These are tumultuous times, yet again: a failed insurrection in the world’s oldest democracy, a pandemic costing lives and disrupting global supply chains, an ascending China altering geopolitical dynamics, and global warming threatening our very planet. What makes understanding our present so challenging is its constantly changing and hence historical nature. Comparative historical analysis (CHA) draws on an old research tradition that goes back to Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Polanyi and numerous other scholars who tried to understand modernity.
CHA employs a wide range of tools that place history and temporal dynamics at the center of its analysis and integrated the exploratory and confirmatory elements of social science research in a distinct way. This workshop introduces scholars who are interested in learning what CHA can do, how it complements existing more variance-based research traditions, and how it is more relevant as ever as our world continues to change at a rapid rate and making analyzing historical change more crucial than ever. The workshop is based on Professor Kreuzer’s forthcoming book “The Grammar of Time: A Toolkit for Comparative Historical Analysis” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023).
Marcus Kreuzer is professor of political science at Villanova University and a visiting professor at Central European University. He has worked on the development of party systems in interwar and post-communist Europe as well as on the origins of representative institutions in the 19th century. More recently, he has worked qualitative and historical social science methodologies.
Detailed Workshop Schedule
- Session 1 (9:00-10:30): Thinking Historically: Unfreezing History and Geography
CHA presumes that interesting and new research questions—particularly in an ever-changing world—rarely pose themselves. Identifying research questions requires initial exploration, journalistic-like description, and ultimately establishing a baseline for our understanding what is going on in a macro-historical phenomenon. Historical thinking plays a central role in this exploratory research stage because it serves as a to the existing theories and methodologies that have been used to analyze a phenomenon. These theories and methodologies entail ontological simplifications that background and mask the very complexities that contain the inductive insights to update the existing foreknowledge. Historical thinking involves an ontological pivot from the frozen history and geography informing existing theories to less frozen representation of social reality that is more attentive to historical and geographic particularities. It borrows this pivot from historians. Historians prefer to travel light when they head for the archives. They are mindful about the constraints that too much theory and methodology impose on their sleuthing instincts. Historians engage in a delicate ontological calibration process by constructing and deconstructing, by freezing and unfreezing geography, and, above all, the past to generate new insights.
This session illustrates historical thinking by illustrating how its ontological calibration differs from the frozen ontological assumptions informing statistical thinking.
- Session 2 (10:45-12:15): Thinking Temporally: Varieties of Time
Thinking historically involves thinking temporally. Historical thinking appears at first sight to involve a serendipitous and largely unsystematic sleuthing. On closer analysis, it is structured by deploying two notions of time—historical and physical time—as well as a specific temporal vocabulary. Temporal thinking does not come naturally and requires mastering this temporal vocabulary, just as statistics requires mastering probability theory. This session differentiates between four notions of historical time: cyclical, bounded, serial and eventful. Each notion freezes history to a different degree to serve distinct methodological purposes. The session therefore explicates the methodological constructions of history, the freezing history so that becomes properly align it the ontological requisites of a particular method. It then pivots to discussing five elements of physical time: tempo, duration, timing, sequencing, and stages. These mechanical, clock-like elements of physical time play a dual role in CHA. First, they serve to capture the more context independent elements of historical change and thereby better understand its differing rhythms. Second, they also serve to unfreeze, linear notions of causality (i.e. potential outcomes, average treatment effect) and elucidate more historical notions of causality.
- Session 3 (9:00-10:30): Varieties of Comparative Historical Analysis –
Eventful, Longue Durée, and Macro-Causal Analysis:
Eventful analysis is the most interpretivist, descriptive, and exploratory strand of CHA. It tries to establish what is going on, elucidate existing concepts, and identify historical continuities and discontinuities. It employs the most unfrozen notion of historical time—eventful history—and draws on physical time to analyze the rhythms at which history unfolds. Eventful analysis is deeply embedded in global history, diplomatic history, global historical sociology, constructivist international relations theory, American Political Development, historical institutionalism, the history of the welfare state, postcolonialism, and race and gender studies. Longue durée analysis explores longer-term, slower moving patterns of historical change by using time series and data visualization. It is the least developed strand of CHA and is used by economic historians, demographers, and evolutionary psychologists. Macro-causal analysis focuses on cross-sectional variations by developing historically situated and theoretically grounded explanations. It unfreezes linear notion of causality (i.e. potential outcome, average treatment effect) by paying close attention to the causal effects of timing, sequencing, tempo and duration. This none-linear notion of causality is referred to as historical causation.
- Session 4 (10:45-12:15): Abduction and Research Cycles:
Despite its emphasis on exploration, CHA remains committed to advancing theoretically grounded explanations that are empirically validated in a transparent and replicable fashion. However, given its commitment to placing questions before methods, CHA is unwilling to define itself in terms of a single causal inference strategy. It selects instead among different research designs the one most appropriate for the question being answered. CHA follows an abductive or Bayesian logic that emphasizes the updating of existing explanations in light of new inductive insights. This abductive logic is reflected in its broader understanding of methodology as research cycles (rather than just causal inference) and its reliance on historical explanations and process tracing.