Macrostructure

Macrostructure

[mak-roh-struhk-cher]
The notion of macrostructure has been used in several disciplines in order to distinguish large-scale, or 'global' structures, from small-scale, or 'local' structures, that is, microstructures.

The distinction between macrostructure and microstructure is relative to the perspective, aims or level of description: Macrostructures may again be seen as microstructures at a higher level of description, that is, in relation to even larger-scale macrostructures. For instance, the rooms of a house are microstructures relative to the overall, macrostructure of the house. But the house may again be a microstructure relative to the macrostructure of a neighborhood or a city, and so on. These differences of the level of description are also called differences of granularity: as is the case for photographs, fine-grained descriptions show more detail than coarse-grained ones.

In sociology macrostructures, often simply called 'structure', correspond to the overall organization of society, described at a rather large-scale level, featuring for instance social groups, organizations, institutions, nation-states and their respective properties and relations. In this case, societal macrostructures are distinguished from societal microstructures consisting of the situated social interaction of social actors, often described in terms of agency. This distinction in sociology has given rise to the well-known macro-micro debate, in which microsociologists claim the primacy of interaction as the constituents of societal structures, and macrosociologists the primacy of given social structure as a general constraint on interaction.

In linguistics and discourse analysis semantic macrostructures are the overall, global meanings of discourse, usually also described in terms of topic, gist, or upshot. These semantic macrostructures (global meanings or topics) are typically expressed in for instance the headlines and lead of a news report, or the title and the abstract of a scholarly article. Macrostructures of discourse are distinguished from its microstructures, that is, the local structures of words, clauses, sentences or turns in conversation. Macrostructures may be derived from microstructures by operations such as abstracting, that is, leaving out or summarizing specific details. Semantic macrostructures or topics define what is called the global coherence of discourse.

In the psychology of discourse processing, it is assumed that language users typically have better memory for the macrostructures than for the microstructures of discourse: After some time we remember the overall topics or gist of a news report much better than its many details.

References

  • Alexander, J. C., Giesen, B., Münch, R., & Smelser, N. J. (Eds.). (1987). The micro-macro link. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Anthony Giddens (1986). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Jones, B., Gallagher, B. J., & McFalls, J. A. (1995). Sociology. Micro, macro, and mega structures. Ft. Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.
  • Knorr-Cetina, K., & Cicourel, A. V. (Eds.). (1981). Advances in social theory and methodology. Towards an integration of micro- and macrosociologies. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Tepperman, L., & Rosenberg, M. M. (1998). Macro/micro: A brief introduction to sociology. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall Canada.
  • Teun A. van Dijk (1980). Macrostructures: An interdisciplinary study of global structures in discourse, interaction, and cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
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