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History of and in Sociology

Historical Sociology

The article compares Pitirim Sorokin’s, George Homans’s, and Barrington Moore Jr.’s views of historical sociology. Sorokin favored what Tilly calls “Epochal Synthesis” in which a researcher crafts a grand historical scheme and then uses historical material to detect stages within that scheme. In Homans’ work, categorized as “Retrospective Ethnography”, a researcher attempts to explain historical events by reconstructing the participants’ state of consciousness. Lastly, Moore’s research falls under the category of “Critical Comparison” which favors a process-based account of historical events.

Three Visions of History and Theory

Historical Sociology

The article contrasts three current perspectives of how sociology and history interact.. In the “practical sense” perspective, exemplified by Burke’s History and Social Theory (2005), history is envisioned as the repository of human richness and theory as a set of tools that can be used to arrange this richness. In the “cultural phenomenological” perspective, exemplified by Adams et al.’s Remaking Modernity: Politics, History, and Sociology (2005), cultural consciousness of the individual is the core component of social life, thus proponents of this perspective argue that sociological analysis should be primarily interpretive. The systematic constructivism perspective, exemplified by Tilly’s recent edited volume (with R. Goodin) The Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis (2006), accepts the world as socially constructed but argues that much can still be learned through systematic observation.

Repression, Mobilization, and Explanation

Social Mechanisms

The article argues that scholars who study mutual relations between repression and mobilization should focus on the classification of episodes into recurrent processes and invariant mechanisms and move away from trying to identify covering laws.

Social Boundary Mechanisms

Political Contention

The article proposes a set of mechanisms that precipitate and constitute social boundary change. Tilly defines social boundary change as the "contiguous zone of contrasting density, rapid transition, or separation between internally connected clusters of population or activity". Mechanisms that cause boundary change are identified as: Encounter, Imposition, Borrowing, Conversation and Incentive shift. Mechanisms that occur as part of boundary change are identified as: Inscription-Erasure, Activation-Deactivation, Site transfer. and Relocation. The result of a combination these two types of mechanisms, Tilly argues, is frequently either a coordinated attack or a coordinated defense.

Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists

Political Contention

The article addresses the use of terminology surrounding the phenomenon of terrorism. He defines terror as "the asymetric deployment of threats and violence against enemies using means that fall outside the forms of political struggle routinely operating within some current regime". He argues that social scentists attempting to analyze the phenomenon of terror should not view terrorists as a distinct class of actors, terror as unitary form of political action, nor terrorism as a distinct variety of politics. Instead, Tilly argues, terrorism should be viewed as a strategy implemented by a variety of actors in different political situations. Tilly then proposes a two dimensional typology of terror-wielding groups. The first dimension differentiates between violence specialists and nonspecialists. The second dimension differentiates between groups that operate within their home territory and those that operate outside of their home territory. This typology, Tilly argues, should help reduce the conflation of different types of terrorism, and help social scientists exhibit some degree of causal coherence to analysis in this area.

Rhetoric, Social History, and Contentious Politics: Reply to Critics

Political Contention, Social Mechanisms

The article advocates the continued efforts within the historical study of contentious politics to identify the robust mechanisms that appear in a wide variety of contentious episodes which will help to explain important similarities and differences among them.

Mechanisms in Political Processes

Social Mechanisms

The article defines his ontological view of the social world as a set of bounded episodes that are made up of a complex array of small recurrent social processes. He terms this the mechanism-view of the explanation of political processes where the main goal is the identification of robust mechanisms (a delimited class of events that change relations among elements) that exist within processes (frequently occurring combinations or sequences of mechanisms) that make up episodes (bounded streams of social life). Thus, social scientific explanations should focus on the smaller processes and not the larger episodes (i.e Big Case Comparison).

Errors, Durable and Otherwise


The article contrasts the difference between strong and weak functionalist arguments. Strong functionalist arguments explain social phenomenon by their consequences for the system in which they occupy, whereas weak functionalist arguments claim that actors pursue certain ends by trying different means and adopt them to accomplish those ends or to reinforce the arrangements that keep the pursuit of those ends possible.

A Grand Tour of Exotic Landes

Social History

The article reviews historian David Landes' sweeping comparison of successes and failures in economic growth, arguing against its long-term cultural determinism.

