History And The Social Sciences Research Paper

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History and the social sciences have developed and maintained complex relationships made up of commonalities and differences as well as divergences and convergences. In principle, both disciplinary areas are concerned with the scientific study of the human life-world and the whole range of human behavior, individual and collective, in time and space as well as in the past and the present. Both disciplinary areas originated with the rise of the modern world as a common enterprise to develop systematic, secular, and empirically validated knowledge about the historical-social reality. In this fundamental sense, history can be and should be seen as part of the social sciences or vice versa the social sciences as part of the historical sciences—both constituted by substantially interrelated modes of sociohistorical research (Gulbenkian Commission 1996, Hall 1999).

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Despite their fundamental commonality, however, history and the social sciences have followed quite different and diverging epistemological and methodological tracks during their academic institutionalization in Western Europe and North America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the one hand, the social sciences (economics, sociology, and political science as well as anthropology) came to be oriented towards the successful epistemological model of the natural sciences and defined themselves primarily as nomothetic and generalizing disciplines. On the other, history predominantly influenced by the humanities and critical against speculative social laws developed traits of an idiographic and particularistic discipline. Against these traditional disciplinary definitions, a converging interdisciplinary cooperation between history and the social sciences has developed only in the second half of the twentieth century. The social-scientific orientation of history was programmatically formulated in approaches such as the ‘new social history,’ ‘la nouvelle histoire,’ ‘Social Science History,’ or ‘Historische Sozialwissenschaft,’ developing in leading journals such as Annales Economies, Societes, Ci ilisations (1946–), Past and Present (1952–), Journal of Social History (1967–), Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1970–), Social Science History (1976–), and Geschichte und Gesellschaft (1975–). In a parallel movement, the historical orientation of the social sciences crystallized in new areas like historical sociology, historical economics, historical political science, and historical anthropology. Sometimes even the epistemological identity of history and the social sciences has been stated in a fundamental sense.

More recently, however, this rapprochement between history and the social sciences was halted and partly reversed. Within the study and presentation of history a ‘revival of the narrative,’ a ‘new cultural history,’ and concepts of the ‘historical cultural sciences’ have emerged, emphasizing what distinguishes them from the social sciences proper. But it should be stressed that, in a parallel movement, the social sciences have been similarly challenged from within by alternative cultural, interpretative-hermeneutic, and deconstructive-postmodernist epistemologies. Often the so-called ‘cultural turn’ in history and the social sciences is seen as a replay of the traditional juxtaposition of idiographic and nomothetic positions and conservatively used to reconfirm the traditionally separate institutionalization of both disciplinary areas. But properly understood, this cultural turn can and should be rather viewed as a challenge to the still prevailing principled opposition of generalizing or particularizing disciplinary epistemologies and methodologies. The future task, then, would be to open the historical and social sciences towards a common and multivocal, intra and interdisciplinary discourse of sociohistorical inquiry.

1. Disciplinary Divergence

In its originally institutionalized—but nowadays increasingly challenged—meaning, history is primarily concerned with the study, description, interpretation, and presentation of historical facts or relics from the past, focusing on: idiographic methods, the analysis of historical contexts and temporal change, and the conceptualization of historical phenomena as particular individualities, their inductive interpretation, and narrative presentation (Burke 1992, Zunz 1985). In the opposite—but also increasingly questioned— direction, the social sciences such as sociology, economics, political science, and anthropology have been traditionally understood as concerned with the study, generation, and explanation of social facts in the present emphasizing nomothetic methods, systematic analysis, and theoretical explanation by reference to general laws or social regularities (Monkkonen 1994, Skocpol 1984).

