To clarify the different roles attributed to action theories in analytical sociology, we distinguish between a weak and a strong program of action theory. Avoiding the debates about “rationality” that have occupied rational choice scholars, the weak program pragmatically employs different and often simple behavioral rules, directing most attention to modelling social dynamics. In contrast, the strong program holds onto the desirability of a theory that allows one to approach various substantive fields with a unified action-theoretic core. In the search for realistic microfoundations, proponents of a strong program of action theory join other disciplines such as cognitive psychology or behavioral economics. We characterize the fundamental methodological challenge facing analytical theories of action and describe their development from classic rational choice theories to recent models in analytical sociology and axiomatic theories of Bounded Rationality that converge in a dual-process view of human cognition and behavior.
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King Makovi and Christopher Winship
The extensive causal inference revolution in statistics, epidemiology and other social science fields based on Rubin's potential outcome model and Pearl's directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) has not penetrated the research of analytical sociologists as yet. In this chapter we introduce empirical examples, primarily relying on the Merton Award winning papers to demonstrate the value of these frameworks as a way of providing theoretical clarity for assumed causal structures, and methodological clarity for what is needed for the identification of causal effects. We provide a brief introduction to the potential outcome model and DAGs and discuss different strategies for mechanism-based identification of causal effects. Finally, we make use of an extended empirical example to demonstrate recent methodological developments in mediation analysis in order to enrich the analytical sociologists' methodological toolkit.
Andreas Flache and Carlos A. de Matos Fernandes
Agent-based computational modeling (ABCM) plays a central role in Analytical Sociology (AS). ABCM attracts analytical sociologists because it combines analytic precision, ability to capture complex micro-macro interactions and flexibility to accommodate empirically realistic assumptions. This chapter gives readers an easily accessible introduction to ABCM in the context of AS. We provide and elaborate a modelling example the reader can download and replicate. Schelling’s well-known model of segregation is progressively extended towards including empirically more realistic assumptions. The example is used to illustrate the use of 10 good practices we propose in this chapter for ABCM in the context of AS. We demonstrate how it can be challenging to understand what the consequences are of adding realism to an abstract model, and how ABCM – if properly used - is a powerful instrument for developing full comprehension of the complex dynamics generated by the computational implementation of a social mechanism.
This chapter considers the relationships between analytical sociology and two cognate fields, analytic philosophy and analytical Marxism. Analytic philosophy rests upon commitment to clarity and precision, reluctance to engage in large speculative theorizing, and interest in breaking philosophical questions down into their component parts. These features of intellectual style create affinities with analytical sociology. Research traditions encompassing the philosophy of science and philosophy of action have had influence on analytical sociologists. Analytical Marxism was an interdisciplinary approach interested in "making sense of Marx" (Jon Elster's phrase) without commitment to some of Marx's foundational theories -- the labor theory of value, the Hegelian theory of dialectics, and the idea of the inevitability of history. This field anticipated key features of analytical sociology, including concern for identifying social mechanisms, providing accounts of the microfoundations of large social claims, and openness to actor-centered explanations.
Sociology is by far not the only discipline concerned with micro-macro-problems. In fact, the so-called “complexity approach” is used to explain puzzling inconsistencies between micro-entities and macro-patterns in disciplines as diverse as biology, physics, engineering, and computer science. Here, I identify important commonalities between typical sociological research-problems and phenomena studied by complexity researchers. I compare the complexity approach to prominent methodological approaches to sociology, showing that the approach put forward by analytical sociologists overlaps on crucial dimensions with complexity research. Nevertheless, I also point to practices in parts of analytical sociology that are hard to understand from a complexity perspective and recommend that sociologists should drop the so-called “representative-agent approach”, focus more on the identification of social mechanisms, and strive for general theories. I criticize sociology’s focus on random samples in empirical research, thinking in variables, and the reliance on deterministic micro-assumptions.