Wise Quacks

Social Mechanisms

The article advises social movement researchers to (1) define their work not as an explanation of social movements but as an explanation of contentious politics, (2) interrogate categories for variability within them, (3) search for causal mechanisms instead of universal patterns, and (4) recognize that the results of this type of research will provide a transferable explanation of significant elements within the complex events.

Means and Ends of Comparison in Macrosociology

Invariant Modeling

The article suggests that Big Case Comparison research is disappearing from the social sciences due to the difficulties expressed by John Stuart Mill, often credited with formulating the comparison method, who actually questioned the method of agreement/disagreement pertaining to human affairs.

James S. Coleman as a Guide to Social Research

The article argues that the program for social science outlined by James S. Coleman is misguided because it neglects to specify causal mechanisms, it promotes incomplete psychological reductionism, and advocates rational choice analysis which is ill equipped to explain many social processes.

Macrosociology Past and Future

Invariant Modeling

The article suggests that "Big Case Comparison" research in macrosociology is ontologically inadequate due to the a priori assumption that macro events are distinctive and coherent units of analysis (misplaced concreteness). Further, it has lost its appeal due to the disintegration of autonomous states/societies/cultures. This has led to a movement towards adopting of an ontology of relational realism (i.e. network perspective).

To Explain Political Processes

Invariant Modeling, Political Contention, Social Mechanisms

The article critiques the method of invariant modeling of macro social processes. He claims that this practice leads researchers to focus on "improving the model" as opposed to understanding that the regularities between macrosociological processes do not operate in the form of recurrent structures and processes. Thus, the construction of invariant models of political revolution is a waste of time and the poor fit accounts for the slow accumulation of knowledge.

As an alternative to invariant modeling Tilly recommends the mechanism approach which consists of the following steps: (1) construct valid ontologies, (2) clearly specify the variation within the field, (3) break complex sequences into smaller events, and (4) form contingent predictions (i.e. "insofar as…") instead of attempting to form invariant general laws.

History and Sociological Imagining

Invariant Modeling

The article argues that one of the primary problems with invariant modeling in sociology is the assumption of monadism, that elementary units of social life are self contained monands that aggregate up to form society, that the social world consists of structures and processes that monands repeat in essentially the same manner, and that the central task of social science is to create and perfect invariant models of these processes.

History, Sociology and Dutch Collective Action

Historical Sociology

The article observes that the study of collective action is split in the social sciences and history between three factions: those that take the coherent society as the starting point of analysis, those who treat the individual as the fundamental social unit, and those that begin with social relations and derive individual and complex social structures from them. Tilly, a majority of whose work resides in the third category, utilizes a concept called "repertoires of collective action" in which forms of collective action are assumed to vary as a function of surrounding social structure and history, while the actors enmeshed in these struggles are depicted as repeatedly employing an extremely limited set of routines.

Misreading, Then Re-Reading, Nineteenth-Century Social Change

European History

The article argues that many of the sociological models of modernization in Europe in the 19th century are misleading due to their depiction of the past world as overly immobile, fragmented, agrarian, rural, but locally homogenous and integrated. Tilly offers the alternative view that social changes of this era and location are best observed as the interaction between the macro-processes of the growth of nation-states and expansion of capitalism.

GBS + GCL = ?

Political Contention

The article proposes a study which looks at how the development of capitalism and power concentration affects how ordinary people contend for their interests. Drawing from the findings of two previous studies, the Great Britain Study (GBS) and the Geography of Contention in London (GCL), this proposal utilizes a two-prong methodological approach of (1) searching for regularities and connections within a particular historical setting and (2) following the similarities and differences between collective-action experiences that occur within different levels of capitalism and state making. This method, Tilly argues, allows the researchers to address the central phenomena systematically without losing sight of its complexity.

The Analysis of Popular Collective Action

Political Contention

The article critiques unitary actor models of popular collective action, claiming that collective action is largely a strategic interaction among several parties and follows a dynamic that no single-actor model can represent. Utilizing a brief analysis of the rural conflicts of 1830 in England, this critique is illustrated and an alternative approach is offered which centers on the analysis of "repertoires of contention".