Comparative and Historical Sociology Section

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Committee: Richard Lachmann (chair); Stefan Bargheer, Gurminder Bhambra

Co-Winner: Michael Mann. 2012. The Sources of Social Power, volume 3: Global Empires and Revolution 1890-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Statement from award committee: Volume Three carries Michael Mann’s epic and comprehensive analysis of The Sources of Social Power from the late nineteenth century, when British hegemony came under challenge at the same time as European powers and Japan intensified the scope and depth of their colonial rule, through the end of World War II when the United States emerged as the new hegemon. Mann focuses his attention on the dynamics of the British, U.S. and Japanese empires. He shows how interactions among holders of, and institutions that exercise, economic, political, military and cultural power produced a resurgence of empire even as the number and power of nation states increased and capitalism became increasingly globalized.

Mann shows how the crises of the two World Wars and the Great Depression undid Western Empires, while making possible the Soviet and Chinese revolutions. Among other achievements, Mann offers a new theory of revolution that gives proper attention to military factors in sparking and determining the outcomes and consequences of revolutions. He explores the sources and ultimate limits of the fascist and Soviet alternatives to capitalism. This volume will reorient work on empires, revolutions, war, and global capitalism. This is comparative historical sociology at its ambitious best.

Co-Winner: Monica Prasad. 2012. The Land of Too Much: American Abundance and the Paradox of Poverty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Statement from award committee: The US has typically been understood as having a history of minimal state intervention and a laissez-faire political economy. This is also associated with its characterisation as a ‘weak state’. In The Land of Too Much, Monica Prasad turns this conventional wisdom on its head by bringing together a wealth of evidence that demonstrates the extensive history of US state intervention and puts forward an alternative thesis through which this history could be understood. Paradoxically, Prasad argues that the regressive policies of the late twentieth century US were set in motion by a series of progressive interventions in the first half of that century. An agrarian compact in the early twentieth century came into being to address issues of price volatility, but ended up consolidating a peculiarly North American form of private welfare around a credit-based political economy.

The book is a careful and detailed examination of the American case, but it is also placed in a powerful comparative frame to address an important theoretical puzzle in the historical sociology of welfare states. Much literature demonstrates the path-dependent nature of institutional developments and the coalitions associated with them. However, Prasad tackles the question of how new paths can be taken and how institutional formations can reconstruct the coalitions that gave rise to them. Given the focus on credit-based political economy, the book also shows how an empirically subtle and theoretically informed analysis can use history to provoke thought about the present and possible new paths for development. It is a superb work of the sociological imagination, pertinent to our current times and its politics of the past.

Honorable Mention: Andreas Wimmer. 2012. Waves of War: Nationalism, State Formation, and Ethnic Exclusion in the Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Statement from award committee: Why did the nation-state proliferate across the world over the past 200 years, replacing empires, kingdoms, city-states, and the like? Analyzing datasets that cover 145 territories from 1816 to 2001, Waves of War traces the emergence of the nation-state, its subsequent proliferation across the globe, and the resulting waves of international war and domestic conflict. To understand these processes, the book highlights changing configurations of political power and legitimacy - the shift from imperial or dynastic principles to the nationalist ideal of self-rule. The resulting power struggles over the ethno-national character of the nation state foster an escalation into civil wars. Interstate wars can result from attempts to protect co-nationals who are politically excluded in neighboring states. Waves of War thus provides a corrective to approaches that exclude ethnic and nationalist politics as factors that help understanding the dynamics of war. It shows that democratic institutions as such do not foster peace and instead recommends the depoliticization of ethnicity through long-term processes of nation building as a measure for preventing war.


Committee: Isaac Ariail Reed (Chair), Krishan Kumar, Aaron Major, Alvaro Santana-Acuña

Winner: Elisabeth Anderson (Northwestern). 2012. "Ideas in Action: The Politics of Prussian Child Labor Reform, 1817-1839". Theory and Society 42: 81-119.

Statement from award committee: The committee for the Charles Tilly Award for best paper in Comparative-Historical Sociology was delighted to select Elisabeth Anderson's “Ideas in action: the politics of Prussian child labor reform, 1817-1839” as our single winner. Her paper proposes a new explanation of the origins of Prussia's labor regulation law of 1839, widely viewed by historians as an essential moment in the development of what we now recognize as modern social policy. In passing the particular labor protections that they did, moreover, the Prussian bureaucracy passed over a law proposed by the minister of education, and instead adopted, with some modifications, the child labor policy of a provincial governor. To explain why and how this occurred, Anderson develops a new approach to the role of ideas in policymaking. Focusing both how ideas motivate action, as well as how they serve as their own kind of strategically useful resources, Anderson develops an effective contrastive explanation of what happened in Prussia, and pushes all of us towards a more effective sociological understanding of ideation and its consequences. This includes a series of important methodological reflections on the difficulty—but also the necessity—of seeking to understand motivations of key political actors via the use of historical documents, and an extremely enlightening theoretical section on “ideas as resources and liabilities.” Anderson places all of this in the larger context of power politics and structural change.


