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Micro/Macro Sociology

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  • August 30, 2011
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The term "macro" denotes "large"; thus macrosociology refers to the study of large-scale social phenomena. This covers a very broad range of topics that includes groups and collectivities of varying sizes, the major organizations and institutions of one or more societies, cross-sectional or historical studies of a single society, and both comparative and historical analyses of multiple societies. At the grandest level it may cover all human society and history.

Sociologists distinguish macrosociology from microsociology, which focuses on the social activities of individuals and small groups. The micro-macro distinction forms one of the central dualisms characterizing divergent sociological perspectives. Seemingly polar opposites such as conflict-consensus, stability-change, structure-agency, subjectiveobjective, and materialist-idealist, as well as micro-macro, provide a shorthand method for denoting differences in central assumptions, subjects, and models. As with many other oppositional concepts, however, the boundary between microsociology and macrosociology is not clearly distinguished, and at the margins there is much room for overlap.

Typically, micro-level studies examine individual thought, action, and interaction, often coinciding with social-psychological theories and models, whereas macro-level investigations target social structures and those forces that organize as well as divide individuals into political, social or religious organizations, ethnic populations, communities, and nation-states. Nevertheless, in defining these terms there is major conceptual ambiguity that can be formulated as a question: Should the distinction be based on substantive criteria (specialty and subdisciplinary areas within sociology such as social change and development), theoretical criteria (e.g., functionalist, Marxist), metatheoretical criteria (type of paradigm, epistemology), or methodological criteria (type of research design and analysis techniques)? Since...