- A system of beliefs which holds that everything has its appointed outcome, that this cannot be avoided by effort or foreknowledge, and must merely be accepted as an unavoidable fact of life. The phenomenon has been somewhat neglected by sociologists, although fatalism is often identified as a characteristic of poverty , chronic illness, and unemployment . Thus, for example, Oscar Lewis maintains that it is a central characteristic of the ‘culture of poverty’ (see The Children of Sanchez, 1961). Similarly, in her discussion of ‘the passive worker thesis’ (the idea that women are generally more stable, passive, and fundamentally exploitable workers than men), Kate Purcell argues that women's behaviour at work is informed by ‘a fatalistic approach to life’, fostered by gender socialization and women's biology, and reinforced particularly by women manual workers' work and class circumstances (‘Female Manual Workers, Fatalism and the Reinforcement of Inequalities’, in , Rethinking Social Inequality, 1982).In his study of Suicide (1897), Émile Durkheim defines fatalistic suicide (as in the case of suicides committed by slaves) in terms of excessive regulation of the wants of individuals, a situation in which the future is ‘pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline’. Hope is diminished to the extent that even life itself becomes a matter of indifference. In an extension of the Durkheimian discussion, David Lockwood (Solidarity and Schism, 1992) suggests that fatalism is a matter of degree, and can result from either ‘physical or moral despotism’; that is, from force of circumstances such as the condition of slavery , or the constraints imposed by a system of explicitly fatalistic beliefs such as those embraced by the Hindu doctrine ofkarma-samsara-moksha. Fatalism grounded in a specifically fatalistic ideology (such as Hindu soteriology) engenders an ethical commitment. By comparison the existential fatalism induced by slavery is grounded primarily in ritual rather than beliefs, and the subordinate strata do not approve of their condition but judge it merely to be unalterable. In both cases, however, ‘what is especially conducive to a fatalistic attitude is not so much the degree of oppressive discipline involved, but rather the fact that social constraint is experienced as an external, inevitable and impersonal condition’.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.