Comparative-Historical Sociology As Professional Practice

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Eric Royal LYBECK, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
The once dominant comparative and historical approach in sociology has been replaced by methods which extract, collate and re-label data from the immediate present. Without comparing these data with other civilizational patterns, other regions or other periods, sociology reflects contemporary values without sufficient reflection. As Calhoun argued, the (no longer) recent flourishing of historical sociology in American sociology was ‘domesticated’ into a refined ‘Millian’ method. In Britain, the promise Abrams identified during the structuration turn evaporated in the jetstream of planes headed towards California. What explains this contemporary dustbowl of historical sociology? This paper suggests: the gradual disinvestment of the discipline in professional utility and professional practice since the 1970s at least, with the trend, however, originating in the interwar period. The history of the interrelationship between legal science, that is, jurisprudence, and social science in both Germany and the United States suggests that social scientists emerged as adjunct researchers working for a more dominant profession of jurists. Comparative history was the method jurists employed to harmonize conflicts of laws, especially during unification and within recently colonized territories, such as Alsace-Lorraine after 1871. The first generation of social scientists in America drew on their training in German faculties of Law, establishing faculties of political science, economics and sociology across the Atlantic. Subsequent academic effort to professionalize these disciplines as pure ‘science’ meant withdrawl from the original practical concerns. This history of the decline of comparative-historical sociology suggests that social scientists would have greater utility and more input in policy and public affairs if we demonstrated our professional capacity to explain a wide range of phenomena inaccessible to more ‘involved’ participants mired in the ripcurrent of the contemporary. Historical-comparison is the ideal method through which sociologists can justifiably claim expertise not already covered by adjacent disciplines.