Term of Art: Weltanschauung

“Weltanschauung: A German term which refers to the ‘world-view’ or ‘philosophy of life’ of different groups within society. For example, it is sometimes argued that the long-term unemployed have a fatalistic outlook, the middle classes an individualistic approach to life, while members of the working class hold a set of beliefs and attitudes which emphasize collectivism. Sociologists have posed a number of interesting questions around this topic. Do particular social groups actually adhere to identifiable world-views? If so, how do individuals come to hold specific images of society, and what is the relationship between membership of a group and an individual’s subjective representations of it? The major problem confronting sociologists who address these issues is that of defining and describing a world-view itself. What beliefs and values may be said to constitute a world-view? Should we even expect people to hold to consistent world-views, given that (for example) research on class imagery suggests that, more often than not, people’s attitudes and values are inconsistent or ambiguous, and rarely form a coherent whole? In short, use of this term usually points to a certain imprecision in an argument, and almost invariably indicates that data appropriate to the particular case are wanting.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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