This problematically polarizing division between history and the social sciences developed with the institutionalization of the university systems during the nineteenth century under the impact of the natural sciences. Science, since then, came to be equated primarily with the natural sciences and particularly with its conspicuous inorganic and organic branches of physics and biology. Taking the natural sciences as epistemological models, the social sciences emerged as an attempt to discover the general laws and evolutionary mechanisms of modern society (Lepenies 1988, Gulbenkian Commission 1996). Thus, political or classical economy as developed by Adam Smith or David Ricardo tried to find the general laws of modern capitalist market society or in a critical direction as formulated by Karl Marx to uncover the anatomy of emerging modern capitalism. In the same steps, the early founding fathers of sociology such as ClaudeHenri Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte, or Herbert Spencer intended to find the structural and evolutionary laws of modern society. At the same time, with the advent of modern mass politics in the American and French revolutions, the emerging political science as in Alexis de Tocqueville or John Stuart Mill attempted to formulate the general features and bases of modern democratic polities. Finally, with the growing awareness of non-Western societies under the impact of European colonialism and imperialism, anthropology tried to analyze the archaic or ‘primitive’ societies as structural counterparts and evolutionary pre-stages of modern society.

By contrast, history in view of the contingent flow of historical events and human actions as well as the role of cultural and spiritual forces came to be skeptical of the search for quasi-natural laws of the historicalsocial world. Instead, history followed the humanities, art, and literature as culturally oriented disciplines that seemed to be closer to the spiritual, creative, and poetic aspects of historical development. Particularly under the impact of German ‘historicism,’ the epistemological and methodological principles of historical knowledge developed into a radical opposition to the positivist search for historical-social facts. The principle of Leopold von Ranke to narrate history ‘wie sie eigentlich gewesen ist’ formulated the conviction that the historical method has to grasp the historical reality in its manifold particularities. In epistemological terms as developed by Johann Gustav Droysen and Wilhelm Dilthey, history cannot be subsumed under deterministic-mechanistic laws, but has to be understood in its concrete, experience-near, and life-full quality. On this basis, not only were the historical subdisciplines such as political, legal, cultural, social, and economic history principally viewed as hermeneutic-interpretative disciplines, but also economics, sociology, and political science as promoted among others by Gustav Schmoller, Werner Sombart, or Max Weber were primarily conceptualized as cultural sciences rather than as social sciences in order to grasp the individual and collective meanings structuring socioeconomic and political actions and processes. These epistemological and methodological differences and divergences were characteristic for the relationships of history and the social sciences not only in Germany, but in all Western societies. However, through the particular influence of German ‘historicism’ refuting on ontological grounds the applicability of explanatory social-scientific methods to historical events and cultural individualities, these divergences often developed into a principled opposition (Iggers 1993, Lepenies 1988).

The interdisciplinary bridging of this epistemological, analytical, and methodological opposition only became possible with the increasingly historical orientation of the social sciences as well as the growing social-scientific and sociological orientation of history (Abrams 1982, Lipset and Hofstadter 1970, Skocpol 1984). In the first half of the twentieth century, this converging movement was seldom although of crucial significance in preparing the ground for the later developing convergences between the historical and social sciences. Of lasting influence was, first, Emile Durkheim and the continuation of his approach by Marcel Mauss and Henri Berr, attempting to combine the sociology of social change with anthropological comparisons and historical developments (Raphael 1994, Stoianovich 1976). Of fundamental importance was also, second, the German historical-comparative sociology, particularly in the hands of Max Weber, Otto Hintze, Werner Sombart, and in their continuity also of Norbert Elias, who tried to explain the specificities of the Western civilization, its unique economic, political, and cultural order by historical and universal comparisons (Lepenies 1988). Third, strongly influenced by European sociological traditions, modernization theory developed in the USA as a universal social-scientific approach closely connected with historical-comparative modernization research on the historical prerequisites and developments of modern societies on a world scale.