Francesco Di Iorio and Franceso J. León-Medina
This chapter compares analytical sociology and critical realism, focusing on the criticisms of the former developed by theorists of the latter. In defending the research program of analytical sociology, we argue that these criticisms are unconvincing. The article consists of four parts. The first argues that critical realism is based on a foundationalist theory about the unobservable deep structures of reality that is incompatible with the fallible and non-foundationalist metaphysical assumptions of analytical sociology. The second shows that the accusations of atomism leveled by critical realists at analytical sociology are mistaken because this approach is committed to a non-atomistic variant of MI that allows for a structural analysis of social phenomena. In the third the differences between the analytical and the critical realist conceptions of social mechanisms and causation are outlined. The final part presents the main differences in the research agenda of analytical sociology and critical realism.
This paper argues that to bridge the gulf between analytical sociology and cultural sociology, a certain amount of intellectual risk is needed. By a close analysis of three award-winning papers selected from the list of winners of the “Robert K. Merton Award”, the annual award given by International Network of Analytical Sociologist, the essay illustrates the constitutive dimensions of a thin description–thick description gradient that shapes the border between analytical sociology and cultural sociology. Along this gradient, three key issues emerge: framing vs. intentionality, expressive action vs. instrumental action, action-formation vs. agent-formation mechanisms. Overall, the chief challenge to bridge the gulf is the problem of meaning and the introduction of cultural mechanisms in the macro-micro-macro schema. To deal with this challenge, analytical sociologists should avoid to define a canon whose borders are designed chiefly to establish the approach as a powerful player in sociology’s strategic action field.
Analytical sociology as developed by Hedström and others builds on earlier work in sociology and other social science disciplines. Sometimes, particularly in programmatic pamphlets, ‘structural individualism’ is mentioned as an antecedent of analytical sociology. Typically, however, structural individualism remains a key word without information on what it stands for, let alone on how analytical sociology builds on structural individualism. This chapter provides a brief overview of main features of structural individualism and how these relate to analytical sociology.
Pragmatism and analytical sociology have often been treated as alternatives, with much attention devoted to understanding sometimes subtle differences between the programs. This chapter approaches the intersection of pragmatism and analytical sociology from the perspective of doing analytical sociology in a pragmatist mode. To emphasize the complementarity between these approaches the chapter describes pragmatist foci that are possible within the analytical sociology program including an emphasis on methodological localism, pragmatist alternatives to DBO as a theory of action, a modality of analytical sociological explanation focused on meaning, and concludes with a discussion of some methods that emphasize a probabilistic, conjunctural, semiotic, interdependent approach to mechanisms and sociological explanation.
This chapter argues that analytical sociology (AS) and social stratification research (SSR) are progressively converging towards a shared understanding of the core tasks of sociology: investing major efforts in rigorously establishing interrelated empirical findings; moving beyond empirical data to identify the generative mechanisms via micro-level theories inspired to the principles of methodological individualism; formalizing and testing the proposed explanations. Moreover, I discuss the persisting differences between these two research communities. First, SSR differs from AS because it displays a marked prominence of survey-based quantitative research. I discuss Goldthorpe’s (2016) argument elevating this prominence to a normative status and suggest that SSR is opening to a variety of research strategies, including the use of administrative or experimental data, and for good reasons. Second, in both research communities several scholars mobilize rational choice models for explanatory purposes. I argue that: i) their behavioral assumptions are too narrow to endogenize systematic variations in preferences and beliefs; ii) SSR and AS use different but equally problematic strategies to circumvent this problem; iii) dual-process theories are a promising avenue to deal with some of these difficulties. Third, the formalization of sociological explanations is increasingly common in SSR and AS, but while the former uses mathematical models at the cost of introducing quite unrealistic assumptions, the latter privileges agent-based models, which offer important advantages, particularly for the purpose of analysing the influence of social networks, but are confronted with the problems of empirical calibration.