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Tying Micro and Macro

What Fills up the Sociological Vacuum?

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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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Introduction

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The concept of the sociological vacuum was coined by the prominent Polish sociologist, Stefan Nowak (1979a; 1979b), by the end of Gierek’s era, in the 1970s. It expresses the idea that although Polish people are bonded with their families and close circles of friends on the level of primary groups, as well as with their national community, they have no significant bonds with other structures existing between those two levels. The thesis was stated in a pessimistic tone and to this day continues to occupy the minds of Polish sociologists (Pawlak 2015) who use it to explain negatively evaluated social phenomena. The thesis on the sociological vacuum has undoubtedly a very strong status in Polish sociology and is treated as a certainty or quasi-axiom (Cześnik 2008a). I, however, believe it is always worth to question influential ideas; and indeed – after a closer inspection of the thesis itself, or of the narratives applying it to explain other phenomena, one can see its theoretical inconsistences, which are often covered with persuasive rhetoric. The present book belongs to the school of critical sociology defined by Michael Burawoy (2005: 10) as examining “the foundations – both the explicit and the implicit, both normative and descriptive – of the research programs of professional sociology.” The main claim this book makes is that the misuses of the thesis on the sociological vacuum are caused by the under-theorization of the links between the micro- and macro-levels of analysis; the book’s objective is to refute the claim...

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