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Global Historical Sociology

Early Career Workshop on Global Historical Sociology

January 26th 2011, University of Warwick

Sociologists have long recognised the value of history. Yet historical sociological research presents a number of challenges to scholars.  Are the traditional tools of historical research transferable to the kinds of research questions that sociologists want to ask? And are sociologists equipped with the skills to approach the historical task with sufficient rigour?  Who benefits from historically grounded sociology and how might this fit in to and enrich the discipline? If historical sociology is to offer something new to existing sociological understandings of the world, it must address these and many other questions which confront researchers.  This is about history beyond simple context, it is about using history to reflect on current events and reinterpret contemporaneous accounts of the social world. 

While historical sociology, in recent years, may have become less significant as a field of research within the mainstream of British Sociology, it has been central to debates within International Relations and Postcolonial Studies – areas of study which focus on the formation and reconfiguration of a globalised world. This workshop, aimed at early career researchers, will discuss the specific issues associated with doing research within the field of historical sociology and also address key methodological problems that are raised in the process. It is open to PhD students and postdoctoral researchers across disciplines and will be organised around three key sessions, as detailed below.


(1)   Doing Historical Sociology
Facilitated by Kristy Warren and Lucy Mayblin

What challenges have you faced –in terms of the theoretical framing of your research, methods of data collection, write-up and publication? Have you experienced any institutional barriers to undertaking a historical study outside of a history department? What do you feel are the benefits to your research, and to the field of sociology, of adopting such a historically-informed research agenda? This session will be a creative workshop in which participants will be given the opportunity to reflect on their own research and to discuss it with others.  This will be a chance to talk through issues encountered in your own research as well as becoming more familiar with the work of others in the group, with a view to forming research networks for future collaboration.


(2)   History, Sociology, and Historical Sociology: Problems of Constitution
Facilitated by Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Warwick

Any discussion of historical sociology points immediately to a seemingly intractable problem of its constitution. Namely, the relationship between ‘typical’ understandings of history and sociology whereby the former is concerned with particularity and the empirical deconstruction of theoretical claims, and the latter with the construction of general statements and the confirmation of grand theoretical schemes. A further point of discomfiture is that the data of history is necessarily the data of historical sociology such that developments within historical studies confirm or disconfirm sociological claims. So the tension arises with sociology being both reliant on the historical enterprise as well finding (some of) its methods and precepts antithetical to its own concerns.  John Goldthorpe, a long standing critic of historical sociology, further argues that historical sociologists do not develop an argument on the basis of evidence, but rather, are simply involved in the interpretation of interpretation. As historical sociology is not, for the most part, rule-governed, he continues, ‘its practitioners enjoy a delightful freedom to play “pick-and-mix” in history’s sweetshop’ (1991: 225). His reference to ‘pick and mix’ indicates that he believes the choices made to select particular interpretations over others ones are arbitrary. However, the issue is not that historical sociologists make particular selections when they could have made other ones, but rather, that in doing so, they do not consider how ‘generalizing’ from the other side of any debate might open up a more fundamental set of sociological considerations. This session looks at the arguments made by John Goldthorpe and other critics of historical sociology and assesses the validity of the claims made. It also looks at the possibility of generalizing ‘from the other side’ and examining the difference that this makes to sociology more generally.


(3)   International Historical Sociology
Facilitated by George Lawson, London School of Economics

Over the last twenty years, historical sociology has become an increasingly influential sub-field in International Relations (IR). Paradoxically, though, the relative success of historical sociology means that some of its more distinctive elements have been lost. Mainstream approaches have co-opted aspects of historical sociology which they like, and ignored those which they dislike. As a result, the specific contributions of historical sociology to IR are not always clear – the approach has become submerged within broader turns towards ‘historical international relations’ or, indeed, ‘sociology’ more generally. This session examines the impact of historical sociology in IR, explores its empirical and theoretical value, and assesses recent developments – and possible future directions – for the approach. It also examines the extent to which recent moves towards ‘international historical sociology’, centred on exploring the historical pathways which develop out of the simultaneous multiplicity and interactivity of social orders, provides the most promising terrain for historical sociologists working both in IR and cognate fields.


Provisional Programme for the Day

10.30-11.00     Registration and refreshments
11.00-12.30     Doing Historical Sociology with Kristy Warren and Lucy Mayblin

12.30-1.30       Lunch

1.30-3.00         ‘History, Sociology, and Historical Sociology: Problems of Constitution’ with Gurminder K Bhambra

3.00-3.30         Break

3.30-5.00         ‘International Historical Sociology’ with George Lawson

5pm close
Evening           A meal out at a nearby restaurant, all welcome.

(Not included in registration fee)


Other Information

The registration fee for attending this workshop is £35. This includes lunch and other refreshments during the day.  Details regarding payment will be given once the participants have been confirmed.

A small number of bursaries are available for unfunded students. If you are interested in applying for a bursary then please include a brief case for support with your application.

Participants have the option of joining us for a meal at a restaurant close to the workshop venue at the end of the day, though we regret that this is not included in the conference fee.  Details to follow nearer the time.


How to Apply

If you are interested in attending this workshop then please email your name, institution, level of study (early career / PhD student) and a short paragraph (up to 300 words) detailing your research interests and how your work fits in with the theme for the day to Lucy Mayblin: The deadline for applications is December 1st 2010. Successful applicants will be notified by December 15th.