The Complexity Perspective on the Sociological Micro-Macro-Problem

23 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2018 Last revised: 31 Jul 2018

See all articles by Michael Maes

Michael Maes

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Date Written: February 24, 2018


In the sociological literature, there is an increasing number of contributions with an approach inspired by the field of complexity science. Here, I identify important commonalities between typical sociological research problems and phenomena studied by complexity researchers, arguing that both fields focus on macro-phenomena that emerge from the behavior of micro-entities. Next, I compare the approach of complexity science with prominent methodological approaches to sociology. I argue that complexity research shares core principles with both structural and structural-individualistic approaches to sociology. However, in particular the approach put forward by analytical sociologists overlaps on the crucial dimensions with complexity research.

I also discuss differences between complexity research and the contemporary sociological mainstream, identifying aspects where contemporary sociological research can profit from adopting a complexity perspective. Arguing that large parts of the sociological literature seem to have lost focus on sociology’s original contribution to the understanding of human behavior, I frankly formulate six recommendations on how to refocus contemporary sociological research.

Keywords: Complexity science, analytical sociology, social mechanisms, Micro-Macro Problem

Suggested Citation

Maes, Michael, The Complexity Perspective on the Sociological Micro-Macro-Problem (February 24, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Maes (Contact Author)

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology ( email )

Kaiserstraße 12
Karlsruhe, Baden Württemberg 76131

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