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Social history and historical sociology

[journal article]

Knöbl, Wolfgang

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Abstract This paper deals with exchanges and misunderstandings between the German school of social history (most prominently represented by scholars from the University of Bielefeld (such as Hans-Ulrich Wehler) and Anglo-American trends in historical sociology (exemplified by the works of Barrington Moore, Theda Skocpol and Michael Mann). The social historians tended to dismiss historical sociology as too dependent on modernization theory, without taking into account the critique of that tradition by authors who brought processes of state formation and revolutionary change into the debate. On the other side, mainstream historical sociology worked with assumptions that limited its ability to change the terms and directions of sociological discourse, and to assimilate lessons from history. Among these inbuilt biases, organizational realism and materialism - particularly pronounced in the work of Michael Mann - stand out as particularly important. The paper closes with arguments in favour of bringing more history into historical sociology, with particular emphasis on three sets of problems. There is a need for more historical approaches to differentiation, less dependent on functionalist premises than the hitherto prevalent paradigm. A more explicit thematization of temporality in history and society would, among other things, help to clarify issues linked to the notion of path dependency. Finally, a reconsideration of the models and types of explanation in historical sociology would place more emphasis on their interpretive dimension.
Keywords social history; sociology; historical social research; modernization theory; differentiation; path dependence; explanation; causality; epistemology
Classification Social History, Historical Social Research; General Sociology, Basic Research, General Concepts and History of Sociology, Sociological Theories
Free Keywords historical sociology
Document language English
Publication Year 2013
Page/Pages p. 9-32
Journal Historická sociologie / Historical Sociology (2013) 1
ISSN 1804-0616
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works