Committee: Colin Beck (Chair), Erin Murphy, Ben Herzog

Winner: Jaeeun Kim (Stanford), "Colonial Migration and Transborder Membership Politics in Twentieth-Century Korea."

Statement from award committee: Kim's exceptionally well-written study historicizes current scholarship on ethnic identity and citizenship and breaks new ground by combining historical and ethnographic approaches in an exploration of Korea's diaspora throughout the last century. The primary processes charted are path-dependent, entwined with state bureaucracy and geo-political competition, and a product of performative and agentic expressions of identity. Kim demonstrates that Korean national identity was perversely solidified by the bureaucratic practices of the Japanese Empire even as migration took place across former national borders. After World War II, the Korean diaspora in Japan became an arena for competition between North and South through distinctive legal documentation regimes while Koreans in China found national recognition as a minority. Since the collapse of communism, migrants to South Korea have struggled to assert their belonging in the face of suspicion, stigma, and an ambivalent bureaucracy. Kim's study is a tour de force of historicized social science and engaging read cover to cover. 

Honorable Mention: Kevan Harris (Princeton), "The Martyrs Welfare State: Politics of Social Policy in the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Statement from award committee: In "The Martyrs Welfare State", Harris escapes the trap of popular wisdom about Iran through a combination of careful historical analysis, primary sources, interviews, and participant-observation of state-building efforts both before and after the 1979 revolution. Harris argues that the Islamic Republic is better seen as a developmental state rather than a rentier state. Crucially, Harris documents the construction of a welfare system that reaches marginalized and rural populations in addition to the inherited welfare state of the Pahlavi monarchy enhancing both social development and state capacity. As a consequence, the Islamic Republic has simultaneously empowered middle class opposition but also impeded the formation of broad coalitions, creating a more durable regime than most have given it credit for.


Committee: Nina Bandelj (Chair), Claire Decoteau, Matthew Norton, Nicholas Hoover Wilson

Winner: Yael Berda (Princeton), “The Peculiar Persistence of Colonial Legacies: Why New Nations Reproduce State Practices against which their Founders Struggled."

Statement from award committee: Berda effectively starts with a puzzle in observing that state administrations in independent post-colonial states used the very same authoritarian legal measures they fought hard against to achieve liberation and independence. How can this be explained? To answer this question, Berda uses an empirical case of administrative and bureaucratic continuity, despite radical state transformation under colonialism in Israel, with comparative cases of Palestine and India. The committee was very impressed by how thoroughly and creatively the paper returns to the Weberian concept of the massive inertia of bureaucracy, even in the face of revolution. It does so in a way that significantly enriches the neoinstitutionalist program by identifying four pathways to institutional isomorphism that all have the potential to resist political change: institutional inertia, juridical memory, administrative memory and historical emulation. The analysis of cases is richly historicized and provides a compelling account for how different historical conjunctures can produce continuity. Berda succeeds in giving us innovative tools to think with in answering a fundamental question on how institutions restrict or facilitate political change.

Honorable Mention: Deirdre Bloome and Christopher Muller (Harvard), "Slavery and African-American Marriage in the Postbellum South, 1860-1880."

Statement from award committee: Common explanation has it that African Americans’ relatively low marriage rate today is due to their historical experience of enslavement. Bloome and Muller challenge this explanation and provide new evidence on the relationship between the antebellum prevalence of slavery and postbellum African- American marriage rates. They argue persuasively that slavery affected family life, in part, by shaping the organization of agricultural production in the postbellum South, which by 1880 was dominated by tenant farming. In their careful empirical analysis, they find that if southern counties are involved in slavery in 1860 this has a significant positive effect on their African-American marriage rates in 1880. In fact, about a half of the relationship between slavery and marriage can be attributed to the rise of tenant farming and sharecropping. In committee’s assessment, Bloom and Mueller significantly contribute to our understanding of an important, unexpected demographic pattern, during a critical episode of American social change. They provide a careful reading of secondary sources to develop and refine hypotheses, and innovatively use quantitative primary data to answer a historical comparative question, by neither giving up the specificity of their case as a whole nor sacrifice the leverage given by geographic variation.