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History and the “processing” of class in social theory

Theorizing the Dynamics of Social Processes

ISBN: 978-0-85724-223-5, eISBN: 978-0-85724-224-2

Publication date: 30 September 2010


Despite the theoretical shortcomings of recent historical work on social processes, the historical discipline has a role to play in the theorization of social dynamics. As the work of the late sociologist Charles Tilly (2008, p. 9) has emphasized, the larger-scale theoretical type of social-process analysis may benefit from a more small-scale historical awareness of “the influence of particular times and places.” In Tilly's view, the sociological accounts of social processes that lack the sense of temporal transitions which characterizes historical analysis will “rarely identify the component mechanisms, much less their combinations and sequences.” By contrast, a historical approach to the “big structures, large processes, huge comparisons” (see Tilly, 1984) of social processes may put forward an analytical program that “couples a search for mechanisms of very general scope with arguments that […] lend themselves to ‘local theory,’ in which the explanatory mechanisms and processes operate quite broadly but combine locally as a function of initial conditions and adjacent processes to produce distinctive trajectories and outcomes.” These local elements of history may aggregate together into a more general pattern of theory: “Mechanisms compound into processes: combinations and sequences of mechanisms that produce some specified outcome at a larger scale than any single mechanism.” The temporal dimension of a historical analysis has a capacity to theorize social processes by telling a story of beginnings that carry forward into points of culmination.


Maslen, J. (2010), "History and the “processing” of class in social theory", Dahms, H.F. and Hazelrigg, L. (Ed.) Theorizing the Dynamics of Social Processes (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 27), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 101-121.



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