History and Sociology: Some Methodological Considerations
American sociology has been criticized for having departed from the historical concerns of its nineteenth-century European founders. This departure was characterized by a shift from a macroscopic to a more microscopic focus on society, from studies of social change and aspects of total societies, viewed in a historical and comparative perspective, to the study of interpersonal relations, the structure of small groups, and the analysis of the decision-making process, accompanied by an emphasis on improving the quantitative methodology appropriate to these topics. This change suggested to its critics that modern sociology had lost contact with its original intellectual traditions. The writings of men such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto were apparently of contemporary interest only insofar as they had attempted to specify functional relationships and social psychological processes of the type that interested latter-day sociologists.
There are many examples which indicate ways in which sociological research has made major errors by ignoring historical evidence. Oscar Handlin and Stephan Thernstrom have given us an illustration of the weakness of ahistorical sociology when they demonstrate how W. Lloyd Warner misinterpreted a number of patterns in his Yankee City series of studies of a New England community by relying on contemporary reports concerning past patterns and ignoring the actual history of the community as available in documentary sources.1____________________