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Between Mechanism Talk And Mechanism Cult: New Emphases in Explanatory Sociology And Empirical Research

  • Frank KalterEmail author
  • Clemens Kroneberg
Article

Abstract

The study of mechanisms has received increased attention in recent years and contributed to the formation of so-called ‘analytical sociology’ that has put the idea of social mechanisms at its core. We discuss the crucial characteristics of mechanism-based explanations and their relation to the longstanding tradition of explanatory sociology. Looking at the widespread and growing number of references to ‘mechanisms’ in the current research literature, we identify typical deviations from the ideal of a mechanism-based explanation. Many references come down to mechanism talk insofar as it is not explicated in detail how and why particular inputs tend to result in particular outputs. To this end, researchers have to give a detailed verbal account of how exactly a mechanism is thought to unfold under specified conditions, or to specify a formal generative model which can be analysed analytically or by simulation. This agenda has been at the core of methodological individualism, sociological rational choice theory, and explanatory sociology for some time, but has received a new coat of whitewash by analytical sociology. This more recent theoretical movement offers a fresh problem-centred agenda based on the well-known macro-micro-macro model and could inspire a new generation of research that places greater weight on analysing social dynamics than on developing theories of action. However, we submit that, rather than constituting a competing approach, these impulses should be located within the longstanding and multifaceted explanatory agenda in sociology. Avoiding any form of mechanism cult and choosing from the full toolbox of explanatory/analytical sociology will be crucial to answer key questions in established areas of sociological research.

Keywords

Analytical sociology Methodology of the social sciences Macro-micro-macro scheme Agent-based models 

Zwischen Mechanismus-Gerede und Mechanismus-Kult: Neue Schwerpunkte in der Erklärendenden Soziologie und empirischen Forschung

Zusammenfassung

Das Konzept der Mechanismen hat in den letzten Jahren zunehmende Aufmerksamkeit erfahren. Es bildet den Kern der sogenannten Analytischen Soziologie und hat maßgeblich zu deren Entwicklung beigetragen. Wir diskutieren die Beziehung dieses neueren Ansatzes zur Tradition der Erklärenden Soziologie und arbeiten zentrale Merkmale einer Mechanismen-basierten Erklärung heraus. In der aktuellen Forschungsliteratur wird zwar vermehrt der Mechanismus-Begriff bemüht, es lassen sich aber einige typische Abweichungen vom Ideal einer Mechanismen-basierten Erklärung identifizieren. Viele Verwendungen des Begriffs bleiben floskelhaft, weil sie nicht genau genug explizieren, warum bestimmte Anfangsbedingungen zu bestimmten Ausgängen führen. Dazu sind detaillierte und lückenlose verbale Ausführungen erforderlich oder formale Modelle, aus denen sich analytisch oder durch Simulationsmethoden die zu erklärenden Phänomene ableiten oder generieren lassen. Diese Agenda steht seit geraumer Zeit im Zentrum des Methodologischen Individualismus, der soziologischen Rational-Choice-Theorie und der Erklärenden Soziologie. Die theoretische Bewegung der Analytischen Soziologie verleiht dieser Agenda einen neuen Anstrich und gibt ihr neue Impulse: Im Rahmen des bekannten Makro-Mikro-Makro-Modells plädiert dieser Ansatz für eine neue Generation von Forschungsarbeiten, die das Gewicht und die Aufmerksamkeit von den handlungstheoretischen Grundlagen hin zur Analyse sozialer Dynamiken verlagern. Wir argumentieren, dass diese neue Schwerpunktsetzung nicht als konkurrierendes Programm zur Erklärenden Soziologie angesehen, sondern innerhalb der etablierten und vielschichtigen erklärenden Tradition der Soziologie verortet werden sollte. Anstatt eines Mechanismen-Kults um bestimmte Spezialtechniken ist substanzieller Erkenntnisfortschritt in soziologischen Anwendungsfeldern nur durch eine Ausschöpfung des vollen theoretischen Repertoires einer Erklärenden Soziologie zu erwarten.

Schlüsselwörter

Analytische Soziologie Methodologie der Sozialwissenschaften Makro-Mikro-Makro-Schema Agenten-basierte Modelle 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Gianluca Manzo for his helpful comments on an earlier draft.

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Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesUniversity of MannheimMannheimGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Sociology and Social PsychologyUniversity of CologneKölnGermany

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