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macrosociology

macrosociology Macrosociology is usually contrasted with microsociology. Whereas the former examines the wider structures, interdependent social institutions, global and historical processes of social life, the latter is more concerned with action, interaction, and the construction of meaning. In general, theories such as symbolic interactionism, exchange theory, and ethnomethodology are regarded as microsociological theories, whilst Marxism, functionalism, and systems theory are regarded as microsociological. (All of these theories are treated under separate headings elsewhere in this dictionary.)

Needless to say, however, it is important not to push this distinction too far, since much sociological research is neither clearly in one camp nor in the other, and can be seen as part of a continuing debate over the relationship between social system and social actor. Are micro and macro theories irretrievably autonomous levels of analysis which cannot be synthesized? Is one mode of analysis superior to the other? Is a linkage or even a synthesis possible? Most of the classical theories are concerned with this tension. For example, whilst Max Weber is often characterized as a sociologist of social action, his work rapidly moves to the analysis of broad historical processes and comparative structures. Similarly, the work of Talcott Parsons may be seen as an ambitious attempt to create grand theory of a type that would allow units of action to be built up into integrative institutions, with the pattern variables, for example, being capable of characterizing both two-person interactions and whole societies.

The tension and controversies between these two sociologies take many forms. There are some so-called holists who argue (with Émile Durkheim) that the logic of sociology dictates a concern with the social sui generis, that microsociology cannot capture either the logic of collective action or the constraints of institutional structures, and is for that reason unsatisfactory. Methodological individualists, by contrast, maintain (among other things) that society is a reification and is always reducible to its component individuals. This is part of a much wider debate over ontology, in which realists and nominalists make competing claims about the nature of social reality. Similarly, Anthony Giddens's theory of structuration and Johnathan A. Turner's A Theory of Social Interaction (1988), both of which attempt to transcend the dichotomy of macrosociological and microsociological concerns, can be contrasted with the position of Alan Dawe, who in a classic paper maintained that ‘there are… two sociologies: a sociology of social system and a sociology of social action. They are grounded in the diametrically opposed concerns with two central problems, those of order and control. And, at every level they are in conflict. They posit antithetical views of human nature, of society and of the relationship between the social and the individual The first asserts the paramount necessity, for societal and individual well-being, of external constraint; hence the notion of a social system ontologically and methodologically prior to its participants. The key notion of the second is that of autonomous man, able to realise his full potential and to create a truly human social order only when freed from external constraint. Society is thus the creation of its members; the product of their construction of meaning, and of the action and relationships through which they attempt to impose that meaning on their historical situations’ (‘The Two Sociologies’, British Journal of Sociology, 1970
). See also GALTON'S PROBLEM.

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