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Social determinism is the theory that social interactions and constructs alone determine individual behavior (as opposed to biological or objective factors).
Consider certain human behaviors, such as having a particular sexual orientation, committing murder, or writing poetry. A social determinist would look only at social phenomena, such as customs and expectations, education, and interpersonal interactions, to decide whether or not a given person would exhibit any of these behaviors. They would discount biological and other non-social factors, such as genetic makeup, the physical environment, etc. Ideas about nature and biology would be considered to be socially constructed.
The socially determined actions of an individual can be influenced by forces that control the flow of ideas. By creating an ideology within the society of the individual, the individual's actions and reactions to stimuli are predetermined to adhere to the social rules imposed on him/her. Ideologies can be created using social institutions such as schooling, which "have become the terrain upon which contending forces express their social and political interest" (Mayberry 3), or the mass media, which has "significant power in shaping the social agenda and framing of public opinion to support that agenda" (Colaguori 35).
By creating a social construction of reality, these forces directly create a hegemonic control over the future of individuals who feel like the social construct is natural and therefore unchangeable. Their actions become based in the context of their society so that, even if they possess an innate talent for a sport, if the social construction implies that their race is unathletic in general, or their nation or state does not produce athletes, they do not include the possibility of athleticism in their future. Their society has successfully determined their actions.
Social determinism can favor a political party's agenda by setting social rules so that the individual considers the party's agenda to be morally correct, an example being the 2010 G20 summit riots in Toronto. The media, controlled by corporations and the governments with agendas of their own, publicizes the riots as violent and dangerous, but the goal of the rioters, to rebel against those whose position in power enables them to abuse the system for personal gain, is lost because the focus is on the violence. The individuals views on the subject are then directly influenced by the media and their reactions are predetermined by that social form of control. "We have been taught to think that censorship is the main mechanism of how the media uses information as a form of social control, but in fact what is said, and how it is selectively presented, is a far more powerful form of information control." (Colaguori 35)
Social determinism is most commonly understood in opposition to biological determinism. Within the media studies discipline, however, social determinism is understood as the counterpart of technological determinism. Technological determinism is the notion that technological change and development is inevitable, and that the characteristics of any given technology determine the way it is used by the society in which it is developed. The concept of technological determinism is dependent upon the premise that social changes come about as a result of the new capabilities that new technologies enable.
The notion of social determinism opposes this perspective. Social determinism perceives technology as a result of the society in which it is developed. A number of contemporary media theorists have provided persuasive accounts of social determinism, including Leila Green.
In her book Technoculture Leila Green examines in detail the workings of a social determinist perspective, and argues “social processes determine technology for social purposes”. (Green 2001) She claims that every technological development throughout history was born of a social need, be this need economical, political or military. (Green 2001)
According to Green, technology is always developed with a particular purpose or objective in mind. As the development of technology is necessarily facilitated by financial funding, a social determinist perspective recognizes that technology is always developed to benefit those who are capable of funding its development.
Thus social determinists perceive that technological development is not only determined by the society in which it occurs, but that it is inevitably shaped by the power structures that exist in that society. (Green 2001)
Colaguori, Claudio. Power and Society: Critical issues in Social Science. Toronto: York University, 2011. Print.
Mayberry, Maralee. Conflict and Social Determinism: The Reprivatization of Education. Chicago: Viewpoints, 1991. Print.
Stafford, Rebecca, Elaine Backman, and Pamela Dibona. "The Division of Labour among Cohabiting and Married Couples." Journal of Marriage and Family 39.1 (1977): 43-57. Print.
Green, Leila (2001). Technoculture. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin. pp. 1–20.