Monday, 25 June 2012

Macrosociology and Microsociology

The theoretical perspectives of sociology can be broadly categorised into two camps: macrosociology and microsociology. Macrosociologists focus on the big picture, which usually means things as social structure, social institutions, social-political-economic change. They look at large scale social forces that change the course of human society and the lives of individuals. Microsociologist, on the other hand study social interaction. They look at how families, co-workers and other small groups interact; why they interact the way they do, and how they interpret the meanings of their interactions and social settings.
Eg: In studying armed robbery, macrosociologists would discuss why robbery rates are higher in some communities than others, whether changes in national economy affects robbery rates etc. Microsociologists would focus on why individual robbers decide to commit robbery and how they decide their targets. 

Within the broad macro camp two perspectives dominate: functionalism and social conflict theories. Within the micro camp the dominating perspectives are: symbolic interactionism and utilitarianism (rational choice theory/exchange theory).  [Randal Collins 1994, Four Sociological Traditions].

Table 1.1 Theory Snapshot
Theoretical perspective
Major assumptions
Social stability is necessary to have a strong society, and adequate socialization and social integration are necessary to achieve social stability. Society’s social institutions perform important functions to help ensure social stability. Slow social change is desirable, but rapid social change threatens social order. Functionalism is a macro theory.
Conflict theory
Society is characterized by pervasive inequality based on social class, gender, and other factors. Far-reaching social change is needed to reduce or eliminate social inequality and to create an egalitarian society. Conflict theory is a macro theory.
Symbolic interactionism
People construct their roles as they interact; they do not merely learn the roles that society has set out for them. As this interaction occurs, individuals negotiate their definitions of the situations in which they find themselves and socially construct the reality of these situations. In so doing, they rely heavily on symbols such as words and gestures to reach a shared understanding of their interaction. Symbolic interactionism is a micro theory.
Utilitarianism (rational choice theory or exchange theory)
People act to maximize their advantages in a given situation and to reduce their disadvantages. If they decide that benefits outweigh disadvantages, they will initiate the interaction or continue it if it is already under way. If they instead decide that disadvantages outweigh benefits, they will decline to begin interacting or stop the interaction if already begun. Social order is possible because people realize it will be in their best interests to cooperate and to make compromises when necessary. Utilitarianism is a micro theory.

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