Over the past 20 years, historical sociology in international relations (HSIR) has contributed to a number of debates, ranging from examination of the origins of the modern states system to unraveling the core features and relative novelty of the contemporary historical period. By the late 1980s and 1990s, a small number of IR scholars drew explicitly on historical sociological insights in order to counter the direction that the discipline was taking under the auspices of the neo-neo debate. Later scholars moved away from examining the specific interconnections between international geopolitics and domestic social change. A further difference that marked this second wave from the first was that it was driven principally by IR scholars working within IR. To date, HSIR has sought to reveal not only the different forms that international systems have taken in the past, but also the ways in which the modern system cannot be treated as an ontological given. Historical sociologists in IR are unanimous in asserting that rethinking the constitutive properties and dynamics of the contemporary system can be successfully achieved only by applying what amounts to a more sensitive “nontempocentric” historical sociological lens. At the same time, by tracing the historical sociological origins of the present international order, HSIR scholars are able to reveal some of the continuities between the past and the present, thereby dispensing with the dangers of chronofetishism.
John M. Hobson, George Lawson, and Justin Rosenberg
Besnik Pula and Yannis A. Stivachtis
Historical Sociology (HS) is a subfield of sociology studying the structures and processes that have shaped important features of the modern world, including the development of the rational bureaucratic state, the emergence of capitalism, international institutions and trade, transnational forces, revolutions, and warfare. HS differs from other approaches in sociology given its distinction between routine social activities and transformative moments that fundamentally reshape social structures and institutions. Within international relations, the relevance of history in the field’s study has been highly disputed. In fact, mainstream international relations (IR)—Neorealism and Liberalism—has downplayed the importance of history. Nevertheless, World History (WH) and HS have exercised a significant degree of influence over certain theoretical approaches to the study of international relations. The history of HS can be traced back to the Enlightenment period and the belief that it was possible to improve the human condition by unmaking and remaking human institutions. HS was then taken up by a second wave of historical sociologists who were asking questions about political power and the state, paving the way for greater engagement between IR and sociology. Third wave HS, meanwhile, emerged from a questioning of received theoretical paradigms, and was thus characterized by theoretical and methodological revisions, but only minor and incremental changes to the research agenda of second wave Historical Sociology.