Macrosociology is an approach to sociology which emphasizes the analysis of social systems and populations on a large scale, at the level of social structure, and often at a necessarily high level of theoretical abstraction.[1] Microsociology, by contrast, focuses on the individual social agency. Macrosociology also concerns individuals, families, and other constituent aspects of a society, but always does so in relation to larger social system of which they are a part. Macrosociology can also be the analysis of large collectivities (e.g. the city, the church).[2] 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.[3] 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.[3] 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.[3]

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 creative capacity of the human mind. "Idealists believe that human uniqueness lies in the fact that humans attach symbolic meanings to their actions"[4]
  • 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.[3]
  • Functionalism, or structural functionalism, is defined by many principles. Functionalism essentially 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.[3]
  • 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.[3]

Historical macrosociology

As globalization has affected the world, it has also affected 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 principles of variation among instances across time and space."[5] 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."[3] 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.[3]

Historical Macrosociologists:[3]

Charles Tilly- CHS scholar- analysis based on national states

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

Perhaps the most highly developed integrative effort to link microsociological and macrosociological 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."[6] 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."[6]

See also


  1. Craig Calhoun(ed) Dictionary of the Social Sciences (Article: Macrosociology), Oxford University Press, 2002
  2. John Scott & Gordon Marshall (eds) Dictionary of Sociology, Oxford University Press, 2000
  3. Gerhard Lenski, Human societies: An introduction to Macrosociology, McGraw-Hill, 1982, ISBN 0-07-037176-8
  4. Sanderson, Stephen K. Macrosociology: An Introduction to Human Societies, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988
  5. Arrighi, Giovanni. Globalization and historical macrosociology. (2000).Sociology for the twenty-first century. 117-133.
  6. Borgatta, Edgar F. Encyclopedia of Sociology: Volume 3, Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1992

Further reading

  • Charles Tilly, Macrosociology Past and Future in Newsletter of the Comparative & Historical Section, American Sociological Association, (1995) 8: 1, 3, 4, online
  • Francois, P., J.G. Manning, Harvey Whitehouse, Rob Brennan, Thomas Currie, Kevin Feeney, Peter Turchin. "A Macroscope for Global History. Seshat Global History Databank: a methodological overview," Digital Humanities Quarterly Journal (April 26, 2016)
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