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Tying Micro and Macro

What Fills up the Sociological Vacuum?


Mikolaj Pawlak

This study critically discusses the thesis on the sociological vacuum formulated by Stefan Nowak. The author’s aim is to refute the claim that the sociological vacuum is relevant for major social processes occurring in Poland. He presents the sociological vacuum in the context of the debate on micro and macro levels and discusses how the theory of fields and social network analysis is useful to reconcile the micro-macro divide. The book considers the uses of the sociological vacuum in explaining such phenomena as the Solidarność social movement, civil society, social capital, and democracy. In the empirical part, the author confronts the data on identifications with the data on relations and claims that the vacuum is not in the society but it in sociology.

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The objective of this book has been to critically discuss the thesis on the sociological vacuum formulated by Stefan Nowak (1979b) and its subsequent uses in explaining various social phenomena. I am convinced that so much attention paid to the thesis on the sociological vacuum is disproportionate to its actual explanatory power. I have located the reason for this misunderstanding, which was described as “a spell” cast on Polish sociologists (Wedel 1992b), in the under-theorization of the link between the micro- and macro-levels of analysis. Therefore, this book is not only a book about the sociological vacuum – it is a book about the micro-macro link in sociological theory. The story of the sociological vacuum is to be treated as an illustration, or warning, of what might happen when there are no proper tools to grasp the micro-level connections between individuals, small groups, interactions, relations, and situations, and the macro-level of social classes, states, nations, and societies. Ironically, the term “sociological vacuum,” which was coined to describe the lack of something in society, seems to represent the lack of something in sociology itself. The vacuum is not between the level of individuals and their primary groups, and the level of society, but in many sociological theories it is employed to explain the links between everyday experiences and large-sized processes. In this book, I have demonstrated how various theoretical approaches to integrating the micro-macro divide in sociological theory can be also useful in understanding what was troubling many scholars who...

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