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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Social disorganisation

core definition

The social disorganisation thesis is that as societies are in a constant state of change they are always disorganised to a certain extent and individuals have to accommodate change.

explanatory context

The thesis of social disorganisation was important as an orientation for early interactionist work. Social disorganisation explains stability by reference to consistent attitudes and values inculcated by individuals that will both satisfy personal desires and provide outlets for action. However, there is nothing immutable about this stability. Indeed, on one level, as societies constantly changed, they were always disorganised to a certain extent.

On another level, individuals, although constrained by social norms that shape the personality, were able to transcend the prevalent norms as and when they obstructed progress to a more comprehensive state of organisation. Temperament therefore played a part in the accommodation of the individual to the social milieu.

This 'temperament' was embodied in W.I. Thomas's 'wishes'. These wishes (initially response, recognition, security and new experience) were identified by Thomas as the motive force behind human action and moulded attitudes of individuals. This approach thus made social psychology an integral part of sociology.

analytical review

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines social disorganisation as:

A structural condition of society caused by rapid change in social institutions, norms, and values.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Chicago School



Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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