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Methodological Individualism and Holism in Political Science: A Reconciliation

List, Christian and Spiekermann, Kai (2013) Methodological Individualism and Holism in Political Science: A Reconciliation. American Political Science Review, 107 (4). pp. 629-643.

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Abstract

Political science is divided between methodological individualists, who seek to explain political phenomena by reference to individuals and their interactions, and holists (or nonreductionists), who consider some higher-level social entities or properties such as states, institutions, or cultures ontologically or causally significant. We propose a reconciliation between these two perspectives, building on related work in philosophy. After laying out a taxonomy of different variants of each view, we observe that (i) although political phenomena result from underlying individual attitudes and behavior, individual-level descriptions do not always capture all explanatorily salient properties, and (ii) nonreductionistic explanations are mandated when social regularities are robust to changes in their individual-level realization. We characterize the dividing line between phenomena requiring nonreductionistic explanation and phenomena permitting individualistic explanation and give examples from the study of ethnic conflicts, social-network theory, and international-relations theory.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
List, Christian
Spiekermann, Kai
Keywords: Methodological individualism, holism, philosophy of social science, explanation, social ontology, causation in the social sciences, reductionism, non-reductionism, political science
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Economics
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Specific Sciences > Sociology
Depositing User: Christian List
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2015 18:26
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2015 18:26
Item ID: 11343
Journal or Publication Title: American Political Science Review
Official URL: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstra...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055413000373
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Economics
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Specific Sciences > Sociology
Date: November 2013
Page Range: pp. 629-643
Volume: 107
Number: 4
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/11343

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