The micro-macro problem and the AI NAVI triangle

One of the motives that significantly shapes the research in AI NAVI is what one could call the micro-macro problem. The social is, of course, an emergent phenomenon of individual behaviour, which is why a research project like AI NAVI must focus on precisely such individual behaviour. However, this raises a scaling problem: How does individual behaviour transfer to the big picture? How do you identify “the footprint” of society in individual behaviour?

The opposite approach, however, is also not expedient: it is precisely the turn towards cultural anthropological approaches in the humanities and social sciences, for example in micro-sociology, the history of everyday life or the humanities “from below”, that show that it is very difficult to draw conclusions about individual behaviour from a macro perspective.

Thus, at the beginning of these theoretical approaches is the paradoxical observation that classification patterns that are supposed to be able to explain the possibilities of action in a society are often incomprehensibly opposed to overcoming the macroscopic phenomena from which these classification patterns are supposed to feed. The Marxian theory of class antagonisms, for example, which is supposed to explain the limited possibilities of action of the working class of the 19th century, cannot theoretically grasp the reaction of the very people who are attributed to the working class within the framework of the theory. The explanation of global events, which is supposed to explain individual behaviour, cannot explain its repercussions. Even more: Marxian theory is not only an external phenomenon of the processes taking place in the late 19th century, but as the intellectual basis of the organised labour movement, it is an essential part of the processes.

This observation established the approach of a cultural anthropological perspective and a pars pro toto investigation in the social and historical sciences. Global analyses are no longer written, but the possibilities of action of individuals are examined in order to find an insight into the possibilities of action of social actors from these. Instead of the global, the focus is increasingly on the particular.

But even such an approach may fall short in the age of big data and globally operating digital companies. How people affected by drought in South Africa react to climate change is not independent of the possibilities of “smart climate change”, but it does not reveal enough about the necessary preconditions for such applications.

Therefore, AI NAVI is based on a more integrative approach, which is to be represented with the metaphor of a triangle. Those phenomena, i.e. in particular behavioural patterns, which occur in AI NAVI are located in a field of tension of the three dimensions “social”, “individual” and “technical”, which interact with each other: Individual behaviour in its totality constitutes social behaviour. Conversely, the collective patterns of interpretation, behavioural norms or epistemes provide the framework within which individual behaviour can move. The technical dimension influences people’s individual behaviour, especially in the context of AI NAVI, in which the technical dimension occurs in particular in the form of personal assistants. “Smart climate change”, however, is by no means intended to influence individual behaviour as individual behaviour, but as a component of macroscopic social behaviour. Thus, all three dimensions are in a constant state of tension within the framework of AI NAVI.