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Micro-sociology is a subspecialty of sociology, primarily dealing with how individuals initiate and respond to various societal environments, conditions, and interactions. Sociology, as an area of study, involves analysis of the social interactions and processes of an entire society, as well as those of each individual member of that society. Macro-sociology is the term used to describe the social processes of an entire society, as a whole. Alternatively, micro-sociology is the term used to describe social processes as they relate to the individual community member. Contextual use of the term micro-sociology may dictate a slightly different or more targeted definition.
In short, micro-sociology is the small-scale study of human behavior and the reasons behind certain behavioral choices. How various biological and psychological factors affect the interactions of the individual are the primary focus of this subspecialty. Experts who study micro-sociology and micro-sociological theories attempt to predict or provide an explanation of certain behaviors, based on interpretative analysis. Unlike macro-sociology, which bases theories on statistical data about an entire society, micro-sociology is based on how the individual makes sense of his or her world.
Perspective and scope are the primary differences between macro and micro-sociology, as areas of sociological study. Sociologists often argued for or against a particular theory, based on whether such theories remain statistically true when viewed from both macro and micro-sociological perspectives. For example, one sociologist might hypothetically theorize that marriages immersed in financial struggles experience the most strife. Such a theory, while possibly true on some individual or micro-sociological levels, does not necessarily prove true from a macro-sociological perspective. From the perspective of marriage as a societal institution, a more accurate theory might suggest that other factors cause the most strife.
As an area of both study and practice, micro-sociology involves several methods and techniques. One of the best-known methods is ethnomethodology. According to ethnomethodological principles, an individual chooses certain behaviors based on certain assumptions, learned over the course of the individual’s life. Most of these assumptions are unseen, developing from the shared knowledge of a particular society.
An example of such assumptions appeared in an essay in the 1960s regarding students and the answers given by teachers or advisers. When authority figures gave students obviously wrong answers, rather than believing the answer to be irresponsible, students altered their logic to accept the answer as believable. Intellectual choices such as this, often made without conscious awareness, demonstrate the learned assumption that educational professionals are intelligent and only provide truthful information. Learned assumptions, according to ethnomethodology and similar micro-sociology methods, are typically formed in childhood and provide the basis for future behaviors.