methodological individualism

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methodological individualism

theoretical positions holding that adequate sociological accounts necessarily involve reference to persons, their interpretations of their circumstances, and the reasons and motives for the actions they take. WEBER and POPPER both propose specifications by which all social categories, like ‘capitalism’ or ‘the state’, can be explicated by reference to real or abstract (‘idealized’) individuals or persons. In its more strident forms, methodological individualism proposes that all sociological explanations must begin and end with reference to individuals. To this, the standard objection is that individuals usually owe many of their defining features, e.g. of psychological disposition, to their cultures and their structural contexts, so the proposed termination is sociologically banal.

For a discussion of the issues see Lukes (1977). See also SITUATIONAL LOGIC AND SITUATIONAL ANALYSIS, HOLISM, STRATEGIC INTERACTION. Compare STRUCTURALISM, STRUCTURE AND AGENCY.