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unanticipated or unintended consequences (of social action)

any consequences of social action which are unintended and unforeseen by social participants. That social actions have consequences which are unforeseen by SOCIAL ACTORS is a major part of the drive to undertake sociological analysis. The same impetus was often uppermost in many forms of social thought prior to modern sociology, for example, Adam SMITH's ‘invisible hand’ of market forces, an idea taken and transformed by MARX (see also APPEARANCE AND REALITY).

An important discussion of unanticipated consequences is Robert MERTON's discussion of MANIFEST AND LATENT FUNCTIONS, and SELF-FULFILLING AND SELF-DESTROYING PROPHECY. Within Marxism and modern STRUCTURALISM the analysis of underlying realities is central. It is also present as a main objective in many other forms of sociology, including Weberian sociology (e.g. Protestants did not intend to establish modern capitalism, but according to Weber, this is one outcome of their religious orientation – see PROTESTANT ETHIC).

Among the reasons why social participants do not always intend or comprehend the implications of their own actions are:

  1. layers of unconscious and subconscious mind beneath conscious intentions, including various modes of tacit knowledge and human social competence;
  2. long chains of interdependence in and between modern societies which no one is in a position to view, still less to anticipate, in their entirety;
  3. the operation of ideological distortions, cultural HEGEMONY, etc, which hide an accurate view of social relations from some or all social participants.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Often, if the outcome is unanticipated, patients and their families will assume, rightly or wrongly, that a medical error did occur.
Despite the magnitude of unanticipated events when they occur, the risk management and insurance industry doesn't always pay attention long enough to make groundbreaking long-term changes in how they do business and what insurance products they offer.
Colleen Cipro, one of Rutland's four members on the regional school committee, said that the money will be used to offset the fiscal 2010 assessments, if there are no extraordinary and unanticipated expenditures.
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In the guidelines, the HHS states that all unanticipated problems that occur with participants of HHS-backed clinical trials must be reported to the agency.
"The North Shore" is a superbly written novel set against a background of the wild and magnificent beauty of the Lake Superior shoreline, populated by deftly drawn characters who react in surprising ways that are as unanticipated as they are problematic.
Her surgery was performed uneventfully and without unanticipated difficulty.
But he's unable to predict when this might be," Davis said, adding: "The message senior housing/healthcare borrowers can glean from all this is that unanticipated international developments have conspired to create the attractive interest rate scenario that currently exists.
An unanticipated increase in transport emissions means Ireland must now cut gases further.
This "pressure-induced association of molecules was unanticipated," says team member Paul Loubeyre, a physicist at France's Atomic Energy Commission in Bruyeres-le-Chatel.
Account for all revenue, expenses, possible losses, shrinkage and unanticipated costs to project the business cash flow.
* Finally, to identify unanticipated gaps in the system, emergency plans should be practiced, including role playing.