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Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation

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Overview


While social scientists and historians have been exchanging ideas for a long time, they have never developed a proper dialogue about social theory. William H. Sewell Jr. observes that on questions of theory the communication has been mostly one way: from social science to history. Logics of History argues that both history and the social sciences have something crucial to offer each other. While historians do not think of themselves as theorists, they know something social scientists do not: how to think about the temporalities of social life. On the other hand, while social scientists’ treatments of temporality are usually clumsy, their theoretical sophistication and penchant for structural accounts of social life could offer much to historians.

Renowned for his work at the crossroads of history, sociology, political science, and anthropology, Sewell argues that only by combining a more sophisticated understanding of historical time with a concern for larger theoretical questions can a satisfying social theory emerge. In Logics of History, he reveals the shape such an engagement could take, some of the topics it could illuminate, and how it might affect both sides of the disciplinary divide.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Social History

"A pathbreaking book: intelligent, probing, and as good at raising new questions as it is at addressing old ones. It makes a highly original contribution to discussions of the relationships between the social sciences and history that will be of interest to specialists on all sides."

— Daniel Little

Journal of Modern History

"This rigorously argued treatise on the social theoretical implications of the contingent, sequential, and fateful character of human action may prove to be the most important theoretically engaged book written by a professional historian in the past generation. . . . An ideal text for any graduate course in 'theory and history' and for any campus's cross-disciplinary faculty seminar."

— David A. Hollinger

Canadian Journal of Sociology

"This is a thorough and engaging analysis of how utilizing a historical ontology can mitigate inherent problems in sociological methodology and anthropological theory. . . . This work is a brilliant expose of the ontologies and methodologies of the verious social sciences and is certainly applicable for use across the social science disciplines. . . . I would not doubt that this work finds its place in history as a landmark exposition."—J. David Granger, Canadian Journal of Sociology

— J. David Granger

International Review of Social History

"Over the past thirty-five years William H. Sewell has established himself as one of the leading social historians of his generation. One thing that makes him, as he notes, still fairly unusual is his willingness to reflect on the methods and assumptions of the forms of enquiry in which he engages. . . . This collection is . . . evidence of the fertility of the project."—Alex Callinicos, International Review of Social History

— Alex Callinicos

Canadian Journal of Sociology
This is a thorough and engaging analysis of how utilizing a historical ontology can mitigate inherent problems in sociological methodology and anthropological theory. . . . This work is a  brilliant expose of the ontologies and methodologies of the verious social sciences and is certainly applicable for use across the social science disciplines. . . . I would not doubt that this work finds its place in history as a landmark exposition.

— J. David Granger

International Review of Social History
Over the past thirty-five years William H. Sewell has established himself as one of the leading social historians of his generation. One thing that makes him, as he notes, still fairly unusual is his willingness to reflect on the methods and assumptions of the forms of enquiry in which he engages. . . . This collection is . . . evidence of the fertility of the project.

— Alex Callinicos

Journal of Social History
A pathbreaking book: intelligent, probing, and as good at raising new questions as it is at addressing old ones. It makes a highly original contribution to discussions of the relationships between the social sciences and history that will be of interest to specialists on all sides.

— Daniel Little

Journal of Modern History
This rigorously argued treatise on the social theoretical implications of the contingent, sequential, and fateful character of human action may prove to be the most important theoretically engaged book written by a professional historian in the past generation. . . . An ideal text for any graduate course in 'theory and history' and for any campus's cross-disciplinary faculty seminar.

— David A. Hollinger

Mich�le Lamont
Logics of History initiates dialogue between historians and social scientists about social theory and shows historians that they have important contributions to make to current theoretical discussions. Written by one of the most influential and widely respected historians today, it is a book that will make the intellectual history of our times.”
Keith Baker - Keth Baker

"This is a truly significant work. Logics of History will set the agenda for theoretical discussion about the nature of social transformations and the relation between history and the social sciences for years to come."
Sherry B. Ortner

"If 'events' are, according to William H. Sewell Jr., 'that relatively rare subclass of happenings that significantly transforms structures,' then Logics of History is surely an event. His extraordinary range of intellectual and cultural knowledge across multiple social science disciplines puts him in a position to make novel and brilliant connections. The relationship between history and social theory will never be the same."
Canadian Journal of Sociology - J. David Granger

"This is a thorough and engaging analysis of how utilizing a historical ontology can mitigate inherent problems in sociological methodology and anthropological theory. . . . This work is a  brilliant expose of the ontologies and methodologies of the verious social sciences and is certainly applicable for use across the social science disciplines. . . . I would not doubt that this work finds its place in history as a landmark exposition."
International Review of Social History - Alex Callinicos

"Over the past thirty-five years William H. Sewell has established himself as one of the leading social historians of his generation. One thing that makes him, as he notes, still fairly unusual is his willingness to reflect on the methods and assumptions of the forms of enquiry in which he engages. . . . This collection is . . . evidence of the fertility of the project."
Journal of Social History - Daniel Little

"A pathbreaking book: intelligent, probing, and as good at raising new questions as it is at addressing old ones. It makes a highly original contribution to discussions of the relationships between the social sciences and history that will be of interest to specialists on all sides."
Journal of Modern History - David A. Hollinger

"This rigorously argued treatise on the social theoretical implications of the contingent, sequential, and fateful character of human action may prove to be the most important theoretically engaged book written by a professional historian in the past generation. . . . An ideal text for any graduate course in 'theory and history' and for any campus's cross-disciplinary faculty seminar."
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Product Details

Meet the Author


William H. Sewell Jr. is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and History at the University of Chicago. He is the author of three previous books, including Work and Revolution in France and A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution.
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Table of Contents

1 Theory, history, and social science 1
2 The political unconscious of social and cultural history, or, confessions of a former quantitative historian 22
3 Three temporalities : toward an eventful sociology 81
4 A theory of structure : duality, agency, and transformation 124
5 The concept(s) of culture 152
6 History, synchrony, and culture : reflections on the work of Clifford Geertz 175
7 A theory of the event : Marshall Sahlins's "possible theory of history" 197
8 Historical events as transformations of structures : inventing revolution at the Bastille 225
9 Historical duration and temporal complexity : the strange career of Marseille's dockworkers, 1814-70 271
10 Refiguring the "social" in social science : an interpretivist manifesto 318
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