2. Interdisciplinary Convergence

Influenced by these precursors, the historical and social sciences combined programmatically, first in the Annales school (Raphael 1994, Stoianovich 1976) and then later in the American Social Science History approach (Tilly 1981), some proponents of English Marxist historiography (Kaye 1984) and in their emulation in the West German ‘Historische Sozialwissenschaft’ (Kocka 1977, Wehler 1980). This interdisciplinary convergence led to different forms of ‘social-scientific history’ or ‘historical social science’—despite many national particularities. They materialized in the 1960s and 1970s in a parallel movement in the Western societies (Iggers 1993). In critical opposition to the received tradition of narrative and exclusively interpretive history, the major common methodological aims of social-scientific history or historical social science can be summarized in the following principles. First, social-scientific historical approaches should be oriented to a structural and processual perspective on the various (economic, sociopolitical, and cultural) dimensions of macrohistorical change. Second, they should shift historical analysis from a ‘top-down’ elite perspective to a ‘bottom-up’ popular or people’s history. Third, socialscientific historical approaches should give up the traditional emphasis on political and intellectual history and turn towards economic and social history. Fourth, they should make systematic use of the available social-scientific, theoretical, comparative, and quantitative methods in history and favor systematic explanation instead of hermeneutic interpretation. Finally, this movement to social-scientific history or historical social science was often motivated by a critique of traditional elitist-conservative historiography and a commitment to emancipatory, democratic, or enlightened values.

The common methodological aims of socialscientific history or historical social science, at the same time, were colored and refracted by the respective national intellectual and cultural environments. In France, the ‘nouvelle histoire’ promoted within the long established interdisciplinary tradition of the Annales school (Raphael 1984, Stoianovich 1976) was characterized by a rather balanced multilevel (longue duree, conjonctures, evenements) and multidimensional (economy, social structure, and civilizational mentalities) mode of historical analysis. In England, a strong neo-Marxist influence shaped the rise of economic and social history with a particular emphasis on social inequality and class history (Kaye 1984). In the United States the interdisciplinary social science history was influenced by the development of historical-comparative multidimensional modernization research and the special attraction of econometric, statistical, and social research methods for the quantification of historical processes (Tilly 1981). In Germany, Marxian and Weberian traditions of scholarship combined with elements of Western modernization theories and led to ‘Historische Sozialwissenschaft’ and ‘Gesellschaftsgeschichte,’ in which the analysis of social inequality and political power with a particular emphasis on the German ‘special path’ were treated (Kocka 1977, Wehler 1980). At the same time, these national variations reflect not only differing intellectual and theoretical traditions, but also a different emphasis on the use of qualitative and quantitative methods in historical-social inquiry. This is also indicated by the paradigmatic oscillations between the concepts of (a) historical social science, (b) structural history, and (c) social-scientific history.

‘Historical social science’ (‘Historische Sozialwissen-schaft’) serves as a loosely defined summary category. Still, the historical-comparative analysis of large-scale and multidimensional processes of social change from traditional life-worlds to modern society has been at the center. In particular, the concepts of historical-comparative modernization research, historical sociology, societal history, and synthetic structural history, with different theoretical and methodological orientations, belong to this category. In the French Annales school in a mixture of Durkheimian and Marxian traditions, the comparative analysis of feudalism by Marc Bloch and the social history of capitalism by Fernand Braudel (to be followed by Immanuel Wallerstein’s history of the modern world system) are important examples. Among English Marxist historians, the debate on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in a line from Maurice Dobb to Perry Anderson and the social history of modern classes, developed in different directions by Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Thompson, carried the field. In the United States, modernization research guided by a mixture of Max Weber’s comparative sociology and Talcott Parsons’ structural functionalist theory of social change was of major importance, resulting in path-breaking studies like Neil Smelser’s analysis of social change in the English industrial revolution; Shmuel Eisenstadt’s civilizational comparison of empires; Barrington Moore’s historical explanation of the development of twentieth-century dictatorship and democracy; Tilly’s edited volume on the formation of national states in Western Europe; and Reinhard Bendix’s study on corresponding historical changes in the legitimacy of political domination (see as an overview Skocpol 1984). In Germany, the modernization paradigm in a mixture of Weber and Marx directed Ralf Dahrendorf ’s sociological analysis of Germany’s troublesome process of democratization or Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s (1987–95) and Jurgen Kocka’s (1993) comparative social-historical investigations of the German ‘special path’ and the role of the social classes within it.

