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Methodological individualism and holism in political science: a reconciliation

List, Christian ORCID: 0000-0003-1627-800X and Spiekermann, Kai ORCID: 0000-0003-4983-5589 (2013) Methodological individualism and holism in political science: a reconciliation. American Political Science Review, 107 (4). pp. 629-643. ISSN 0003-0554

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0003055413000373


Political science is divided between methodological individualists, who seek to explain political phenomena by reference to individuals and their interactions, and holists (or non-reductionists), 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 behaviour, individual-level descriptions do not always capture all explanatorily salient properties, and (ii) non-reductionistic explanations are mandated when social regularities are robust to changes in their individual-level realization. We characterize the dividing line between phenomena requiring non-reductionistic explanation and phenomena permitting individualistic explanation and give examples from the study of ethnic conflicts, social-network theory, and international-relations theory.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 American Political Science Association
Divisions: Government
Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2013 09:13
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2024 22:33

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