Social Complexity and the Micro–Macro Link

The article proceeds as follows. First, I attempt to outline the problem that is at stake: the aim is to expose the theoretical parameters that must be taken into account in order to provide a workable solution to the micro–macro problem. I maintain that the starting point has been clearly stated by Durkheim. How to account for social regularities? How is it possible to offer high-level knowledge that is not trivially available in generalizations couched in individuals’ terms? Second, in this article I attempt to provide a taxonomy of the proposals that have been offered to account for the micro–macro link. Third, I attempt to weaken an interesting argument currently advanced to support the inevitability of micro-foundations. Finally, I very briefly explore the possibility of naturalizing the debate.

The article leads to the following conclusions. First, the traditional opposition between methodological individualism and methodological holism is not precise enough to distinguish between different forms of the micro–macro link. Second, the argument in favour of reducing hysteresis cannot be taken as an inevitable desideratum for successful explanations because it does not take into account the informational loss of detailed explanations. Finally, we have suggested a possible naturalization of the debate. The challenge for the social sciences in the future is, precisely, to ascertain the different possible types of micro–macro relations in concrete cases, transforming a problem that has traditionally been understood in philosophical terms into the object of scientific enquiry.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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