From Margaret Archer’s Social Origins of Educational Systems (1979), pg 37. I thought this was a remarkably apt summary of what her next seven books actually did, even if her trajectory as a whole is constantly misread as a turn away from the macro. The whole point of it was building a theoretical framework adequate for the interface between the micro and the macro:
It is inadmissible for action theorists to consider that their approach provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for explaining complex phenomena simply because they place what Wagner has called, ‘a big etcetera’ after their micro-sociological expositions. 59 As he argues, they will have to demonstrate ‘more than that their theory works well on the micro-sociological level. They will have to perform the transition from small-scale situational interpretations (to) all those cultural and institutional factors which “shape situations”, without sacrificing the subjective-interactional approach’. To overcome dualism in this way is impossible at present –we do not possess the necessary armoury of empirical generalizations by which the task might be accomplished, nor can we be certain that these will not break down at some point(s). The problem seems least well disposed of by simply abandoning the investigation of complex phenomena. Instead there appear to be good reasons for thinking that the micro-macro dichotomy can best be overcome if both kinds of theorizing continue to develop side by side.
In a number of books, Nikos Mouzelis offers a really important critique of the tendency to equate ‘micro’ with face-to-face and ‘macro’ with impersonal and international. He cites an international summit, Yalta if I remember correctly, as an example of a face-to-face encounter that is very much macro. I was thinking about this when reading former Labour spin doctor Lance Price’s slightly weird and fawning book about Modi. Reflecting on Modi’s use of Twitter after his election victory, Price writes in The Modi Effect page 240:
Modi had gone from ‘pariah to prime minister’, according to one of his colleagues, who added, ‘This is nothing short of a miracle.’ And this being 2014, to the victor came the tweets. Led by David Cameron, who had told him, ‘It’s great to be talking to someone who just got more votes than any other politician anywhere in the universe,’ world leaders were busy following up their phone calls by finding 140 characters in which to say congratulations. The New York Times read a political snub into the order in which he chose to acknowledge them. First came the UK, then Canada, Russia, Japan, South Africa, France and Germany. ‘As the list of nations grew throughout the India day, the leader of the biggest western power, President Obama, began to look more and more like the kid who was picked last for teams during recess.’ Modi hadn’t forgotten that the United States had been the last, and most begrudging, of the western governments to invite him back into the diplomatic fold. Eventually, after thanking New Zealand and Fiji, Modi tweeted, ‘@ BarackObama & I talked about further strengthening India– USA strategic partnership that will help both nations.’
This suggests to me how conceptual confusions surrounding ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ might have implication for digital sociology. Obviously the ANT tendency within digital sociology will want to dispense with these distinctions altogether. But in a future post, I’ll try and outline why I think they’re necessary for an adequate digital social science (not just a digital sociology) even though they must be treated very carefully.