How (not) to Theorize Processes: Lessons from the Past

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:25
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Wolfgang KNOEBL, Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Germany
The paper will first give an overview on debates within German historiography when in the 1980s prominent historians such as Christian Meier or Wolfgang J. Mommsen seriously attempted to theorize (historical) processes. As this overview will demonstrate, the different lines of arguments all encountered enormous problems and ended in a somewhat aporetic situation. In a second step, the theoretical insights of the first part will be used in order to confront more recent attempts by sociologists such as Andrew Abbott and Charles Tilly and to ask whether and how the two different historical and sociological debates might be able to stimulate each other and – more precisely – whether and how the debate on social mechanisms will indeed help us to come to terms with the problem of theorizing processes. In a third and last step it will be asked whether the somewhat big and robust processual terms used within the social sciences (“bureaucratization”; “individualization”, “saecularization” etc.) are really the best tools in order to analyze large-scale social change.