Introduction: Thematic Controversies and New Developments in the Uses of Historical Materials by Sociologists

Chirot, Daniel
December 1976
Social Forces;Dec76, Vol. 55 Issue 2, p232
Academic Journal
This article focuses on thematic controversies and new developments in the uses of historical materials by sociologists. The author began work on this collection in early 1974 with the idea of assembling samples or all the major types of research being carried out with historical materials by American sociologists. The author believes that there are three major controversies represented in this collection, and that these are among the most important in the field today. The word controversy may not be suitable. A better term is antithetical themata. Just as natural scientists seem to choose their thematic positions for idiosyncratic, "quasi-esthetic" reasons, so do sociologists. And once devoted to a thema, a scientist can hold on to it with obstinate loyalty. That does not make a particular position right or wrong. But it makes for bitter arguments that are often treated as If they were in the x-y plane where verification and falsification are possible. Since they lie on the z axis, arguments are not resolved. The first antithetical thematic couplet relates to the part played by ideas in history vs. material and technological factors. Ideologies, belief systems, have a life of their own that is not precisely, but only loosely tied to material conditions. Today, socialist ideologies crop up all over the world, no matter how different economic conditions may be. Ideology takes on an importance considerably greater than if it were merely a reflection of various class or material interests.


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