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The State and Social History

From: Journal of Social History
Volume 39, Number 3, Spring 2006
pp. 771-778 | 10.1353/jsh.2006.0009

Abstract

Social history emerged in the 1950s and 1960s out of two contradictory impulses. On the one hand, social historians sought to recapture the lives and experiences of the working class and other dispossessed groups. At the same time, social history was connected by a number of its early practitioners with major political projects. It was very self-consciously part of a larger analysis of a capitalist system with the aim of transcending that system and establishing socialism. It thus took seriously the analysis of state power. There was some tension between a social history that sought to reconstruct the lives and experiences of the dispossessed and one that was politically engaged, which came to be resolved from the 1970s increasingly in favor of the former. As a consequence, the state came to be increasingly ignored in social historical studies. The purpose of this paper is to suggest some lines of enquiry that will bring the state back into social history. At the same time, it recognizes that ours is an increasingly global era and that cultural practices and meanings are indispensable to historical inquiries. Therefore, it argues that the state must be conceptualized in a far broader, that is global and comparative as well as cultural, context.



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