micromacro links 3003

It would be defined as a collective phenom
enon, the same way that a beach cannot exist
at the level of the grain of sand.
The second type of bridge is definitional: the
macro unit of one of the theorys statements
(e.g., the x in If x. . .) is defined in terms of
a micro unit that is the subject of another theo
retical statement, or vice versa. For example, A
group exists if and only if a set of interacting
individuals define themselves as a distinct
unit. Here, the relationship between indivi
duals and group is established by definition.
Thus, in this example, if there is a theoretical
statement that asserts something about groups
(macro), then by definition it also implies
something about individuals (micro) because
the former is explicitly defined in terms of the
Multilevel theories abound in other scientific
disciplines. In physics one may trace a chain of
micro to macro theoretical linkages that span
from the smallest micro particles at the suba
tomic level to the macro structure of the
cosmos, via a host of meso level structures
and processes. At each level, macro properties
such as energy fields, states of matter, or
nuclear forces also exert influences in macro
to micro directions. Although sociology does
not yet approach the breadth and precision of
physics, nevertheless it has some exemplary
multilevel theories, one of which is examined
Network exchange theory (NET) provides a
good illustration of a multilevel sociological
theory (Willer 1999). It was developed to
explain and predict the role that social struc
tures play in producing power differences that
result in resource differentials among members.
The theory operates on three levels: the beha
vior of individual actors whose exchanges of
resources are guided by rules applying to their
social ties or relations, which in turn apply
within larger, relatively fixed networks of poten
tial exchange relationships. The scope condi
tions of the theory specify constraints on actors
negotiation strategies and their responses to
being included or excluded in exchanges, along
with rules for how resources are infused into
relations and distributed to actors. Definitions
are provided for key terms such as actor, net
work, power, and others used in its theoretical
statements or axioms.
The theory has expanded over the years to
accommodate a broadening range of phenom
ena and to generate more exact predictions, but
the four basic axioms in the core part of the
theory will serve to illustrate its capabilities.
The axioms are abstract and general, and so
they apply to networks of any size and shape,
and to any kind of actors and resources. These
theoretical statements allow the derivation of
predictions for the quantities of resources that
will end up at each network position after
negotiations and exchanges play out. NETs
Axiom 1 is a mathematical model for translat
ing each positions location within a network
structure into a numerical index of its potential
power. The second axiom uses the power
indices to determine which actors will seek
exchange with each other by assuming that no
actor will seek exchange with another actor in a
higher power position if there is an available
exchange partner in an equal or lower power
position. The third axiom indicates that no
exchange occurs between two actors unless they
seek exchange from each other, and the fourth
axiom asserts that profits from exchange will
correspond to differences in power indices:
more power results in more profit.
Not only is it possible to derive individual
profits from information on the exchange net
work structure (a macro to micro link) but the
theory also has been used successfully to pre
dict (i) structural changes based on exchange
seeking assumptions (micro to macro), and how
changing exchange rules causes changes in (ii)
profits (meso to micro) and (iii) network struc
ture (meso to macro).


The issue of how to link micro, meso, and
macro levels of reality theoretically is not easily
resolved in sociology and, for that matter, any
other science. We have reviewed the various
approaches and proposed substantive and logical
pathways to dealing with the problem of closing
the conceptual gap between levels. The most
important conclusion, we feel, is to recognize
that social reality operates at different levels
and that chauvinistic proclamations about one
level being more primary simply do not resolve
the problem of conceptual linkages. Another key