Objectives of the Section

The purpose of the Comparative and Historical Sociology section of the American Sociological Association is to promote sociological research and teaching on cross-national variation and the temporal dimensions of social life. Section members are distinguished by their range of theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. The themes of investigation addressed by section members are likewise manifold, including such issues as revolution, the welfare state, state formation, aspects of culture, law and social control, and political economy.

Recent chairs of the section have addressed some of the current and future directions in the areas of comparative and historical sociology. Former chair Charles Ragin (Section Chair in 2000-2001) has most recently argued that there is a trend to be discerned in comparative-historical research over the last three decades from theory to cases. This increasing importance of case study research, Ragin maintains, has brought about a greater need for scholars to integrate and synthesize the results of case study research. Of course, this also implies a growing need for more discussion of case study methods as well as the characteristics of a valid and reliable case study (see Ragin’s essay and related papers in the Newsletter, Fall 2000).

Recently, David Stark (Columbia University, Section Chair in 1998-1999) urged us to broaden the legacy of sociological thought inherited from the 19th century to not only consider state and class but also “racial, ethnic, and gendered forms” as well as other and new “organizational forms that are emerging at the interstices of the structures of states.” Professor Stark specifically included attention to multinational corporations; the global organization of women’s groups; international provisions on human rights; international criminal networks and transnational police agencies; and new patterns of migration and new forms of marginality. The task for comparative and historical sociologists is to develop categories that are “better for understanding the momentous social transformations in which we are living.” (quotes from an essay by David Stark in the Newsletter, Fall 1998).

Ewa Morawska (University of Pennsylvania, Section Chair in 1999-2000) has also sought to extend our section’s mission, specifically by confronting the challenges of the ‘here and now’ head-on. Professor Morawska cautions us to not just rely on our areas’ success. She argues that we still have much to do to convince our mainstream colleagues that historical sociologists are not mere students of what happened long ago and comparative sociologists not mere students of what happens elsewhere.