weber, M., [1922] 1968, Economy and Society, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Zinn, J., 2007, 'Individualism' in Ritzer, G. (Ed.), 2007, Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, available at, accessed 23 January 2013, page not freely available 22 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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