and holism, the concepts embedded in the title of this book, represent two key
theoretical perspectives that have for many decades steered and shaped
sociological thought. For over a century these two interpretative perspectives
have also divided sociological theory into two camps, accompanied by a band of
scholars trying to bridge this dualism.
American sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander, individualist theories derive their
appeal and strength from their underlying assumption that humans make decisions
as individual, free, autonomous, and rationally and morally consistent beings. A related belief is that they are able to express these
qualities in their actions regardless of the situation in society or what
economic or moral conditions prevail.
Holistic, or collectivist, theories, unlike
individualism, assign primacy to social entities. This perspective is important because it
creates the basic precondition through which entities can become the subject of
deliberate sociological analysis. However, there is a price for fulfilling this
precondition. The emphasis it places on the collective, and on larger entities,
logically means that the individual will and free human decision-making tends
to be lost from the field of view.
This book argues that these two
perspectives, individualist and holistic, form the central dilemma of
sociological thought. It provides an
extensive review and critique of contemporary sociological approaches to this
antinomy and examines attempts that have been made to overcome it and unite them. Moreover, the book proposes a new approach to
solving this dilemma via the concept of 'critical reconfigurationism', arguing
that the resolution of this dilemma is vital not just for sociological theory
but also for empirical social research.