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.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Social theory

core definition

Social theory is a general term to cover a wide range of different propositions about the nature of the social world.

explanatory context

Such propositions vary from simple hypotheses, through theoretical conjectures about specific aspects social phenomena (e.g., labelling theory), and general theses about the nature of social relationships (e.g., symbolic interactionism) to wide-ranging theories about the social world (e.g., functionalsim).


There is little agreement, however, about classifying principles for social theory. For example, social theory has been divided into conflict theory and consensus theory. Others divide social theory into three groups to correspond with the traditions stemming from Durkheim, Weber and Marx. Others suggest a distinction based on epistemological categories, such as positive, phenomenological and dialectical.

analytical review

Social Theory Applied (undated) states:

Broadly speaking, social theories are analytical frameworks or paradigms used to examine social phenomena. The term ‘social theory’ encompasses ideas about ‘how societies change and develop, about methods of explaining social behaviour, about power and social structure, gender and ethnicity, modernity and ‘civilisation’, revolutions and utopias’ (Harrington 2005, p. 1)

associated issues


related areas

See also



Researching the Real World Section 1.5


Harrington, A. (Ed.), [2002] 2005, Modern Social Theory: An introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press

Social Theory Applied, undated, 'What is social theory?' Available at, accessed 1 October 2017, not available 14 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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