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epistemology concepts micro-macro causation and explanation keynote

Linking Micro and Macro Perspectives

In the third module of the first week we take up the theoretical conflict between micro and macro perspectives which pervades most of social theory and social science methodology. It recurs in different variations in classic controversies in the social sciences: What comes first, structure or agency? Does individual action generate societal outcomes in the first instance or do societal structures determine individual behavior? Should we aim at general causal laws or take into account the specialty of the single case?

The divergence not only concerns the appropriate level of analysis, it is also related to different ontological and epistemological assumptions. While micro-perspectives tend to follow the methodological individualism and to see the collective level only as an aggregation of the individual actions, decisions, or events, macro-perspectives view social structures as something which is more than their individual parts, namely as entities with their own inherent causal power.

This modules aims at clarifying the typical underlying assumptions and methodological implications each perspective has and tries to identify potentials, pitfalls and caveats of linking both perspectives in an integrative conceptual frame. Its goal is to make fruitful the reciprocal criticism which representatives of both camps are engaged in and asks what we can win from combining both perspectives in a sensible way.