✍ Logics of History. Social Theory and Social Transformation [2005]

por Teoría de la historia

514y-rVKK7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“Logics of History” is a fascinating and insightful book on historical thinking by an innovative historian. William H. Sewell, Jr. has made important contributions to French social history. This book marks a return to a field of inquiry that is very much needed: careful, analytical attention to some of the problematic constructs and frameworks that underlie the ways that scholars conceptualize historical change. There is no convenient label for the genre of the book, though each of these has an element of truth: philosophy of history, historiography, social science methodology, meta-history. But the author’s goal is an important one: to shed new light on the concepts, ontological assumptions, and theories through which thinkers attempt to understand the human past in a rigorous way. How can historians and social scientists learn from each other in this enterprise? It is relevant that Sewell’s academic appointments have included departments of history, political science, and sociology. The author is well situated to reflect insightfully on the many ways in which the social sciences have interacted with the interpretation of history in the past three decades. In his own historical research, Sewell consistently attempts to make use of fruitful and illuminating parts of social theory to make sense of the historical circumstances to which he addresses himself. In treating the more abstract issues of historical reasoning and ontology, his analysis moves back and forth between detailed examples of historical analysis in the social sciences and original analytical treatment of these topics. The intended audience of the book is a multidisciplinary one. The issues Sewell raises will resonate strongly with historically minded social scientistsscholars who are concerned with analyzing social processes in a variety of settings over an extended period of time. Working historians will find that his treatment of these meta-issues in historiography has great bearing on their own intellectuallabors. And scholars interested in the intellectual development of the disciplines of the social sciences in the United States will find in the book a valuable set of observations about how historical sociology, historical social science, and social science history have interacted and developed since the 1960s. Why do historians and social scientists need such a book? Because the logic and constructs of thinking historically are still only incompletely understood. We will do a better job of understanding and probing the past, if we are more self-conscious about the assumptions and frameworks that we bring to our work. What is a historical “period”? How are large historical constructs to be defined (revolutions, Tudor state, Marseillaise working class)? What is the nature of a historical cause? Many historians have judged that the social sciences should somehow be relevant to their work of explaining historical outcomes. But what is involved in making use of social science theories in historical research and explanation? It has been evident for several decades that social processes are diverse, contingent, and heterogeneous. So the impulse towards finding general laws of social transformation has been discouraged. But what is to take the place of a generalizing, universalizing approach within a “social science” study of social transformation? The best answer available at present is, an extensive borrowing from a wide range of the human sciences. What can anthropologists tell historians about the challenge of reconstructing the mentalities of people in the past? What can the geographers of place tell us about the logic of trading and transport networks? What can researchers on collective action tell us about some of the factors that may have accelerated or inhibited popular protest in particular historical set, tings? The book begins with a reading of the intellectual development of social his, tory as a discipline since the 1960s: the currents of Marxism, anthropology, and feminism, and the themes of underclass history, local meanings, and multiple texts. Later chapters take up the substance of the intellectual challenge of the book: to shed light on some of the core theoretical constructs that are used in historical research. There are chapters on the concepts of temporality, structure, culture, synchrony, the event, and historical duration. The book closes with an essay on a new perspective on the way in which the “social” plays in social science. A recurring topic in the book is the important category of the historical event. Sewell points out that social scientists often give short shrift to the temporal properties of a set of social changes or processes. In “Three Temporalities: Towards an Eventful Sociology” the author carefully teases apart the different ways in which historically minded sociologists have treated historical processes, and he singles out teleological temporality, experimental temporality, and “eventful” temporality. The first approach places historical events into a supposed necessary series of stages; the second takes events out of historical settings in order to use them as the fodder of quasi, experiments in causal reasoning; and the third approach emphasizes the path dependence of historical sequences. Events in their particular historical settings have causal consequences for the shaping and occurrence of later events. Sewell characterizes events in this way: “Events may be defined as that relatively rare subclass of happenings that significantly transforms structures. An eventful conception of temporality, therefore, is one that takes into account the transformation of structures by events” (p. 100). Sewell returns to his understanding of events in several later essays in the book as well, including “A Theory of the Event” and “Events as Transformations of Structures.” Other important topics that Sewell considers include the intellectual foundations of our conceptions of structure (“A Theory of Structure”) and culture (“The Concepts of Culture”), and the involvement of both these concepts in historical reasoning. In both instances Sewell takes up a large meta-concept within the social sciences, subjects it to careful, analytical attention, and con, siders how this concept is best used in history. Logics of History is a pathbreaking book: intelligent, probing, and as good at raising new questions as it is at addressing old ones. It makes a highly original contribution to discussions of the relationships between the social sciences and history that will be of interest to specialists on all sides.

[Daniel LITTLE. “Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. By William H. Sewell, Jr. (The University of Chicago Press, 2005. xi plus 410 pp.)” (reseña), in Journal of Social History, vol. XLI, nº 1, verano de 2007, pp. 181-182]