This collection captures the excitement and depth of a decade-long debate on what historical sociology is and what it ought to be, leading to larger questions about the role of general theory in the social sciences. The exchange began at a 1990 symposium of the American Sociological Association, when Michael Hechter and Edgar Kiser argued that historical sociologists, like other social scientists, should search for general causal principles that might explain the origins of national states and other large-scale forms of social organization. Their suggestion? Rational choice theory.
This met with criticism from historical sociologists who employ comparative and narrative analyses to give a context to sociologically significant events. Theoretical statements that disregard time and place were met with suspicion by the critics of rational choice theory.
The original Kiser and Hechter paper is reprinted here, along with the chapters "Have Historical Sociologists Forsaken Theory?"; "Realism, Rational Choice, and Relationality in Social Science"; "Limitations of Rational Choice Theory"; "Initial Conditions, General Laws, Path Dependence, and Explanation in Historical Sociology"; "Narrative, General Theory, and Historically Specific Theory"; plus replies by Kiser and Hechter
The result is a provocative exchange that calls into question the roles of history and theory in social science, their compatibility, and their epistemological foundations.