[mak-roh-soh-see-ol-uh-jee, -soh-shee-]
Macrosociology is a sociological approach that analyzes societies, social systems or populations on a large scale or at a high level of abstraction. It is considered one of the main foundations of sociology, alongside microsociology and mesosociology. Microsociology focuses on the individual social activities, while macrosociology studies society as a whole. Macrosociology is concerned with individuals, families, classes, social problems, and all of the other part and features of a society, but it analyzes these features in relation to the larger social systems of which they are part. Macrosociology can also be the analysis of large collectivities (eg. the city, the church). Lenski defines macrosociology simply as "concerned with human societies". Human populations are considered a society to the degree that is politically autonomous and its members to engage in a broad range of cooperative activities. For example, this definition would apply to the population of Germany being deemed a society, but German-speaking people as a whole scattered about different countries would not be considered a society. Macrosociology deals with broad societal trends that can later be applied to the smaller features of a society. To differentiate, macrosociology deals with issues such as war, distress of Third World nations, poverty, and environmental deprivation, whereas microsociology analyses issues such as the role of women, the nature of the family, and immigration.

Important representatives of macrosociological theorists

  • Auguste Comte; who coined the term "sociology" and believed society could be studied like any other science.
  • Herbert Spencer; who coined the term "survival of the fittest" in reference to human social arrangements (Social Darwinism).
  • Karl Marx; who analyzed society from the perspective of class conflict between workers and owners
  • Max Weber; who viewed society as rapidly modernizing and looked at the effects of this process, such as bureaucratization
  • Emile Durkheim; who viewed individual issues as reflective of greater social patterns, completing the first sociological study (which linked suicide to societal trends)

Theoretical strategies

There are a number of theoretical strategies within contemporary macrosociology, but four of them stand out as major ones.

  • The Idealist Strategy attempts to explain the basic features of social life by reference to the creativity capacity of the human mind. “Idealists believe that human uniqueness lies in the fact that humans attach symbolic meanings to their actions”
  • The Materialist Strategy attempts to explain the basic features of human social life in terms of the practical, material conditions of their existence. These conditions include things like the nature of the physical environment, the level of technology, and the organization of the economic system.
  • Functionalism, or structural functionalism, has many principals which define this theory. Essentially functionalism states that societies are complex systems of interrelated and interdependent parts, and each part of a society significantly influences the others. Also, each part of society exists because it has a specific function to perform in contributing to the society as a whole. Finally, it states that societies tend toward a state of equilibrium or homeostasis, and if there is a disturbance in any part of the society then the other parts will adjust to restore the stability of the society as a whole.
  • The Conflict Theory, also called The Conflict Theoretical Strategy, rejects the idea that societies tend toward some basic consensus of harmony in which the features of society work for everyone's good. It is based on the idea that the basic structure of society is determined by individuals and groups acquiring scarce resources to satisfy their own needs and wants, thus creating endless conflicts.

Aspects of macro-sociological methodology

Long-wave research is the observation that development (chiefly economic, but sometimes referring to macro-sociological aspects) tends to proceed in "jerks and leaps," rather than occuring smoothly. The idea is that, over time, internal mechanisms explain the dynamics of the waves rather than external and accidental circumstances. For example, long term periods of growth such as industrialization and the roaring 20's followed by periods of economic crisis like the Great Depression, according to the long-wave theory, were due to the capitalist system as a whole. "A holistic perspective of capitalist evolution involves that the development is conceived of as a whole within which many different aspects are integrated: economic growth and stagnation, changes of technology, cultural trends, social conflicts, development of social and political institutions, etc.

Macro-sociological aspects are included in long-wave research in different ways:

  • Based on the social relationship between different generations, the dynamic of capitalist evolution is affected by long-term changes in the cultural climate
  • Interplay between large techno-economic paradigms
  • "The long waves are expressions of class-struggle over profit and surplus value, fought on the basis of different technological and organizational preconditions: each long-wave is related to revolutions concerning the technology and organization of production"

Historical macrosociology

As globalization has impacted the world, it has also had an impact on historical macrosociology, leading to the development of two different branches. One is based mainly in comparative and historical sociology (CHS), and the other in political economy of the world-systems (PEWS). CHS bases its analysis on states, and searches for "generalizations about common properties and priniciples of variation among instances across time and space." PEWS, on the other hand, uses systems of states for analysis, and searches for "generalizations about interdependencies among a system's components and of principles of variation among systemic conditions across time and space." Despite the two schools' differences, both use historical knowledge to try and solve some of the problems seen in the field of macrosociology. As of recently, it has been argued that globalization poses a threat to the CHS way of thinking because it often leads to the dissolution of distinct states.

Historical Macrosociologists:

Charles Tilly- CHS scholar- analysis based on national states

Immanuel Wallerstein- developed world systems theory- analysis based on world capitalist system

The future of macrosociology: micro-macro links

Perhaps the most highly developed integrative effort to link micro and macro phenomena is found in Anthony Giddens's theory of structuration, in which "social structure is defined as both constraining and enabling of human activity as well as both internal and external to the actor." Attempts to link micro and macro phenomena are evident in a growing body of empirical research. Such work appears to follow Giddens' view of the constraining and enabling nature of social structure for human activity and the need to link structure and action. "It appears safe to say that while macrosociology will always remain a central component of sociological theory and research, increasing effort will be devoted to creating workable models that link it with its microcounterpart."

See also


Further reading

  • Charles Tilly, Macrosociology Past and Future in Newsletter of the Comparative & Historical Section, American Sociological Association, (1995) 8: 1, 3, 4, online

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