What is reduction?

The topics of methodological individualism and microfoundationalism unavoidably cross with the idea of reductionism -- the notion that higher level entities and structures need somehow to be "reduced" to facts or properties having to do with lower level structures. In the social sciences, this amounts to something along these lines: the properties and dynamics of …

Response to Little by Tuukka Kaidesoja

[Tuukka Kaidesoja accepted my invitation to write a response to my discussion (link) of his recent article in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, “Overcoming the Biases of Microfoundations: Social Mechanisms and Collective Agents”. Currently Kaidesoja works as a post-doctoral researcher at the Finnish Academy Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Department of …

Meso causes and microfoundations

In earlier posts I've paid attention to the need for microfoundations and the legitimacy of meso-level causation. And I noted that there seems to be a prima facie tension between the two views in the philosophy of social science. I believe the two are compatible if we understand the microfoundations thesis as a claim about …

Social mechanisms and meso-level causes

(This post summarizes a paper I presented at the British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Meeting in 2012.) Here and elsewhere I want to defend the theoretical possibility of attributing causal powers to meso-level social entities and structures. In this I follow a number of philosophers and sociologists, including many critical realists (e.g. …

Mohamed Cherkaoui on the micro-macro debate

The eminent French sociologist Mohamed Cherkaoui addresses the problem of delineating the micro-macro distinction in several works. Since Cherkaoui's empirical research on social stratification and the educational system seems often to bridge between micro and macro, his views are of interest. Cherkaoui's analysis is presented in English primarily in three places, "The individual and the …

Strategic action fields

Sometimes a rethinking of ontology and social categories results in an important step forward in social theory. This appears to be the case in some recent reflections on the relationships that exist between social movements theory and the sociology of organizations.  The presumption of existing writings on these fields is that they refer to separate but related phenomena. …

Does “culture” require microfoundations?

I have consistently argued for a philosophy of social science that emphasizes the actor and the availability of microfoundations. I argue for an actor-centered sociology. But I have lately been arguing as well for the idea that it is legitimate for social scientists to treat claims about the causal properties of meso-level social structures as …

Does the microfoundations principle imply reductionism?

My philosophy of social science has always and consistently maintained the idea that social facts depend on the activities and beliefs of individuals. There is no social "stuff" that exists independently from individual actors. I have encapsulated that idea in the form of the "microfoundations" principle: any claim about the characteristics or causal powers of …

Macro causes of European fascism

Michael Mann's book Fascists makes use of causal claims at a range of levels, from the macro to the micro, to explain the emergence of European fascism.  Here is a passage that highlights four macro-level causes of fascism: The interwar period in Europe was the setting that threw up most of the self-avowed fascists and saw them …

Microfoundations and meso causation

I take the view that social causation requires microfoundations. And I hold that meso causal explanations are legitimate. How are these two views compatible?The key is the role that we expect reasoning about micro-level events to play in the explanation itself. The various versions of methodological individualism -- microeconomics, analytical sociology, Elster's theories of explanation, …

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