Writings on Analytical Sociology


The Research Handbook on Analytical Sociology is part of the Research Handbook in Sociology Series, run at Elgar Edward Publishing, by Hans-Peter Blossfeld. 

As shown by the list of contributors, the book results from a great collective effort putting togheter a wide range of scholars from some of the most distinguished universities across the world. 

The book covers: 

1. Analytical sociology's developments since 1996;

2. Analytical sociology's relationships with other sociological traditions;

3. Analytical sociology's basic conceptual building blocks and mechanisms;

4. Analytical sociology's methods

In my own Introductory chapter, I address point 1 above, and more particularly, with the aim to assess what analytical sociology has delivered so far in practice, I take analytical sociology's programmatic claims as a benchmark and compare them against how analytical sociology studied a wide range of substantive phenomena within a specific set of journal articles, namely those having received the Merton award, the prize that the International Network of Analytical Sociology first gave in 2013 in recognition of the best article on analytical sociology.

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In 2011, I organized, in Paris at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, the fourth conference of the European Network of Analytical Sociologists (ENAS) --since then renamed the International Network of Analytical Sociologists (INAS). A selection of the thirty papers presented at the conference (see the full program) constituted the basis for a book project that aimed to move analytical sociology into a more empirically-oriented direction.

Analytical Sociology: Actions and Networks is the resulf of this effort. Apart from my own contribution, the book contains fifteen chapters, among which one addresses meta-theoretical foundational issues, while the remaining focus on specific macro-level dynamics and microscopic behaviors, such as crime, voting, lynching, witchcraft, trust and cooperation, collective action, homophily, status hierarchies, labor market inequality, and organization patterns (table of content).

In my opening chapter, "Data, Generative Models, and Mechanisms: More on the Principles of Analytical Sociology", I discuss the set of theoretical and methodological principles that I regard as the most promising for the further development of analytical sociology. These principles, I argue, are strongly interdependent and arise from a specific understanding of what a mechanism-based explanation is and how it should be logically and empirically validated. I invite readers to consider my specific understanding of analytical sociology as the book's common theme and read each chapter as a variation on this theme.

The back-and-forth between my own proposal and each contribution is facilited, I hope, by the series of short introductions that I wrote for each chapter.

My coda, "Problem Shift in Sociology: Mechanisms, Generic Instruments, and Fractals", attempts to open the book to further debates on analytical sociology by proposing two reasons for the claim that analytical sociology constitutes a lively driving force for theory construction in contemporary sociology. In particular, I argue that the basic concept on which analytical sociology is built, i.e. the concept of mechanism, as well as the chief method that analytical sociology proposes in order to study and validate models of mechanisms, i.e. agent-based computational modeling, possess two properties, i.e. "genericity" and "fractality", that favor explanatory deepness and cumulativity.

Quote as: 

Manzo, G. (2014) (ed.) Analytical Sociology: Actions and Networks, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. 

Manzo, G. (2014) "Data, Generative Models, and Mechanisms: More on the Principles of Analytical Sociology". In Manzo, G. (2014) (ed.) Analytical Sociology: Actions and Networks, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 4-52. 

Manzo, G. (2014) "Problem Shift in Sociology: Mechanisms, Generic Instruments, and Fractals". In Manzo, G. (2014) (ed.) Analytical Sociology: Actions and Networks, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 420-426. 

Book webpages (Wiley) (Amazon)
Read the interview by Statistics Views
(Read a post on Understanding Society)
(Read a review in JASSS and the subsequent exchange with the review's author)
(Read a review in European Journal of Sociology)
(Read a review in European Journal of Social Sciences)



In 2008, I organized in collaboration with Pierre Demeulenaere an international conference on "social mechanisms and analytical sociology" at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. In fall 2008, after Cambridge University Press accepted that the two of us edit a volume collecting the most promising papers presented at the conference, I started working on what should have been my contribution to the joined introduction to the volume.

Given the diversity of views expressed on analytical sociology during the conference, I started investigating more particularly the historical roots of this perspective, and attempted systematically to collect the criticisms addressed against this line of research. Because of some substantive disagreements with my potential co-author, I finally decided to withdraw from the co-editorship of the CUP volume and preferred continuing to develop my paper indipendently.

Eventually, my investigation on what analytical sociology is and under which condition it can be defended as an original research program ended up with "Analytical Sociology and Its Critics" published in European Journal of Sociology (2010, 51, 1, pp. 129-170). The main claim the paper attempts to qualify is that analytical sociology should be considered as a research program containing no more than a "syntax of explanation", that is to say, a set of constraints on how an explanation could be constructed and empirically tested.  

In 2012, this paper was awarded a “special mention of the jury” in the context of the “Best Junior Theorist Paper” by the Sociological theory Research Committee of the International Sociological Association. On the occasion of the acceptance of this prize (at the Mid-term conference of the ISA RC 16 held in Trento in June 2012), I delivered a short piece eventually published in Theory (Spring/Summer 2013) in which I develop some elements of "Analytical Sociology and Its Critics" that will be further elaborated in my introductory chapter to the Wiley book I have briefly described above.

Minor Writings

In my contribution to the second edition of the monumental International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, I focus on one of the theoretical pillars of analytical sogiology, namely the micro-macro problem. Putting it into a historical perspective, I attempted to show how analytical sociology may help to look at the problem through new meta-theoretical and methodological lenses. Here is the abstract: 

The history of sociology shows that the distinction between macro- and microsociology is at the same time fundamental and fundamentally ambiguous. This article presents a selective overview of the solutions to the micro/macro issue that have appeared in sociology from the classics to today’s developments in philosophy of social sciences and sociology. The article aims to highlight the main sources of disagreement and division among sociologists interested in the micro/macro issue, and in the end stresses the importance of mechanism-based theorizing and formal methods to advance it.

Read more --G. Manzo (2015) “Macrosociology-Microsociology”, In: James D. Wright (editor-in-chief), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, vol. 14. Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 414-421.


A more concise statement of the main argument discussed in "Analytical Sociology and Its Critics" can be found in the short essay review that I was invited to prepare for the European Sociological Review at the occasion of the publication of the monumental Handbook edited by Peter Hedström and Peter Bearman at Oxford University Press in 2009. 

As stated by the paper's title, in this review essay I argue that there are good reasons for believing that Durkheim's classical formula according to which "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" applies to analytical sociology in the sense that, although several elements of the analytical sociology research program have old historical roots and separately (or in partial association) characterize different approaches in contemporary sociology, the combination of all these elements at once proposed by analytical sociology defines a unique set of theoretical and methodological proposals.

Read the review essay -- Manzo, G. (2011) “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts: Some Remarks on The Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology”, European Sociological Review, 27, 6, 829-835.


My analysis of the limitations and potentialities of analytical sociology is also exposed in two small (but important for the maturation of my thinking) papers published in Sociologica -Italian Journal of Sociology On-Line. These papers was published as part of two symposia organized by the editors of Sociologica in 2007 and 2012 respectively to feature an article on "social mechanisms" from Andrew Abbott and a piece on "analytical sociology" from Daniel Little. A common theme of my reactions to Abbott and Little is the argument that it is misleading to present analytical sociology as a new form of rational-choice oriented sociology and as an approach animated by a reductionist form of methodological individualism.

Read the paper --Manzo, G. (2012) “Full and Sketched Micro-Foundations. The Odd Resurgence of a Dubious Distinction”, Sociologica, 1/2012, doi: 10.2383/36900
Read the paper --Manzo, G. (2007) “Comment on Andrew Abbott/2”, Sociologica, 2/2007.

[see also the debates section]