Explanatory Strategies beyond The Individualism/Holism Debate

In Julie Zahle & Finn Collin (eds.), Rethinking the Individualism-Holism Debate. Springer. pp. 105-119 (2014)
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Starting from the plurality of explanatory strategies in the actual practice of socialscientists, I introduce a framework for explanatory pluralism – a normative endorsement of the plurality of forms and levels of explanation used by social scientists. Equipped with thisframework, central issues in the individualism/holism debate are revisited, namely emergence,reduction and the idea of microfoundations. Discussing these issues, we notice that in recentcontributions the focus has been shifting towards relationism, pluralism and interaction, awayfrom dichotomous individualism/holism thinking and a winner-takes-all approach. Then, thechallenge of the debate is no longer to develop the ultimate individualistic approach ordefending the holist approach, but rather how to be combine individualism and holism; howcan they co-exist, interact, be integrated or develop some division of labour, while making thebest out of the strengths and limitations of the respective explanatory strategies of holists andindividualists? Thus, the debate shifts to how exactly pluralism should be understood as thenext leading question, going beyond the current individualism/holism debate. The paper endswith a discussion and evaluation of different understandings of explanatory pluralismdefended in the literature.

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Jeroen Van Bouwel
University of Ghent


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