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the use of a psychological perspective to the exclusion of all others. Since PSYCHOLOGY's reference point is the individual, and SOCIOLOGY's is society, sociologists typically use psychologism as a term of abuse when explanation appears to be at an inappropriate individualistic level.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a sociological methodology characteristic of several trends in bourgeois sociology, beginning with G. Tarde, L. Ward, W. MacDougall, and C. Cooley. Psychologism is associated with the contemporary schools of symbolic interactionism (G. Mead and his followers) and neo-Freudian-ism, as well as phenomenological sociology (H. Becker and E. Goffman, for example) and ethnological methodology. All of the varieties of psychologism try to explain social relations and structures in terms of psychological data.

The earliest, crudest, and most primitive forms of psychologism stressed the importance of hereditary factors and deduced the forms of social behavior from the supposedly primordial characteristics of the human psyche—for example, sexuality, aggressiveness, affect, and the death wish. Psychologism attempted to use personality traits (or national character) to explain social phenomena such as war and racial and class conflicts.

Later, psychologism evolved toward a repudiation of the idea of the genetic predetermination of human behavior, but it continued to reject the reality of such phenomena as society, social systems, and organizations. According to the proponents of psychologism, such concepts are metaphysical. The adherents of psychologism confine themselves to analyzing the immediate interactions of individuals and depend primarily on concepts such as “directly observable behavior” and responses to a situation. The methods of psychological analysis are important for the study of small groups, but they are unsound when applied to the study of broader social problems.

Contemporary bourgeois sociology has tried to overcome the limitations of the principles and aims of psychologism by combining it with the analysis of large social systems. T. Parsons, A. Etzioni, P. Blau, and P. Selznick are among those who have experimented with this approach, which is known as structural-functional analysis. However, most of the premises of the new approach are psychological.

Marxist sociology, which has demonstrated the limited character of psychologism, establishes the real relationship between the social and the psychological—that is, the determination of the psychological by the social.


Zamoshkin, Iu. A. Pskihologicheskoe napravlenie v sovremennoi burzhuaznoi sotsiologii. Moscow, 1958.
Zamoshkin, Iu. A. Krizis burzhuaznogo individualizma i lichnost’. Moscow, 1966.
Kon, I. S. Pozitivizm v sotsiologii. Leningrad, 1964.
Parygin, B. D. Osnovy sotsial’no-psikhologicheskoi teorii. Moscow, 1971.
Bogardus, E. S. The Development of Social Thought, 4th ed. New York [1960].
The Behavioral Sciences Today. Edited by B. Berelson. New York, 1964. Merton, R. On Theoretical Sociology. New York, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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