‘Structural history,’ again, has had different meanings with different outlooks. It materialized in innovative areas of a variety of ‘new histories’ along the lines between the main subsystems of modern society and the related social-scientific disciplines. In the ‘New Economic History’ of the 1960s, the application of economic concepts and theories has given rise to the history of economic growth, technology, capitalist markets, and institutions; here, David Landes’ (1969) Prometheus or Sidney Pollard’s (1981) Peaceful Conquest are examples of a qualitative type, whereas Gianni Tonioli’s (1991) comparative history of European industrialization—debating Alexander Gerschenkron’s theory of economic backwardness— represents a quantitative type of economic history. In the ‘New Social History’ in the 1960s and 1970s, sociological concepts were used in the historical analysis of demographic development, social structure, and social mobility; social groups, occupational structures, and social classes; social institutions, associations, and interest groups; as well as social movements, social protest, and political mobilization (Kocka 1977). This was combined with the application of political-scientific approaches to the history of political modernization, state formation, nation building, the development of democratic regimes and party systems, as well as political power and contestation (Tilly 1984). Further, social-scientific approaches influenced by social anthropology have also been applied to cultural phenomena and developments such as family and socialization, religion and secularization, as well as value systems and mental structures (see different essays in Rurup 1977).

The concept of ‘social-scientific history’ has been used primarily for the application of rigorous quantitative research methods in structural or social history (Landes and Tilly 1970, Schroder 1994). Not always, but often it has been equated with historical social research or the systematic quantitative operationalization and measurement of historical-social variables. In addition, this often combined with a deductive application of theoretical models to historical data and their explanation through statistical-mathematical and increasingly computer-assisted methods. Also this type of social-scientific historical research followed, either in close cooperation or in separate organization, the main areas of the ‘new histories.’ Particularly, the ‘New Economic History’ has been suited to cliometric, statistical, and econometric research methods as for instance in Paul Bairoch’s and Maurice Levy-Leboyer’s (1981) analysis of economic growth disparities since the industrial revolution. But also in the new social history, social-demographic family, mobility, and migration studies such as Richard Wall, Jean Robin, and Peter Laslett (1983) as well as time-series of social protest such as Charles Tilly, L. Tilly, and R. Tilly (1975) are prominent examples. In the new political history, the historical change of voting behavior, in particular, became an important field of historical social research (e.g., Best and Thome 1991). But also in the cultural history of mentalities as carried through particularly in the Annales tradition, the application of quantitative methods were fruitfully developed (e.g., Shapiro and Markoff 1998).

3. Interdisciplinary Challenges

Successful as these different new historical subdisciplines in their qualitative and quantitative orientations have been, the guiding vision of social-scientific approaches to history has been the combination of the various structural histories in a unifying societal history, ‘histoire totale’ or ‘Gesellschaftsgeschichte’ (Iggers 1993, Wehler 1980). This vision follows the epistomological ideal of merging the historical sciences and the social sciences in a common paradigm—as essentially expressed in the paradigmatic concepts of social science history, historical sociology, or ‘historische Sozialwissenschaft’ (Abrams 1982, Smith 1991, Wehler 1980). With this unifying vision, however, the disciplinary traditions and methodological differences between historicized conceptions of the social sciences and social-scientific approaches to history become easily blurred. On the one hand, historical approaches in the social sciences basically proceed within a generalizing frame of reference (Monkkonen 1994). For instance, historical economics follows the basic idea of uncovering time space bound economic laws or regularities (Kindleberger 1990, Monkkonen 1994, Wallerstein 2000). Also historical sociology is primarily oriented to the general features of time space bound social processes, patterns, and figurations (as exemplary studies see Eisenstadt 1996, Mann 1986 1993, Smelser 1992). In parallel, historical approaches in the political sciences concentrate on general features of political development (Monkkonen 1994). Also, historicized versions of anthropology are interested in the general evolutionary patterns of human behavior (Monkkonen 1994). On the other hand, social-scientific approaches to history as multidimensional structural or combined societal history usually remain in the confines of a narrative frame of reference—even when applying rigorously social-scientific theoretical concepts and research methods. Thus, in spite of all interdisciplinary convergence, there have been limits to a full merger between historically oriented social sciences and social science oriented history.

