A Way out of the Crisis: Methodologies of Early Modern Social History in France

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Abstract:

This article tracks the development of French social history from its Labroussian origins through to the uncertainties that beset the subject in the 1970s and 1980s, and the call for a tournant critique ('critical turning point') in response to the conceptual challenges to its traditional methodological approaches. It then describes the responses that emerged in the wake of the tournant critique, as social historians attempted to renew their field. Instead of pursuing the debate about whether 'class' or 'order' was a more useful category of analysis for early modern historians, French social historians have attempted, like their colleagues in the social sciences, to make the individual rather than collectivities the central focus of their research. The article outlines three approaches which try to capture the agency of individuals: prosopography, micro-history, and network analysis. Finally, the article makes the case that longitudinal studies can provide a means through which social history's traditional concerns with explaining the 'social' can be met whilst not losing sight of the exciting questions posed by cultural history in the last two decades.

Keywords: ANNALES; ERNEST LABROUSSE; MICRO-STUDIES; NETWORK ANALYSIS; PROSOPOGRAPHY; SOCIAL HISTORY; TOURNANT CRITIQUE; TRANSGENERATIONAL STUDIES

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/147800409X377929

Affiliations: Université Michel de Montaigne – Bordeaux III, France

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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