Generativity and emergence

Social entities and structures have properties that exercise causal influence over all of us, and over the continuing development of the society in which we live. Schools, corporations, armies, terror networks, transport networks, markets, churches, and cities all fall in this range -- they are social compounds or entities that shape the behavior of the …

Social generativity and complexity

The idea of generativity in the realm of the social world expresses the notion that social phenomena are generated by the actions and thoughts of the individuals who constitute them, and nothing else (link, link). More specifically, the principle of generativity postulates that the properties and dynamic characteristics of social entities like structures, ideologies, knowledge systems, …

What is anchor individualism?

Brian Epstein has attempted to shake up some of our fundamental assumptions about the social world in the past several years by challenging the idea of "ontological individualism" -- the idea that social things consist of facts about individuals in action, thought, and interaction, and nothing else. Here is how he puts the idea in …

Social causation

    The idea of social causation is a difficult one, as we dig more deeply into it. What does it mean to say that "poor education causes increased risk of delinquency" or "population growth causes technology change" or "the existence of paramilitary organizations contributed to the rise of German fascism"? What sorts of things …

Elster on Tocqueville

Jon Elster is one of the people whose thinking about society and the social sciences has made a consistently important contribution to the philosophy of social science. So Elster's treatment of Tocqueville as a social scientist in Alexis de Tocqueville, the First Social Scientist will be of interest to anyone who wants to know how …

Supervenience of the social?

I have found it appealing to try to think of the macro-micro relation in terms of the idea of supervenience (link).  Supervenience is a concept that was developed in the context of physicalism and psychology, as a way of specifying a non-reductionist but still constraining relationship between psychological properties and physical states of the brain. Physicalism …

Neighborhood effects

  In Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect Robert Sampson provides a very different perspective on the "micro-macro" debate. He rejects the methodologies associated both poles of the debate: methodological individualism ("derive important social outcomes from the choices of rational individuals") and methodological structuralism ("derive important social outcomes from the features of large-scale structures …

Methodological individualism today

Is it possible to draw a few conclusions on the topic of methodological individualism after dozens of years of debate? (Lars Udehn's Methodological Individualism: Background, History and Meaning is a great study of the long history of the debate over this issue. It is unfortunate there isn't an affordable digital edition of the book. Joseph Heath's entry …

Actor-centered sociology and agent-based models

Actor-centered sociology (ACS) begins in the intuition that social processes begin in the interactions of socially constructed individuals, and it takes seriously the idea that actors have complex and socially inflected mental schemes of action and representation. So actor-centered sociologists are keen not to over-simplify the persons who constitute the social domain of interest. And …

Causal pathways through Coleman’s boat

image: illustration in Luiz Carlos dos Santos Azevedo, "Developing a Performance Measurement System for a Public Organization: A Case Study of the Rio de Janeiro City Controller’s Office" (link) A key talisman in discussions about the relation between "macro" and "micro" is a famous diagram by James Coleman inFoundations of Social Theory.  The diagram is …

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