C omparative and H istorical S ociology

Authored by: Jean H. Quataert , Benita Roth

T he H andbook of S ociology and H uman R ights

Print publication date:  February  2013
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9781594518829
eBook ISBN: 9781315634227
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258391


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A historical and sociological approach to human rights activism raises new and challenging questions of interest to both historians and sociologists working in the field. Despite expectations of a growing convergence between the two disciplines, seen partly in the rise to prominence of historical sociology as a separate subfield of inquiry by the late 1970s, scholars in each discipline continue to approach research with distinct methods, questions, concepts, and purposes (Bonnell 1980; Skocpol 1984). And yet, human rights research offers a fruitful basis for renewed interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange, particularly with regard to transnationality in social movements. The historian's approach, with its attention to the specificity of time and place, as well as its roots in primary archival and published sources, offers precisely the rich empirical data with which sociologists can formulate, test, and refine theories and concepts. Historians also contribute a set of distinct questions reflecting the contingent nature of historical change. While a unique byproduct of the historical perspective, they are of potential interest to sociologists. In turn, sociologists reconstruct patterns of national and transnational claims making for rights, and historical sociologists also bring a discussion of historical details and contingency into the assessment of these patterns. Skocpol notes that historical sociological studies examine "concretely situated" dynamics and "address processes over time," with serious methodological focus on the way that actions take place in time and within structural constraints (1984, 4). As a historian and a historical sociologist, we demonstrate in this chapter a beneficial convergence of interests around the international and transnational nexus of organizing, transnational social-movement theories, gender, and global interactions among feminist activists.

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