Jepperson Meyer: Levels of Analysis

I was able to convince Ron to let me post another outstanding paper, co-authored with John Meyer.

Jepperson Meyer Levels of Analysis 1.10.2010.pdf

The paper discusses the role of macro-level processes in social explanations — and in particular argues against the idea that macro-level explanations must be mediated by individual-level dynamics.

One of the challenges to neo-institutional research is the dominance of individual-centric imageries and ways of thinking that permeate Western, and especially American, culture.  This paper is a wonderful antidote.  It provides helpful alternative imageries that are more macro in nature, and offers some smart criticisms of the methodological individualism that pervades much sociological research.

The paper revisits Weber’s Protestant Ethic, an exemplar of individual-level mediation of macro-social processes. Ron and John make the point that many scholars — and even Weber himself — imagined a much more complex process, which often involved direct macro-level effects unmediated by individual-level dynamics.

Sometimes — e.g., in journal reviews — I am chided for failing to address the individual-level mechanisms or “microfoundations” of macro-institutional processes. Ron and John’s paper does a great job of reminding us that such attention to micro-processes is not always necessary or relevant, and certainly shouldn’t be held up as a “requirement” for good research. (I, of course, think that attention to micro-dynamics can be extremely valuable. I just don’t always want to do such research, myself.)

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