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Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons

Charles Tilly

Publication Year: 1984

This lively and erudite essay, now available in paperback, addresses a broad, central question: How can we improve our understanding of the large-scale social and political changes that transformed the world of the nineteenth century and are transforming our world today?   "In this short, brilliant book Tilly suggests a way to think about theories of historical social change....This book should find attentive readers both in undergraduate courses and in graduate seminars. It should also find appreciative readers, for Tilly is a writer as well as a scholar." —Choice

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

In 1982 the Russell Sage Foundation, one of America's oldest general purpose foundations, celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. To commemorate this long commitment to the support and dissemination of social science research, we departed from our customary publishing...

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pp. ix-x

Why do other people's books behave like docile marionettes? Mine keep playing Pinocchio. They take on characters of their own and resist correction. This one, for instance. When I sat down to write it, the book was supposed to end up mild-mannered, studious, and balanced...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Intellectual Equipment

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pp. 1-16

We bear the nineteenth century like an incubus. Inspect the map of almost any American city. Notice the telltale marks: rail lines slicing one section from another; a speculator's grid, with its numbered rectilinear streets and avenues repeating themselves to the horizon...

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2. Four Pernicious Postulates

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pp. 17-42

The nineteenth century's legacy to twentieth century social scientists resembles an old house inherited from a rich aunt: worn, overdecorated, cluttered, but probably salvageable. Appraising the old structure, we will want to save the belief in intelligible patterns of...

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3. Four More Pernicious Postulates

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pp. 43-59

No doubt the marked successes of evolutionary models in natural history encouraged nineteenth-century social theorists to adopt differentiation as a master principle of social change. The specialization of work, the subdivision of governments, the extension of commodity...

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4. Comparing

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pp. 60-86

How can we eradicate the pernicious postulates? Two approaches, one direct and the other indirect, promise to do the job. Directly, we should track the beasts to their dens, and battle them on their own grounds. We should look hard at the logical and evidential...

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5. Individual Comparisons

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pp. 87-96

Comparing large social units in order to identify their singularities has been with us a long time. When Montesquieu compared different parts of the world with respect to climate, topography, social life, and politics, he sometimes appeared to be seeking principles of variation...

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6. Universalizing Comparisons

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pp. 97-115

For the first half of the twentieth century, social scientists often did their theorizing in the form of standardized "natural histories" of different social phenomena. Individual careers, family lives, communities of a certain type, social movements, revolutions and civilizations...

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7. Finding Variation

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pp. 116-124

If we believed textbooks and learned essays on the subject, almost all valid comparison would be variation-finding: comparison establishing a principle of variation in the character or intensity of a phenomenon having more than one form by examining systematic differences...

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8. Encompassing Comparisons

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pp. 125-143

Encompassing comparisons begin with a large structure or process. They select locations within the structure or process and explain similarities or differences among those locations as consequences of their relationships to the whole. In everyday life, people use encompassing...

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9. Conclusions

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pp. 144-147

In the light of any formal logic of comparison, most of the inquiries we have been examining are ungainly indeed. On the scale of continents, national states, and regions, the matching of instances with each other only provides the grossest of natural experiments. Therein...


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pp. 148-168


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pp. 169-170


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pp. 171-180

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447720
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871548795
Print-ISBN-10: 0871548798

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 1984