Historiography: Sociological

Sociology is about causality understood to be operating at the collective level of social groups. The questions of action may derive from individuals into society or a system itself, and may be conflict based or consensus based in some functional arrangement of adaptations. At this point, no history is involved, but somewhere along the line data recorded in time is historical, and the intention is to incorporate sociological causality into the history.
An issue is the place of ideal types. How real are they, and how abstracted are they? They are supposed to be heuristic devices of contrasts to indicate not averages but characteristics of reality, each set against the other. They are not historical, but to have some relevance to reality they must derive from actual data, however abstracted they become. When do they change? When they change it is because history has become involved.
In my own Ph.D work for example, I was keen to replace the Church-denomination-sect ideal types with new ones that reflected better the situation in the Churches. This did not mean the old ones could not be used, although the qualified additions to them suggested change was necessary. My method was sociological, in terms of semi-structured interviewing of ministers and participant observation in churches. Nevertheless this primary data was historical. It was fairly location specific, but was an example of rich data in time and space. With the secondary research these went towards the categories of heterodox liberal, orthodox liberal, traditionalisms and conversionism, with authority types to match. Now the research was dated in the 1980s but the typologies should now give conceptual oversight of Churches today, and a dynamic of the old denominations breaking up and new alliances formed.
My categories were the wrong way round in name: liberal orthodox is more correct, although I wanted to distinguish between types of liberal; so there should be a certain care in looking at terms historical sociology and sociological history, although a historian will want to stress sociology.
Properly speaking, historians do sociological history and sociologists do historical sociology. Alternatives are to combine the disciplines and parallel their methods. Mainly, however, historical sociologists may pay greater attention to historical data and interpreting it than other sociologists (e.g. Parsons did not), whilst historians might see the need for added explanation by considering causal social systems and meanigful symbolic interaction among people. Marxist historians give systematic explanation, so do historians interested in Weber and rationality, and indeed anyone interested in modernity, anomie/ alienation, structure, function, interaction, conflict and consensus as themes incorporate them into history.
A key area of sociology is the hypothesis, developed either from a tradition, small amounts of data, or an informed hunch. It can never be proved but resaerch data lends support to suggestions of commonalities. It is an inconclusive deductive method. A key area for history must be data, after which hypotheses can give explanation, which is an inductive method. However, some sociologists are more inductive and some historians more deductive.

Some personalities:

Dates in brackets are some times of impact just in areas mentioned.

Adrian Worsfold



Green, A., Troup, K. (eds) (1999), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-Century History and Theory, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 110-120.

Weber, M. (1924), 'Class, Status and Party', in Gerth, H., Mills, C. W. (1948), Essays from Max Weber, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Weber, M (1952), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Allen & Unwin

Weber, M (1947), The Theory of Social and Economic Organisations, Free Press