The Grammar of Time: How Comparative Historical Analysis Enriches Social Inquiry

These are tumultuous times, yet again: populists challenging democratic norms everywhere, a pandemic upending lives and supply chains, a senseless war on Europe’s doorsteps, and global warming threatening our very planet. What makes understanding our present so challenging is its constantly changing and hence historical nature. History not only transforms our world but also our research agendas. History thus requires close attention. Comparative Historical Analysis (CHA) has long studied such macro-historical questions, trying to build a bridge between the more ideographic work of historians and the nomothetic works of variance-based scholars. In doing so, it has to grapple with vexing methodological issues. How do we explore and describe a constantly changing social world so that we can update our questions? How do we incorporate time more closely in social inquiry and what notions of time are most pertinent? How appropriate are the prevailing, linear notions of causality for complex, constantly mutating, macro historical phenomena? What sort of methodological dialogue is possible between CHA, variance-based, and strictly historical approaches? This talk discusses answers offered in my forthcoming book The Grammar of Time: A Toolbox for Comparative Historical Analysis (Cambridge, 2023)