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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: April 11, 2004
Latest Update: April 11, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site Micro and Macro Sociology

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, April 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Basically, any sociologist needs to know a micro from a macro approach. It's not hard. Think of micro as suggesting microscope. You look at small bits and try to understand the social process from the level of interpersonal interactions. Bakhtin's answerability is about the attempt to understand how we should voice our thoughts and feelings when the Other can answer with the same basic skills of communication. It's about Person and Other, the micro perspective.

But any sociologist also recognizes that Person and Other are not alone in this world. They find themselves in a culture, in a nation-state, in a globally organized society that affects the extent to which they may answer and even whether the infrastructure will permit them to answer. In this case, we have zoomed out, as with a camcorder, to survey Person and Other within the social context they inhabit. That's the macro perspective.

A good example of the macro: the census. We count all the people that live in the US to determine where they live, whether they work, whether they live in a family, and so on. Or do we? Look at some of the difficulties with macro data that we find in the employment data of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A good example of the micro: most of our school offices close at 5 p.m. Most of our student body is at work from 9 to 5. Most of our students eventually manage to get serviced by our school offices. If we look at the percentage of students processed by our offices, we'd find that 100 % are eventually processed. Macro level. But if we took a micro perspective and tried to determine whether students had to take time off from work to be processed, we might not consider the service so good. Micro level.

Think of the process as a film technique. Starting from a view of the skyline and narrow in eventually to a single person in a single high-rise apartment. Or starting from a single person in a single high-rise apartment, expand out eventually to the whole skyline. It seems kind of pointless to ask which is most important in an age when astrophysicists are having to relearn particle physics in order to make sense of the macro and micro data in physics.

As we move from macro data (often counting or "big picture" data) we find that humans are unique, and as with particle physics, we need to look at micro perspectives. (the "smaller picture" data, often what makes the individual unique). Thus macro data are more often and more easily counting or quantitative data, while micro data are more often descriptive or qualitative data.


  • Sociological Explanations between Micro and Macro and the Integration of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods by Udo Kelle. Backup

  • Social Constructivism, Hermeneutics, and the Sociology of Knowledge by Bernt Schnettler. Backup

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Are macro and micro sociology incompatible?

      Both "paradigms," the camp that says qualitative and quantitative data are incompatible because they come from different understanding of how we gain knowledge, "accept the theory-ladenness of empirical observation, that means that they would criticise a naive empiricist or naturalist concept of research which assumes that a researcher can approach his or her empirical field without any theoretical preconception whatsoever." at Intro, I.

    2. What is triangulation?

      As Campbell and Fiske used it, the use of several different quantitative (counting) measures to determine whether you can get convergent results. In mixed quantitative/qualitative methodology, the use of both qualitative and quantitative measures to get a fuller and more detailed picture of reality.

      "the term was initially borrowed from the realm of quantitative psychological methodology: within the framework of a theory of psychological testing CAMPBELL and FISKE (1959) proposed to supplement or to further test empirical results by the use of different instruments." . . . " "Validation is typically convergent, a confirmation by independent measurement procedures" (CAMPBELL & FISKE 1959, p.81)." The Campbell and Fiske text referred to is one of the leading texts for statistics. By using two or three measures, or tests, one could see if the results were similar (convergent). Consider, for example, that if you wanted to measure ability to think through an issue, you might use an IQ test, and some kind of achievement test. Most likely these test scores would converge, since they measure very similar things (r=0.78). Then if you used a score indicating the subject's ability to complete a task that required a similar ability to think the same issue through (like how to build a crystal radio) if the scores converged, it would suggest that you were actually measuring what you thought you were measuring. Validity. By the way, with the crystal radio building task, no convergence. Not really measuring what you might have thought.

      Critics of validation by triangulation have suggested that error can be introduced by concluding that convergence means both tests are right, when, in fact, both are wrong. Good point. So: " "Triangulation is less a strategy for validating results and procedures than an alternative to validation (...) which increases scope, depth and consistency in methodological proceedings." (FLICK 1998, p.230). [7] Which is what qualitative data should do, increas depth and scope and provide for recognition of differences at the micro level if we're talking about issues like answerability. One may have great desire to answer, yet not have the skills to answer effectively. You might should louder, increasing the decibels we could count, the more you wanted to answer. But if we thought we were measuring the same thing with those two measures (validation) we'd be wrong. We need to look more closely at the problem to determine validity.