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When politics meets history: introduction to comparative historical analysis (CHA)

2020-05-04 3897159

Editor's note
Contemporary comparative politics, especially in the United States, is facing a methodological crisis dominated by the research of econometrics and formal models. Comparative historical analysis is devoted to the discussion of such fundamental issues as the grand "first order issues", which is regarded as an important response to the current methodological crisis. In view of the current situation that there are few excellent comparative historical analysis works in the domestic political circle due to the lack of normative method consciousness, this paper focuses on its latest development in the Western comparative political research and its possible application in the domestic comparative political research, systematically introduces the comparative historical analysis methods, and then enriches the emerging comparative political research in China.
About the author
Huang Jie, assistant professor, School of government management, Nanjing University.
Due to the superstition of large sample statistics and formal models, many substantive and important issues in human social life are ignored in Contemporary Western comparative political studies. As a research paradigm with profound academic tradition, comparative historical analysis is an important response of some western scholars to this methodological crisis. Comparatively speaking, comparative historical analysis is especially devoted to providing historical and deep causal interpretation of social science for large-scale social results. They not only pay attention to the grand historical problems, but also try to provide causal explanations for these problems. They not only use the comparison between cases to determine the causal effect of historical problems, but also pay attention to the analysis within cases to explore the causal mechanism behind them. They are not only keen to pursue the long historical causes of economic and social results, while emphasizing the importance of historical sequence. Although the domestic political circle has always been good at the study of history, there are few excellent works of comparative historical analysis due to the lack of normative method consciousness. With the help of comparative historical analysis, Chinese scholars can not only carry out transnational comparison on local political issues, but also integrate the advantages of different research methods to flourish comparative political research in China.
1、 Introduction
Contemporary comparative politics is facing a serious methodological crisis. As the center of comparative political research, American political circle has been dominated by the research of econometric and formal model orientation. Not only do major academic journals prefer these studies, but professional training in universities and research institutions is also designed around the methods needed for this type of research. Although they do make comparative political research more "scientific" on the surface, the excessive technicalization also brings about a very serious problem: scholars are busy pursuing various cool methods, while neglecting the fundamental purpose of academic research is to provide "substantial enlightenment" about the real world. Limited by the availability of data and the applicability of measurement methods, many fundamental and important issues have been intentionally or unintentionally avoided, and the "politics" factor in political science research is becoming less and less. Some scholars are worried to point out that this is a kind of "pathological prosperity" of discipline development: Although more and more technically skilled achievements appear, they have not effectively increased our substantive understanding of the real world.
As a coping strategy, some western scholars turn to the path of comparative historical analysis. The so-called comparative historical analysis is to analyze historical events in-depth through the method of comparison in order to obtain a general explanation beyond specific events. As the name implies, comparative history analysis is defined by two core elements: history and comparison. History provides empirical materials for the study of this orientation, and comparison is their basic research method. Different from the research dominated by econometrics and formal models, comparative historical analysis usually examines some grand "first order issues", such as the origin of capitalism, the construction of modern countries, the occurrence of revolution and social movements, democratic transformation and consolidation, different models of economic development, etc. These fundamental questions about our time have long been ignored by technology oriented research institutes. The revival of comparative historical analysis brings these fundamental issues back to our discussion, increases our understanding of the era of rapid change, and brings a traditional and fresh breath to comparative political research. Therefore, comparative historical analysis is considered by some scholars to be the fundamental way for comparative politics to get rid of the methodological dilemma dominated by technology and regain its vitality.
This paper is a brief introspective introduction to the comparative historical analysis method in contemporary political science research. In fact, domestic scholars are not new to comparative historical analysis. Due to the specific academic and social environment, the academic growth of the first group of political scholars after the reform and opening up has more or less benefited from some classic comparative historical works, such as Barrington Moore's the social origin of democracy and autocracy, Samuel Huntington's the political order of the changing society and Sida skochebo's the national and social revolution. However, in the past two decades, comparative historical analysis in the West has made great progress, but the domestic academic circle has little knowledge of it. In view of this, this paper will focus on the latest development and challenges of this method in Western comparative political research, and also briefly point out the possible application of this method in domestic comparative political research. Through this introspective introduction, the author hopes that more domestic scholars will attach importance to comparative historical analysis and apply it to their own research, so as to enrich the emerging comparative political research in China.
2、 The tradition of comparative historical analysis
