- Saving social history from itself
- Moving on from modernisation
- Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH)
Modernisation theory has been pronounced dead as often as it has been resurrected. Because of its pivotal position in social history, a genealogy of its adaptions provides a perspective on the crisis of social history. Moreover, it highlights how historians have struggled to abandon notions of Western exceptionalism and progress. The genealogical approach also exposes the problematic interplay between scholarly and popular definitions of modernisation. This article discusses how modernisation theory has been revised to account for criticism of its vagueness, teleology, dichotomisation of tradition and modernity, Western bias, and instrumentalisation. Revised versions of the theory have at once specified modernisation to apply to certain regions, periods and processes, and generalised it to denote processes which can be universally observed. Specification and generalisation further undermine the viability of modernisation for social history. Where a specified notion of modernisation is employed, it suggests correlation and broader relevance without substantiation. Generalised versions postulate modernisation and subsequently document it empirically. A genealogy of modernisation liberates valuable concepts of social history from this stranglehold. Processes such as urbanisation, structural differentiation, bureaucratisation, and scientification can be independently evaluated and their interdependency empirically assessed. Returning to the moderate ambition of identifying and applying theories of the middle range, social history can reclaim the middle ground between the social sciences and history.
- Other links
VanDam_2017_Saving social history_modernisation (Embargo up to and including 31 December 2018)
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