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Relevance (Latin / Italian: re-levare "[lift the balance bar, a thing] up again or again") is a term for the significance and thus also a situation-related importance that someone has in a certain context attaches. The word is assigned to the language of education and relates to assessments and comparisons within a subject or specialist area. The antonym irrelevance (adjective: irrelevant ) is accordingly a designation for insignificance in the given context; The foreign word for a general, qualitatively measurable importance is importance .

The word “relevance” has been used in German since the 19th century, its current meaning developed in the 20th century under the influence of English relevant . The adjective relevant has been demonstrable since the 17th century and is said to have originated from the Latin addition relevantes articuli (“justified, conclusive arguments [in litigation]”). The original meaning was "conclusive, correct". In the 20th century, under the influence of English relevant , today's use of the word in the sense of "meaningful, essential, [ge] important" developed. The Etymologie-Duden attests the status of a “buzzword” for the second half of the 20th century.


Today , relevance can be found as a term in German-language communication studies . Awareness of a message is influenced by the news, the formal conspicuousness (presentation) and the relevance of the content for the recipient . Recipients mainly orientate themselves on the relevance they attach to the news. When assessing the relevance, everyday knowledge about the topics treated as well as the assessment of the respective medium , the means of communication and its working method are used.

The communication scientist Klaus Merten defines the public as a situation with characteristic elements "which [...] initiates discourses on [...] topics that [...] are treated according to relevance [...]" and writes:

"[The public] has two political components from the start, insofar as the treatment of topics [there] takes place according to criteria of overall social relevance and, through the formation of opinions, allows the ongoing observation of degrees of approval and rejection of the respective topic."

Agreement of the relevance systems according to Alfred Schütz

According to Alfred Schütz's general thesis of the reciprocity of perspectives, an idealization of the correspondence of the relevance systems takes place in humans, i.e. when trying to communicate with other people, individual differences in the relevance systems can be ignored. During the idealization, the similarities in the relevance systems emerge, so that if the relevance systems are applied to one another, the relevance systems do not agree completely, but are sufficient for communication.


In some quantitative sciences, for example in the physical theory of critical phenomena , in socio- and economic physics . the term “relevant” is used in a mathematically strict way, in that, instead of the real system, strongly simplified models with the same relevant interactions are solved exactly , which is only possible for the simplified models.

Thus, equivalence classes of different models with the same relevant behavior are formed and instead of the real system, the simplest model in its class is solved exactly, which exactly results in the relevant properties of the real model. It is accepted that other properties, precisely the “irrelevant” ones, will come out wrong.

An example

The example concerns the so-called critical behavior of certain physical systems, but also occurs in sociophysics : Certain properties E of a large system are considered, which depend on many interaction constants, symbolically written by a set . It is assumed that

  • (first) the system is defined on an infinitely extended graph of a given dimension d (e.g. on a three-dimensional grid), where
  • (secondly) the interactions should have a certain symmetry SYM (e.g. rotational invariance), and where
  • (thirdly) the range RW of the interaction should be finitely short or infinitely long, but exponentially or falling off more strongly. In addition, the properties of the system should depend on a parameter T , e.g. B. on the temperature, which should have a so-called critical value , T = T c . In the vicinity of this value, a so-called scale law often applies: In the vicinity of the critical parameter, the entirety of the interactions breaks down into two classes, symbolically written, for various reasons: whereby only the first class ,, is “relevant”, the second is “irrelevant” ".

This gives where the three points mean negligible terms.

The so-called “critical exponent” only depends on the relevant part of the interactions, namely on the dimension d , on its symmetry SYM and on its range RW . The pre-factors , on the other hand, also depend on all other details of the interaction, are different above and below the critical “temperature”, but are irrelevant. Because "robust", i.e. H. “Unchanged”, only the relevant part of the interaction remains in the transition to another system of the same “universality class”. The prefactor before the power law, on the other hand, is irrelevant.

Web links

Wiktionary: Relevance  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

References and footnotes

  1. ^ "Bildungssprachlich" according to Brockhaus Wahrig - German Dictionary , fifth volume, 1983, Lemma relevance . This assignment can also be found in other German-language dictionaries.
  2. a b c d e sentence according to Duden "Etymologie" - dictionary of origin of the German language , 2nd edition, Dudenverlag, 1989, Lemma relevant .
  3. a b c sentence after Georg Ruhrmann: Event, Message and Recipient in The Reality of the Media , Opladen, 1994, p. 245.
  4. a b quoted from Klaus Merten's lecture Public Relations SS 2005 , on the concept of public , first page, online at , accessed on 8 November 2009.
  5. ^ W. Weidlich, with G. Haag: Concepts and Models of Quantitative Sociology , Springer Wissenschaftsverlag, Berlin 1983
  6. ^ H. Eugene Stanley: Introduction to Phase Transitions and Critical Phenomena. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1971, ISBN 0-19-505316-8