Historical sociology

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Historical sociology is a branch of sociology focusing on how societies develop through history. It looks at how social structures that many regard as natural are in fact shaped by complex social processes. The structure in turn shapes institutions and organizations, which affect the society - resulting in phenomena ranging from gender bias and income inequality to war.

Contemporary historical sociology is primarily concerned with how the state has developed since the Middle Ages, analyzing relations between states, classes, economic and political systems.

Use of history in sociology

As time has passed, history and sociology have historically developed into two different specific academic disciplines. Historical data was used and is used today in mainly these three ways. The first one is: Examining a theory through a Parallel investigation. To correspond with the natural-science conceptions of laws, and to look at, or apply various historical material where you gather your resources in order to prove the theory that is applied. Or on the other hand sociologists for the parallel investigation theory could apply the theory to certain cases of investigation but in a different modalities of a more widely used process.The second theory that Sociologists mainly use: applying and contrasting certain events or policies. Analyzed by their specific, or what makes them in unique quality of a composition, certain events used by the sociologist for comparative data can be contrasted and compared. For interpretive sociologists it is very common for them to use the 'Verstehen' tradition. And lastly, the third way sociologists typically relate is by taking a look at the causalities from a macro point of view. This is Mill's method: " a) principle of difference: a case with effect and cause present is contrasted with a case with effect and cause absent; and b) principle of agreement: cases with same effects are compared in terms of their (ideally identical) causes. There is an important debate on the usefulness of Mill’s method for sociological research, which relates to the fact that historical research is often based on only few cases and that many sociological theories are probabilistic, not deterministic.[1] Today, historical sociology is measured by a conjunction of questions that are rich in detail[2]

Path dependence

Path dependence to some sociologists is the theory that events that happened in past, have some or a lot of influence on events that happen in the future. However, sociologist James Mahoney has a different definition of path dependence. His theory suggests that "process, sequence, and temporality" have a valid reason for affecting path dependence and the meaning of past historical events. There are three path-dependent analyses with an explanation to how each theory works. "1) the study of causal processes that are especially sensitive, in a sequence, to early historical events, which are more important than later events; 2) these events are contingent occurrences that cannot be explained by prior events or initial conditions; and 3) that once contingent events take place, the path dependent sequence becomes a deterministic pattern."[3]

Debate over general theory in sociology

James Mahoney revisited the debate over general theory in historical sociology. By bridging the gaps of different assumptions, causal agents and causal mechanisms are connected to the empirical analysis, and this is seen as the general theory. "...the debate over general theory in historical sociology with the goal of clarifying the use of this kind of theory in empirical research. General theories are defined as postulates about causal agents and causal mechanisms that are linked to empirical analysis through bridging assumptions. These theories can contribute to substantive knowledge by helping analysts derive new hypotheses, integrate existing findings, and explain historical outcomes. To illustrate these applications, the article considers five different general theories that have guided or could guide historical sociology: functionalist, rational choice, power, neo-Darwinian, and cultural theories. A key conclusion that emerges is that scholars must evaluate both the overall merits of general theory and the individual merits of specific general theories".[4]

Notable authors

See also


  1. Deflem, Mathieu. 2007. "Comparative and Historical Sociology: Lecture Notes." <http://deflem.blogspot.com/2007/08/comparative-and-historical-sociology.html>
  2. Clemens, Elizabeth S. "Toward a Historicized Sociology: Theorizing Events, Processes, and Emergence." EBSCOhost. Web. Oct.-Nov. 2010. <http://ezp.tccd.edu:2321/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=119&sid=cd26f66e-45f2-493d-804f-c67b713823ae%40sessionmgr114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=pbh&AN=26613934>
  3. Mahoney, James. "Path Dependence in Historical Sociology." Welcome to the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. 2007. Web. 2 Nov. 2010. <http://www.cas.sc.edu/socy/faculty/deflem/zcomphistnotes.html#problems>.
  4. Mahoney, James. "Revisiting General Theory in Historical Sociology." EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Nov. 2010. <http://ezp.tccd.edu:2321/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=119&sid=de4d24a8-0f77-45bf-86a0-e3e193c025e4%40sessionmgr115&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=pbh&AN=16144478>.
  • John Baylis, Steve Smith, Globalization of world politics: An introduction to international relations, Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 2005, ISBN 0-19-927118-6, p. 276–278

Further reading

  • Charles Tilly, Historical Sociology, in Scott G. McNall & Gary N. Howe, eds., Current Perspectives in Social Theory. Vol. I. (1980) Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, online
  • Charles Tilly, Historical Sociology, in International Encyclopedia of the Behavioral and Social Sciences (2001) Amsterdam: Elsevier. Vol. 10, 6753–6757, online
  • Charles Tilly, Three Visions of History and Theory, in History and Theory (2007) 46: 299-307, online
  • Charles Tilly, History of and in Sociology, introduction to the didactic seminar on methodologies of the history of sociology, American Sociological Association annual meeting, Montréal, May 2007, online
  • George Steinmetz, 'Ideas in Exile: Refugees from Nazi Germany and the Failure to Transplant Historical Sociology into the United States.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society', 2010.
  • George Steinmetz, 'The Historical Sociology of Historical Sociology: Germany and the United States in the 20th century', Sociologica (Italian Journal of Sociology online)2008 February). online
  • George Steinmetz,'The Relations between Sociology and History in the United States: The Current State of Affairs', Journal of Historical Sociology 20:1-2 (2007): 1-12.
  • David Baronov, The Dialectics of Inquiry Across the Historical Social Sciences. Routledge Press. 2013.

External links