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

Radical means pertaining to the root and was originally used to refer to socialist critiques of the root of capitalism.

explanatory context

Radical has several meanings. Most commonly radical means 'of the roots'.


It is generally used in social and political discourse to refer to 'grass roots' or more specifically to fundamental critique of social relations. In effect, radical, in this sense is a term used to describe socialist/lef wing critique of bourgeois social systems/capitalism.


In the 1980s, the term radical was appropriated, in the United Kingdom, by Thatcherism and 'distorted'. Radical in the Thatcherist sense simply means (extreme) conservatism. The return to the roots is the return to the 'basic' laissez-faire bourgeois values/ ideologies of unfettered 'uncaring' capitalism. (It may be construed as a return to past class values).

The difference between radical in the socialist sense and radical in the conservative sense is that the former embodies a process of critique while the latter reasserts the doctrine of capitalist exploitation.

Radical can also mean inherent, fundamental, basic, etc. It is this element of the term when applied to political/social ideology that Thatcherism has latched on to to promote the idea of fundamental values to be accepted uncritically. These values, of course, reify and reinforce capitalism. For socialists, the fundamental element of radical critique relates to the basic human rights that are denied in capitalist systems.


In the 21st century, radical has also been used, not only in its socialist sense once again, but also in a further twist on the extreme conservative sense, to refer to fundamentalist religious groups.

analytical review

Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) states:

Radical: To the roots of things. To favor and/or promote measures for fundamental structural change in society, particularly as it affects the political economy of society. It is most properly used to refer to such views as socialism and communism that advocate a change in the class basis of society.

associated issues

Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) also describes radical sociology as follows:

Radical sociology: The recognition by some sociologists that their discipline is an active (action oriented) discipline that puts a humanist perspective to work in intervening in the society they live in to rid it of injustice, special privilege, and inequality.


related areas

See also




Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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