Historical Methods in the Social Sciences, in four volumes. Volume I. HistoricalSocial Science: Presuppositions and Prescriptions; Volume II. Foundations of Historical-Sociological Inquiry; Volume III. The Logic of Historical-Sociological Analysis; Volume IV. Social Worlds in Flux: Legacies and Transformations. Edited by John A. Hall and Joseph M. Bryant. London: Sage Publications, 2005. Pp. 1,647.
Appearing in the Benchmarks in Social Research Methods series being produced by Sage, this four-volume set lays out the case for a fully integrated historical social science,critically addressing the core issues of ontological grounding, epistemological coherence,theoretical cogency, methodological rigor, and research accomplishment. Featuring contributions from eminent historians, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, psychologists, and philosophers, this collection of key classic and contemporary texts provides an extended, intensive meditation on the necessary interdependence of the historical and the sociological in the scientific study of the human condition.
The fifteen selections in Volume I, with Marx and Weber providing keynote statements for the entire project, variously explore the deformational consequences that attended the marginalization of history within the mainstream social sciences, as these assumed their separate disciplinary identities over the course of the twentieth century. As the positivist program of modeling the social sciences after the natural sciences gained institutional ascendancy, nomological-deductive modes of explanation came to define the terms of proper theorizing. Hermeneutics, genealogy, and narrative--the analytical "logics" of historiography--were deemed preliminary to full scientific explanation, which would specify the causal forces and variables that operated independently of time and place specificities. History was thus demoted to the status of a "data source," a neutral or unprocessed record to be mined for purposes of establishing typologies and sequential patterns, or to furnish cases that would permit both theory-building and hypothesis-testing exercises. A chronic override of the complexities of historical change and cultural diversity fatefully ensued, resulting in a profusion of discordant theories and ahistorical paradigms that failed to yield the nomological discoveries that were promised, or the unities of theory and method that had been enjoined. The chapters here engage this divisive legacy as it pertains to the separate disciplines, and each offers constructive rationales for bringing the historical and the sociological into a more realistic and integrated working alliance.
The twenty chapters of Volume II are given over to securing the ontological foundations of a viable historical social science. If social realities and historical processes are, in actuality, fused dimensions of a single totalizing dynamism, then a rethinking of conventional notions of the social and the historical--as ontically separable or distinct phenomena--is urgently called for. Several contributions pursue this grounding concern, and propose synthesizing ontologies of the "social-historical" that overcome the synchronic-diachronic, structure-process binaries that impart such artificiality to those approaches that fail to apprehend the temporal and the structural in their moving, dialectical immanence. Related themes include the nominalism-realism debate, the multiple forms of social time, nonlinear dynamics, reification and world-construction, the concept of totality, the agency-structure problematic, and the temporal organization of consciousness and praxis.
The sixteen chapters of Volume III provide a wide range of topical explorations on the logic of interpretation and explanation in the human sciences. Prominently featured are a number of fundamental disputes and challenges, including the proper role of theories and covering laws, levels of abstraction, the use and abuse of secondary sources, selection bias problems, concept-formation, principles of source criticism, the ethnography of the archive, evidentiary foundations and inferential protocols, the question of narratives and representational verisimilitude, and the postmodernist subversion of historiographical discourse."
Application is the topical concern of Volume IV, which offers fourteen substantive exemplars of historical-sociological research, all of which are instructively attentive to the need to incorporate, synoptically, both diachronic mutability and synchronic order in their analytical procedures. The connectedness of every existing present--its moving ensemble of institutions, roles, and cultural forms--to the preceding pasts from which it emerged, necessitates a historical social science that tracks and explicates those lines of succession that structure the ongoing flows of interactive human agency. Featured here are a series of inquiries concerned with recovering the deep lines of social causality, as with the lock-in effects of early choices that attain institutional or cultural ascendancy, or the path-dependent reframing of objective possibilities within developing trajectories. Other contributions focus directly on"turning-point" moments, as variously brought on by exogenous shocks, or the strains of uneven institutional and cultural change.
Drawing together many of the most illuminating reflections on historical-sociological research practices from across the human sciences--addressing programmatic objectives, interpretive principles, explanatory logics, and substantive applications--this four-volume set offers the most comprehensive exploration of the unifying project of historical social science available at present.