Bruce Mayhew versus methodological individualism

Probably one of the most forceful polemics against reductionism and methodological individualism can be found in Bruce Mayhew's two-part essay "Structuralism Versus Individualism" which can be found in the journal, Social Forces 59:2(December 1980) and Social Forces 59:3 (March 1981). In these essays Mayhew attempted in a very forceful manner to dismantle individualist sociology as in its multitudinous versions including Talcott Parsons' theory of social action and George Homans' individualust exchange theory. For Mayhew, individualist sociologists' error begin with their concptualization of the proper subject matter of sociology. For Mayhew, that subject was social networks but most of the individualsts suppose it to be human behavior. This basic error is often then compounded with other errors including subjectivism, essentailism, voluntarism, a bias to consensus models of social order as opposed to conflict models, and an emphasis on the present as opposed to all of history and prehistory and a parachial emphasis on just our society as opposed to cross-cultural studies. Individualist sociologies are committed blindly to a reductionist method of analysis which blinds them to the emergent nature of sociality.

Mayhew saw all these faulty biases of individualist sociologies as being rooted in the ideology of Western bourgeois individualism. In his view one of the greatest problems besetting sociology is the difficulty that many practitioners of this have in separating out ideology from science.

Although Mayhew was not a Marxist, his argument was one that most Marxists should find congenial, and he did admire the work of certain Marxists such as Immanuel Wallerstein. Also, BTW Mayhew argued that much of the best work in sociology was done by people outside the discipline including biologists and geographers (Jim Blaut take note).

Jim Farmelant