Definition of Social Fact
(noun) A way of acting, feeling, or thinking external to an individual with the coercive power to control aspects of their life.
Examples of Social Fact
Etymology of Social Fact
- Coined by Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) in The Rules of Sociological Method (1895).
Social Fact Pronunciation
Syllabification: so·cial fact
- American English – /sOH-shuhl fAkt/
- British English – /sOH-shuhl fAkt/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈsoʊʃəl fækt/
- British English – /ˈsəʊʃəl fækt/
- Plural: social facts
- Social facts can be material (e.g., society, institutions, and demographics) or non-material (e.g., symbols, rules, and mores).
- “A social fact is every way of acting, whether fixed or not, which is capable of exercising an external constraint on the individual; or, which is general throughout a given society, whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations” (Durkheim  2004:50).
- “[A]spects of social life . . . cannot be explained in terms of the biological or mental characteristics of the individual. People experience social facts as external to themselves in the sense that facts have an independent reality and form a part of people’s objective environment” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:13).
- “But in reality there is in every society a specific group of phenomena which are distinguished by characteristics that are quite separate from those studied by the other natural sciences. When I undertake my duties as a brother, husband, or citizen and fulfil the commitments that I have entered into, I perform obligations which are defined outside myself and my actions, in law and custom . . . Here, then, is a category of facts with very special characteristics: they consist of ways of acting, thinking and feeling that are external to the individual and are endowed with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him” (Durkheim  2004:46–47).
- “[S]ocial facts serve to constrain [people’s] behavior and include not only legal and moral rules in society, but also relationships and behavior patterns of others that affect our day-today lives” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:13).
- “The determining cause of a social fact must be sought among antecedent social facts preceding it and not among the states of the individual consciousness . . . The function of a social fact must always to be sought in its relationship to some social end” (Durkheim  2004:61).
- “The first and fundamental rule is to consider social facts as things” (Durkheim  2004:50).
- “We thus arrive at the point where we can formulate precisely the field of sociology. It includes only one specific group of phenomena. A social fact is recognized by the power of external coercion which it exercises, or is capable of exercising, over individuals; and the presence of this power is in turn recognizable by the existence of some specific sanction, or by the resistance that it offers to any individual action that would violate it” (Durkheim  2004:49).
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Cite the Definition of Social Fact
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “social fact.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 5, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/social-fact/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
social fact. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/social-fact/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “social fact.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 5, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/social-fact/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“social fact.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/social-fact/>.