The micro-social order : towards a reconception

1988
Publication type
Contribution to a collection
Published in
Actions and structure: research methods and social theory / Fielding, Nigel G. (ed.). - London : Sage, 1988. - pp. 21-53
Abstract
There is a venerable tradition in sociology which argues that social analysis is divided between individualism and collectivism, or between action perspectives and structuralist views, and that one or the other (depending on the writer's preference) arbitrarily reduces social phenomena to one level of reality. In 1939, an article in the American Journal of Sociology argued that the main stream of sociological thought had forgotten the question whether individuals or structures are the ultimate units of social reality, and analysed social phenomena in terms of the meaningfully oriented actions of persons reciprocally related to each other (Wirth, 1939: 966). In the eighties, the issue is vigorously alive, with theorists like Parsons sometimes assigned to the individualist and sometimes to the structuralist creed (Mayhew, 1980, 1981; Ditomaso, 1982). Some reject the idea of a dichotomous choice between these doctrines, and consider the problem to be the linkage between voluntary action and social restraints. Within these terms, Bhaskar (1979), Giddens (1979, 1981) and Alexander (1982) have attempted afresh to bridge the gap between agency and structure.
This chapter presents another analysis of the puzzle, but one which builds upon a different tradition. I try to follow a line of sociological thought which dates back at least to Simmel, but one which the confrontations between individualism and collectivism tend to forget - the tradition of 'methodological situationalism'. Three attempts have recently been made to put macro-social issues on a microsociological foundation, taking as a starting-point the social situation (Cicourel, 1981; Collins, 1981a, 1981b; Ham!, 1980, 1981; KnorrCetina, 1981a). In the following, I will first present the case for methodological situationalism and then review these attempts. My object in this chapter is to elaborate in some detail the 'representation hypothesis' of macro-social order as an alternative to the above conceptions. The elements of this hypothesis are familiar to sociologists. I want to develop a synthesis of these elements.
Subject (DDC)
300 Social Sciences, Sociology
Cite This
ISO 690KNORR, Karin, 1988. The micro-social order : towards a reconception. In: FIELDING, Nigel G., ed.. Actions and structure: research methods and social theory. London:Sage, pp. 21-53
BibTex
@incollection{Knorr1988micro-11622,
year={1988},
title={The micro-social order : towards a reconception},
publisher={Sage},
booktitle={Actions and structure: research methods and social theory},
pages={21--53},
editor={Fielding, Nigel G.},
author={Knorr, Karin}
}

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<dcterms:abstract xml:lang="eng">There is a venerable tradition in sociology which argues that social analysis is divided between individualism and collectivism, or between action perspectives and structuralist views, and that one or the other (depending on the writer's preference) arbitrarily reduces social phenomena to one level of reality. In 1939, an article in the American Journal of Sociology argued that the main stream of sociological thought had forgotten the question whether individuals or structures are the ultimate units of social reality, and analysed social phenomena in terms of the meaningfully oriented actions of persons reciprocally related to each other (Wirth, 1939: 966). In the eighties, the issue is vigorously alive, with theorists like Parsons sometimes assigned to the individualist and sometimes to the structuralist creed (Mayhew, 1980, 1981; Ditomaso, 1982). Some reject the idea of a dichotomous choice between these doctrines, and consider the problem to be the linkage between voluntary action and social restraints. Within these terms, Bhaskar (1979), Giddens (1979, 1981) and Alexander (1982) have attempted afresh to bridge the gap between agency and structure.&lt;br /&gt;This chapter presents another analysis of the puzzle, but one which builds upon a different tradition. I try to follow a line of sociological thought which dates back at least to Simmel, but one which the confrontations between individualism and collectivism tend to forget - the tradition of 'methodological situationalism'. Three attempts have recently been made to put macro-social issues on a microsociological foundation, taking as a starting-point the social situation (Cicourel, 1981; Collins, 1981a, 1981b; Ham!, 1980, 1981; KnorrCetina, 1981a). In the following, I will first present the case for methodological situationalism and then review these attempts. My object in this chapter is to elaborate in some detail the 'representation hypothesis' of macro-social order as an alternative to the above conceptions. The elements of this hypothesis are familiar to sociologists. I want to develop a synthesis of these elements.</dcterms:abstract>
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