A second problematique, expressed in the oscillating meanings of historical social science, structural history, and social-scientific history, concerns the relationships between theory and method. Structural approaches to history often use social-scientific concepts in order to systematize, interpret, and explain long-term historical processes in one or another societal dimension. Social-scientific approaches to history are often oriented to theoretical models in order to explain deductively quantified historical developmental data. Approaches in historical social science and related synthetic orientations to history often use multidimensional theories of social change in order to explain causal connections between the various societal dimensions. Many varieties of historical social science, structural history, and socialscientific history use theories and concepts, deductive and inductive modes of explanation or interpretation, as well as qualitative, quantitative, and comparative methods of analysis. In an effort to systematize these methodological strategies in historical-social inquiry, Theda Skocpol proposed to distinguish model-theoretical, causal-analytical, and interpretive modes of explanation (Skocpol 1984, pp. 356–91). Charles Tilly, concentrating on the types of comparison and the number of cases and variables involved, differentiated between individualizing, generalizing, encompassing, and variation-finding forms of comparison (Tilly 1984, 84ff.). Charles Ragin (2000), attempting to bridge qualitative and quantitative modes of analysis, distinguished between case-analytical and variationoriented methodological strategies. Fruitful as these methodological distinctions are, particularly the methodological relationships between explanatory and interpretive research strategies, the theoretical sources and analytical consequences of these methodological distinctions for sociohistorical inquiry still remain unexplored (Hall 1999, p. 173).

A third increasingly salient but divisive problematique concerns the role of culture in the differing modes of historical social science, structural history, and social-scientific history. Not only in practice, but also often programmatically, social-scientific approaches to sociohistorical inquiry tend to favor the analysis of the economic, social, and political dimensions and to limit the analysis of culture to value systems or cultural institutions. The contents and forms of culture in their constitutive or causal role in history are often neglected and the corresponding hermeneutic or deconstructive methods to interpret their meanings, symbols, values, and identities are often seen as secondary. Against these prevailing tendencies of social-scientific approaches to culture, there emerged an increasingly influential challenge by the ‘new cultural history’ or cultural-scientific versions of history (Hunt 1989, Dirks et al. 1994, Mergel and Welskopp 1996). This ‘cultural turn’ consists of different countercurrents against the social-scientific vision of a systematic, generalizing, and explanatory structural and societal history. First, the revival of the narrative insists on the interpretive, literary, and narrative tasks of history (Stone 1979). Second, the development of micro-history or ‘Alltagsgeschichte’ emphasizes the complexity of life-worlds as such or as microfoundations of historical macrostructures (Luedtke 1989). Third, the ‘linguistic turn’ presupposes the all-pervasiveness of language in the social world, thus stressing the analytical task of deconstructing discourses and decoding linguistic-symbolic structures (Hunt 1989). Fourth, the ‘cultural turn’ is consciously oriented to those social groups such as women, ethnic minorities, or the underclass, seen as neglected by the predominating social-scientific approaches to history (e.g., History Workshop Journal 1976– or Radical History 1975–). Finally, some authors are influenced by a postmodernist perspective emphasizing the fragmentation and decentering against the structuring and ordering of the social world (Iggers 1993). The result is not only the generation of a whole new set of historical subdisciplines such as women’s and gender history, ethnic and minority history, regional and local history as well as the history of identities and memory, but also an influential shift from social-scientific history to cultural-scientific history (see however Bonnell and Hunt 1999).

