This seminar will examine four central examples of social change:
• the origins of markets and industrial capitalism;
• the emergence of democracy as opposed to dictatorship;
• the causes and consequences of social revolution; and
• the logic of armed conflict.
For each topic, we will use two approaches to “case-based” work:
• comparative and historical works of research examining large-scale processes of change that shape our world today; and
• accounts of alternate realities in science fiction or fantastic literature or film that provide a compelling lens through which to view the present.
Both offer distinctive ways of understanding the current moment. And both are rooted in the importance of being able to imagine and explore the variety of ways social arrangements hang together, why they emerge, and what difference it makes that things work out in a particular way.
This course examines social change from the perspective of comparative and historical sociology, highlighting rich and telling ways of getting at the questions ‘where are we now?’ and ‘how have we arrived here?’ A central goal of the course is to give students a critical appreciation of the particular forms social explanation takes in comparative and historical inquiry. This requires not only familiarity with methodological concerns in the literature, but more importantly, close reading of exemplary works in the field. Much of our time will be spent trying to wrestle with causal inference in notable works of historical comparative research, or on what basis the analyst is able to make more or less persuasive causal claims about patterns of change. We will focus on the power of case-based scholarship to illuminate and explain, examining strategies of causal inference as well as the kinds of evidence marshaled by scholars to substantiate their claims according to each of these strategies. In this connection, we will explore the role of hypothetical counterfactuals—of ‘what might have been’—in producing adequate explanation as well as rich understanding of whatever it is that the scholar is trying to explain.