“On the Microfoundations of Macrosociology” by Randall Collins is an article that examines how the field of microsociology which analyzes people’s actions in everyday life, relates to the field of Macrosociology, which researches large-scale social processes. Collins is a sociologist that had a significant influence on his field, and this is one of the more famous of his works. The paper is a complex an thorough analysis of the way everyday activities between people such as conversations and routines are either affected by larger events or have an influence over them. This paper will examine some of the more important arguments that Collins makes in the article.
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Collins provides fifteen arguments to explain his theories on this topic. Some are especially insightful and build into further points along the way. The first core idea of the paper, on which the majority of the points rely, is that due to the fact that human inability to remember and think is limited, they tend to base their actions on tacit assumptions and routine when encountering complex situations. This notion rings true when examining the way in which people react to sudden and unexpected changes in their lives. They may even ignore a dangerous situation by continuing to go about their life until dealing with it is unavoidable. It may also be the reason why people tend to return to old habits even after a long time of their absence.
Another point that Collins makes is that conversations are in essence rituals designed to create a belief in a common reality between people. These beliefs may later become the identifier of the group and the solidarity of its members to each other. These beliefs are continually reinforced through chains of conversations which then embolden their ideas about society and its structure. This can be clearly seen in niche groups that unite based on an obscure or non-traditional belief such as cryptozoological communities, religious cults, and even just regular human conversations. The more people find ways to reiterate something, the more it seems like a real thing. It should be noted that it is not necessarily always related to ideas that are false or harmful in nature. Truthful information and scientific fact may also be spread through the same mechanics of conversation.
Perhaps the most important notion of the article is that changes on the larger scales happen due to either more generalized cultural resources becoming available through media communications, religious, or educational specialists. Alternatively, they may happen when a cultural resource changes for the society as a whole due to a conflict which puts attention on people of power and changes their reputation. They may also change through what Collins calls “ritual technologies” which change how emotions are perceived among people. These changes are capable of changing political movements, economic strategies and many other cornerstones of government.
The article on this topic is highly detailed and delves into even the smallest detail of the described interactions. The difficulty of examining such large-scale changes through the smallest human interactions may seem like a difficult task, but Collins presents an appealing explanation on a microsociological level. A variety of other ideas are present in the paper, and they deserve further examination in the modern context of conversations through internet platforms, such as social networks and instant messengers.