In a sense, the ‘cultural turn’ signifies a revitalization of historicism and cultural-scientific approaches to history—re-emphasizing qualitative, interpretative, ethnographical, and hermeneutic methods against systematic-explanatory orientations and, with it, reversing the causal or structural determination of history from ‘society’ to ‘culture.’ At the same time, this theoretical and analytical movement reflects a parallel shift in the social sciences from social-structural to institutional and cultural paradigms (Skinner 1985, Matthes 1992, McDonald 1996). For instance, in economics and economic sociology the new institutionalism has gained wide recognition, but also cultural neo-Weberian approaches reappear (North 1981, Monkkonen 1994, Swedberg 1998). In various domains of sociology as well, the ‘new institutionalism’ and various forms of a ‘new cultural sociology’ become influential (Monkkonen 1994, Crane 1994). Further, in political science the traditional institutional approaches become challenged by cultural paradigms (Monkkonen 1994). All this is influenced by a crucial shift in anthropology from social and structural anthropology to various forms of interpretative, ethnographic, historical, and cultural anthropology (Monkkonen 1994). As a result, social-scientific history is not merely confronted with systematic, generalizing, and explanatory forms of the social sciences, but also with individualizing, interpretative, and reflexive varieties of the cultural sciences. In other words, new opportunities of interdisciplinary cooperation emerge.

4. Interdisciplinary Perspectives

The interdisciplinary cooperation and convergence of history and the social sciences have opened up novel and dynamical fields of sociohistorical research. At the same time, the idees directrices of that historicalsocial-scientific convergence have often privileged quasi-natural-scientific epistemologies and methodologies. As a consequence, generalizing modes of sociohistorical inquiry stand in tension with particularizing modes; structural and macro-analytical theories used in historical-social analysis conflict with action and micro-analytical theories; causal explanation is often limited to the application of theoretical models and causal-analytic methodologies in opposition to interpretation and hermeneutic strategies; and, accordingly, there are tensions between qualitative and quantitative methods, including generalizing and particularizing methods of comparison. These tensions are revealed, on the one hand, within the social-scientific convergence of history and the social sciences in the paradigmatic oscillations between the guiding concepts of historical social science, structural history, and social-scientific history. These tensions develop, on the other hand, within the wider historical sciences, in the often polarized opposition to renewed historicist and culturalist, narrative and hermeneutic or deconstructivist modes of historical-social inquiry. At the same time, these theoretical and methodological oppositions and polarizations are not solely characteristic for the historical sciences. Parallel disciplinary developments can also be observed in the social sciences and the widespread and often sharp oppositions to cultural-scientific approaches in the various social-scientific disciplines.

These epistemological, theoretical, and methodological oppositions and conflicts have often led into a stalemate in both disciplinary areas of the historical and social sciences between renewed forms of narrative-interpretative and anthropological-cultural history in contradistinction to the nomothetic social sciences. However, these oppositions in the historical as well as the social sciences can and should be used to re-energize a wider intraand interdisciplinary cooperation between the historical, social, and cultural sciences. These renewed cooperative efforts should concentrate on the crucial epistemological, theoretical, methodological, and analytical dimensions in sociohistorical inquiry within and across the established academic disciplines: on the epistemological level, combining social-scientific and cultural-scientific as well as generalizing and particularizing modes of knowledge; on the theoretical level confronting systematically social-structural and cultural approaches to historical-social reality; on the analytical level, mediating between the social-structural, institutional and cultural dimensions as well as between the global, national, regional and local macro microdimensions in sociohistorical inquiry; and on the methodological level, clarifying the relationships between qualitative and qualitative as well as historical, social-scientific, and cultural-scientific comparative research strategies (Bourdieu 1995, Haupt and Kocka 1996, Spohn 1998). All these renewed epistemological, theoretical, methodological, and analytical efforts of an interand intradisciplinary cooperation should not be done in segmented isolation, but in a multidisciplinary and multivoiced context of practiced sociohistorical inquiry. Such an opening of the historical and social sciences, however, is not only a matter of an intellectual intraand interdisciplinary cooperation, but also demands an institutional cross-cutting between and across the segmented academic disciplines of the historical and social sciences (Gulbenkian Commission 1996).


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