Sociology Index

Methodological Individualism

Methodological Holism

Methodological individualism is the belief that all sociological explanations can be reduced to characteristics of individuals who make up the society. Methodological individualism is the hallmark of positivism. Positivism construes phenomena as simple, homogeneous, separate, variables.

Methodological individualism is also evident in positivistic instruments such as questionnaires. Each item on a questionnaire is a separate (discrete) element that supposedly taps a discrete psychological attribute. Items are randomly presented in order to prevent any association among them that would bias the subject away from responding to each one independently.

THE CHANGING FACE OF METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM
Lars Udehn � Department of Social Sciences, M�lardalen University 
Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 28: 479-507 (Volume publication date August 2002)
It is common to categorize social scientific theories as either individualistic or holistic, and to assume that they are opposites. This neat picture is not so much wrong as too simple.

There are different versions of both doctrines, and some versions combine elements from both. In this article I distinguish a number of versions of methodological individualism that differ significantly in strength. The main divide is between strong versions of methodological individualism, which suggest that all social phenomena should be explained only in terms of individuals and their interaction, and weak versions of methodological individualism, which also assign an important role to social institutions and/or social structure in social science explanations.

Methodological Individualism, Explanation, and Invariance 
Daniel Steel, Michigan State University, East Lansing. - Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 36, No. 4, 440-463 (2006)
This article examines methodological individualism in terms of the theory that invariance under intervention is the signal feature of generalizations that serve as a basis for causal explanation. This theory supports the holist contention that macro-level generalizations can explain, but it also suggests a defense of methodological individualism on the grounds that greater range of invariance under intervention entails deeper explanation. Although this individualist position is not threatened by multiple-realizability, an argument for it based on rational choice theory is called into question by experimental results concerning preference reversals.

Ho, D. Y. F. (1991). Relational orientation and methodological individualism. Bulletin of the Hong Kong Psychological Society, Nos. 26/27, 81-95. - Relational Orientation and Methodological Individualism
Abstract: The present essay represents an attempt to weave two seemingly unrelated strands of inquiry together. The first concerns the search for a conceptual framework grounded in Asian cultures; the second concerns the nature of scientific explanations of social phenomena. These two strands of inquiry converge to support the thesis of relational orientation--that social behavior invariably takes place in relational contexts, regardless of social class or cultural variations; and that, accordingly, the unit of analysis is not the individual, but individual-in-relations. Relational orientation confronts the bias toward methodological individualism in contemporary mainstream social psychology. More generally, it provides a comprehensive framework for the conceptualization and analysis of social phenomena.

The Principle of Methodological Individualism and Marxian Epistemology - Joachim Israel, University of Copenhagen 
Acta Sociologica, Vol. 14, No. 3, 145-150 (1971)
In the following article I am going to defend the thesis, which at first may appear to be strange, that, in order to base sociology (and knowledge) on Marxian epistemology one has to accept on an ontological level the position of methodological individualism, and on a metatheoretical level a position of non-reductionism.
In order to support my thesis I have to explicate briefly: 1) Marx's basic epistomological position. 2) the principle of methodological individualism, where I try to differentiate between a reified and a nonreified version2, and 3) the position of non-reductionism.

An Epistemological Plea for Methodological Individualism and Rational Choice Theory in Cognitive Rhetoric - Alban Bouvier, University of Paris-Sorbonne - Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 32, No. 1, 51-70 (2002)
Some current attempts to go beyond the narrow scope of rational choice theory (RCT) in the social sciences and the artificial reconstructions it sometimes provides focus on the arguments that people give to justify their beliefs and behaviors themselves. But the available argumentation theories are not constructed to fill this gap. This article argues that relevance theory, on the contrary, suggests interesting tracks. This provocative idea requires a rereading of Sperber and Wilson's theory. Actually, the authors do not explicitly support RCT, and Sperber has even strongly criticized methodological individualism, which most of the time underlies RCT, in favor of infra-individualism. A key point of the argument presented here is to show that Sperber and Wilson do not firmly distinguish between infra-individualism and subintentionality. Only subintentionality is needed.

Reconciling Group Selection and Methodological Individualism - TODD J.ZYWICKI.
George Mason University - School of Law.
Abstract: Methodological individualism underpins economic analysis. In his paper in this volume, however, Douglas Glen Whitman demonstrates that group selection can be reconciled with methodological individualism. This essay extends Whitman's analysis in two ways. First, it summarizes and restates the necessary conditions for group selection to play a role in the evolution of human preferences and societies. Second, it discusses the role of group selection in Hayek's thought, with a particular focus on the role of group selection in the evolution of legal rules and the rule of law.

Methodological individualism, economic behaviour and economic policy - Papanikos G.T.
Source: International Journal of Social Economics, Volume 25, Number 9, 1998
Abstract: This paper examines Hayek's version of methodological individualism in relation to individual economic actions and economic effectiveness (social actions). According to this approach, economic and social order is determined by the myriad atomistic actions that are the result of individual planning taking into consideration the idiosyncratic nature of knowledge. Economic policy is a form of social planning which is not only ineffective but also has cataclysmic long-lasting effects, creating a disorder in the market system. Two arguments are made in this study. First, methodological individualism should be considered and be accepted as a serous attempt to explain atomistic (economic) behaviour as purposeful actions constrained by scarce resources and limited knowledge. Second, Hayek’s strong version of methodological individualism is very simplistic as it is applied to economic policy issues, contradicting his argument in support of a methodological dualism.

Methodological Individualism and Rational Choice in Neoclassical Economics: An Institutionalist Critique - Darley Jose
Abstract: This review paper is an attempt to take a critical look at methodological individualism and rational choice that form the hard core of neoclassical economics, from an institutionalist perspective. I try to establish that methodological individualism is a project of reductionism, by discussing reductionism in the context of social sciences, and by analysing methodological individualism in the context of neoclassical economics. Philosophical and institutionalist critiques are then employed to elucidate that methodological individualism as practised in neoclassical economics is not capable of explaining real world phenomena, especially that of the predominantly traditional societies of the developing countries. The rational choice theory as espoused in neoclassical economics is also discussed and I have tried to build an institutionalist critique from the perspectives of various strands of institutionalisms in economics. The neo-institutionalism and new institutionlism, though some relaxation of the axioms has been attempted, still uphold the neoclassical maxims of methodological individualism and rational choice.

Methodological individualism, cognitive homogeneity and environmental determinism 
Clark A. - Source: Journal of Economic Methodology, Volume 10, Number 1, March 2003
Abstract: In this paper the author argues that this bias is an inevitable by-product of the methodological individualism adopted within mainstream economics. The author concludes that methodological individualism is, therefore, flawed both as a mechanism for accessing the reality of the business world and the power of firms within it, and for teaching others about that reality, particularly as it also acts to undermine student motivation.

Some Notes on Methodological Individualism: Orthodox and Heterodox Views 
ANDY DENIS, The City University London, October 9, 2006
Abstract: 'Methodological individualism' (MI) is often invoked as a fundamental description of the methodology both of neoclassical and Austrian economics, as well as other approaches, from New Keynesianism to analytical Marxism. Yet there is considerable controversy as to what the phrase means. Moreover, the methodologies of those to whom the theoretical practice of methodological individualism is ascribed differ profoundly on the status of the individual economic agent. The present paper looks at the issues involved in making sense of the concept of methodological individualism. It is argued that at least three distinct polarities are generally conflated in the critique and defence of methodological individualism: holism versus reductionism, materialism versus idealism, and top-down versus bottom-up thinking.