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 phenomenon

core definition

A social phenomenon is any behaviour that responds to other behaviour whether contemporary or historical.

explanatory context

An often repeated definition of social phenomena is that they are considered as including all behavior which influences or is influenced by organisms sufficiently alive to respond to one another. This includes influences from past generations.

analytical review

Coser (1977, p. 129), discussing Durkheim, stated:

Social phenomena are "social facts" and these are the subject matter of sociology. They have, according to Durkheim, distinctive social characteristics and determinants, which are not amenable to explanations on the biological or psychological level. They are external to any particular individual considered as a biological entity. They endure over time while particular individuals die and are replaced by others. Moreover, they are not only external to the individual, but they are "endowed with coercive power, by . . . which they impose themselves upon him, independent of his individual will." Constraints, whether in the form of laws or customs, come into play whenever social demands are being violated. These sanctions are imposed on individuals and channel and direct their desires and propensities. A social fact can hence be defined as "every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint."

associated issues


related areas

See also

social fact


Coser, L., 1977, Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in historical and social context, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, excerpt (pp, 129–132) available at, accessed 29 April 2013, still available 28 December 2016, page not found 14 June 2014.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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