Self-Defeating Prophecies: When Sociology Really Matters

  • Lorenzo SabettaEmail author
Part of the Anticipation Science book series (ANTISC, volume 4)


Social predictions (as well as social classifications, regulations, and criteria), due to their inner characteristic of being published, may have an influence on their own subject matter and, in return, on themselves. On the basis of this assumption, in the context of a discontinuous debate, the consolidated distinction between self-fulfillingness and self-defeatingness has been developed, distinguishing between predictions that come true thanks to their dissemination and others that, for the same dissemination, become false. The aim of the essay is, primarily, to investigate the rationale underlying this distinction. In an innovative manner, it will be stated that self-fulfillingness always rests on some causal unawareness, because the definition of the situation – originally inadequate – does not take place as a consequence of the subject’s beliefs. In fact, “inadequate” means that it would not come true if it were not for the subject’s behavior, which originates from fear, hope, misconception, and social fatalism, not from an adequate understanding of the situation; in this regard, it is no coincidence that self-fulfilling prophecies always have a commonsense background. Conversely, a self-defeating outcome invariably involves voluntariness and careful deliberation. The prediction fails as a consequence of the renewed intentions of the subjects, who modify some aspects of their behavior in response to the new awareness, preventing the prediction from happening. This new awareness is caused by the prediction itself and is related to its validity: if the subjects would not have been familiar with the prediction, this latter would not have been undermined – in this sense, it is a suicidal prophecy. From this perspective, this essay shows how the self-defeating process, far from being something to avoid, is instead something to aspire to: and this has been so since the original Merton’s definition of the self-fulfilling prophecy, which purpose was precisely to falsify itself, in order to break the vicious cycle of self-fulfillingness.


Sociological forecasting Self-defeating prophecy Suicidal prophecy Self-fulfilling prophecy Reflexive mechanisms Social action theory Pierre Bourdieu Robert K. Merton 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Columbia/MissouriColumbiaUSA

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