As a professional concept, comparative historical analysis was formally put forward in the book comparative historical analysis in Social Sciences, which was co edited and published by James Mahoney and Dietrich rushmayer in 2003. The publication of the book symbolizes that comparative historical analysis has successfully established itself as an important social science research path. Although this is a very recent thing, comparative historical analysis, as a research tradition, has a deep foundation in social science. Before the formal emergence of modern social science, some important scholars such as Montesquieu and Adam Smith often used the method of comparative history in their works, which had a continuous impact on later researchers. After the emergence of modern social science, the method of comparative history has been used and developed more systematically by scholars. In retrospect, comparative historical analysis has three waves of research.
The first wave of research appeared in the late 19th century. Scholars involved in this wave are also important founders of modern social sciences, including Marx, Engels, Tocqueville, Weber, etc. In the face of the unprecedented changes in social life since the industrial revolution, they are strongly aware of the need to describe and analyze changes in a new way to explain the origin of changes. For this reason, the first generation of researchers usually pay attention to very grand problems, especially around the origin of capitalism, the formation of modern state and the fate of human society. In order to answer these questions, the first generation of researchers used the methods of history and comparison consciously or unconsciously to obtain the wisdom of the great transformation of the times and on this basis to construct the "meta theory" of modern social science. For example, by comparing the new world with the old world, Tocqueville found that the active community life is the social basis of the success of American democracy in on American democracy, while the aristocracy remains an important factor hindering the development of European democracy. In Protestant Ethics and capitalist spirit, Weber systematically compared the social and cultural conditions of Western Europe and non Western Europe, and found that the reason why Western Europe took the lead in developing the capitalist mode of production in modern times was largely due to the rational calculation and the struggle of the Protestant ethics after the religious reform. As the classics of social science, these early works are still studied by scholars and affect the thinking of later generations.
The second wave of comparative historical analysis appeared in 1960s-1970s. At that time, in research methods, behaviorism revolution was in the ascendant, and statistical technology was widely used in social science research. In the research paradigm, structural functionalism prevails, ignoring the complexity of history. Dissatisfied with the orientation of these studies, some scholars with good historical and social science training, including Barrington Moore, Charles Tilly, Sida skochebo, Perry Anderson, etc., devoted themselves to comparative historical analysis. On the basis of inheriting the grand issues of the first generation of research, the second generation of researchers try to give the "middle-level theory" of political and social change through more clear case comparison. For example, in "the social origin of democracy and autocracy", which is widely regarded as a pioneering work of comparative historical analysis, Moore found that there are three different modes of modernization in different countries by comparing the modern political development paths of Britain, France, the United States, China and Japan: the path of parliamentary democracy, the path of fascism and the path of communism. In explaining the path differences among different countries, Moore paid special attention to the domestic class relations, especially the role of the upper class landlords and farmers. As a former student of Moore, scotcher systematically compares the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the Russian Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century and the Chinese revolution in the first half of the 20th century. Based on the comparison of the three revolutions, skochebo pointed out that the revolution did not originate from the subjective efforts of the revolutionary vanguard, but from the specific structural conditions, namely, the military failure of the country and the specific domestic class relations. As Mahoney and others pointed out, the prosperity of research in this period "brought history back to the research of social science", and established the position of comparative historical analysis.
The third wave of comparative historical analysis appeared in the 1990s and continues to this day. At this stage, on the one hand, American social science research is further "scientific", and statistical analysis and rational choice theory occupy the mainstream. On the other hand, the hermeneutic research which has postmodern color and denies scientific value is also rising gradually. It is against this background that a group of young scholars seek to further standardize and institutionalize comparative historical analysis. A landmark event, as mentioned earlier, was the publication of comparative historical analysis in Social Sciences in 2003. In addition, the progress of comparative historical analysis published in 2015 is a further discussion on this research method. It was mainly completed by a group of new generation scholars who rose after 2000, and systematically reviewed the latest achievements and challenges of comparative historical analysis. Although there are no classic works with lasting influence such as the social origin of democracy and autocracy and the national and social revolution in the third generation of research, a dynamic research community has been formed. At the same time, compared with their predecessors, the research of the third generation also presents a new trend worthy of attention: (1) a stronger sense of methodology. In general, the younger generation of researchers have received systematic method training and turned to focus on comparative history research, so they have a strong sense of method when conducting research. (2) Broader research topics. In response to the changes of the times, the young generation of scholars brought some new issues into the research field, including technological change, ethnic conflict, gender equality, ecological crisis and so on. At the same time, a new generation of scholars break through the traditional tradition of Europe and the United States

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