Historical Sociology

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Historical Sociology

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Pages 373 Page size 391.68 x 591.36 pts Year 2011

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Philip Abrams


Cornell University Press Ithaca, New York


Cornell University Press Ithaca, New York

© Mrs. Sheila Abrams 1982 All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or parts thereof, must not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address Cornell University Press, Sage House, 512 East State Street, Ithaca, New York 14850. First published 1982 by Cornell University Press. First printing, Cornell Paperbacks, 1982. Fourth printing 1994. International Standard Book Number (paper) 0-8014-9243-2 International Standard Book Number (cloth) 0-8014-1578-0 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 82-61210 Printed in the United States of America

@ The paper in this book meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Publisher's note

Philip Abrams died after completing his final revision of this book. The publishers are most grateful to Professor Abrams's colleague Mr Richard Brown, of the University of Durham, who was most helpful in the preparation of the manuscript for press.


Preface I Introduction: Sociology as History 2 The Transition to Industrialism: Anomie 3 The Transition to Industrialism: Class Formation and Class Struggle 4 The Transition to Industrialism: Rationalisation 5 The Problem of Tendency: Functional Historical Sociology and the Convergence Thesis 6 The Problem of Design: The Formation of States 7 Explaining Events: a Problem of Method 8 The Historical Sociology of Individuals: Identity and the Problem of Generations 9 The Historical Sociology of Individuals: Monsters and Heroes: Careers and Contingencies 10 Theory, Questions and Some Limits of Historical Sociology Bibliography Index

page ix 18 33 73 108 147 190 227 267 300 336 351


The chapters in this book try to do two things. They argue that many of the most serious problems faced by sociologists need to be solved historically. And they suggest that many of the supposed differences between sociology and history as disciplines do not really stand in the way of such solutions. Taken as a whole they propose that there might be much to be gained by reconstituting history and sociology as historical sociology. I am not talking about the need to give historical work more 'social context', nor about the need to give sociological work more 'historical background', nor even about the desirability of each field of work being 'informed' by work in the other. What I have in mind is a more radical recasting of problems, a deeper and subtler modification of styles of analysis, a more open and thorough-going recognition of the extent to which in some fundamental respects the two disciplines are trying to do the same thing and are employing the same logic of explanation to do so. The argument rests on the claim that at the heart of both disciplines is a common project: a sustained, diverse attempt to deal with what I shall call the problematic of structuring. In the past thirty years the gap between history and sociology appears to have narrowed dramatically. The rise of quantitative history; a shift of interest among sociologists to problems of social transition; a growing concern among historians to understand the 'mentalities' of past societies and to explore the history of such unconventional matters as oppression, class-formation, lunacy, crime, magic, domestic social relations and generally, people in the mass; the

Historical Sociology x publication of a serie~ of ~ery ambitious ~nd oste~sibly sociological works deahng with the processes 1Ovolved m the formation of twentieth-