Societal Analysis

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Societal Analysis

Universality and relativity

Comparative macrosociological perspective

The contemporary situation

The future


The social sciences czonsist of methods, concepts, theories, and findings whose ultimate point of reference is human society in general. While most of their ideas and data have thus far been produced by students of Western societies, social scientists aspire to use these ideas and data as means of analyzing or illustrating more general phenomena. Since aspiration often outruns achievement, especially in man’s attempts to understand himself, unwarranted generalization from Western experience is still common; but it is now generally recognized in principle and both the increasing numbers of non-Western social scientists and the increasing concern with data drawn from non-Western societies illustrate this that the enterprise is a common, panhuman one.

The inclusion in this encyclopedia of a series of articles on the societies of many (but not all) regions of the modern world represents a recognition of both the universality to which the social sciences aspire and the difficulty they experience in achieving it. If universality were easily achieved, such separate treatment would be unnecessary. The article on area studies recounts the recent efforts by universities, governments, and foundations to achieve a less parochial perspective [seeArea studies]. The present article explores the nature of the difficulty to which these efforts are directed and describes the continuing role of the analysis of particular societies in social scientific inquiry.

Universality and relativity

The universalistic, generalizing element in the social sciences is the legacy of the Enlightenment view of mankind as essentially unitary, a view which, significantly enough, had as one of its products an encyclopedia. From this perspective, what is characteristically human is what all men have in common: their capacity to shape their own futures through action guided by self-conscious thought, or, in the Enlightenment idiom,“reason.” The social sciences themselves become the scientific disciplining of this self-direction in the pursuit of a converging future for all men. However, running alongside this universalistic, rationalistic view in postmedieval social thought, and often intertwined with it, is another vigorous and venerable standpoint which locates the distinctively human in the amazing variety of sociocultural worlds which human communities have created for themselves. If man is rational, he also lives within historically given sociocultural complexes which condition and direct his rationality. It thus becomes the task of social science to analyze the diverse particular societies and cultures within which human self-direction must operate.

These two views confronted each other most starkly in the great political debates which preceded and followed the French Revolution: for the Encyclopedists, particular societies and cultures were the creatures of oppressive governments and obscurantist churches which“natural” reason should seek to strip away in the interest of common “natural” rights; for Edmund Burke and other writers of the conservative reaction, rights and reason could find expression and meaning only within the “natural” framework of historically given religious and political institutions (Parkin 1956). Political debates aside, the paradox is still with us in the form of the continuing tension in the social sciences between the notion of cultural relativity and that of the “psychic unity of mankind.”

While the paradox has not been resolved–indeed, perhaps, cannot be resolved, since it is inherent in the subject matter of the social sciences–it is now somewhat better understood. Studies of man’s biology have demonstrated a common human ancestry and a common capacity to create culture—or at any rate have found it impossible to demonstrate the reverse (Dobzhansky 1962; Washburn 1963). Studies of language have demonstrated the common capacity of all known linguistic systems to mediate culture and to intertranslate (Hymes 1961). At the same time, our contemporary understanding of man’s emergence from his primate ancestry suggests that the very freedom, relatively speaking, from genetically encoded patterning of behavior which makes possible his self-conscious self-direction renders him particularly dependent for behavioral patterning upon systems of shared public symbols—“cultures”–which are highly variable and are characterized by complex internal organization (Geertz 1962; 1965). Furthermore, since the social sciences themselves are systems of shared public symbols produced by men in society, the social scientific enterprise cannot entirely escape the cultural-historical relativity which conditions human social life in general (Mannheim 1929-1931). Both human social life and our attempts to understand it are thus products of a continuous interaction between man’s captivity within distinctive cultural worlds and his capacity to manipulate, and in part transcend, such worlds.

The aspiration and capacity to transcend, both in social life and in our analyses of it, are particularly prominent today. While the many distinctive cultural traditions were far from mutually isolated in the past (McNeill 1963), today, it is generally agreed, their interaction has reached a level unique in human history. The major “civilized” traditions, and even most of the nonliterate “tribal” ones, are now in intimate and continuous contact through movements of persons (including social scientists) and through new means of longdistance communication. First, in the context of Western imperial and quasi-imperial domination, and more recently in that of a world system of formally sovereign but mutually dependent nation-states, a potentially common pool of technology, ideas, and organizational forms has come into existence. Whatever dangers and opportunities this may present to mankind as a whole, it confronts social scientists with the paradox of relativity and universality in new and more poignant forms: How can the social sciences, still deeply conditioned by a preoccupation with Western societies and their historical experience, understand both the continuing cultural diversity and the seemingly convergent processes of change exhibited by a world community of societies that are increasingly interconnected ecologically? In particular, how are we to view the contemporary development of those societies outside the north Atlantic homeland of the social sciences, whose behavior and fate at present so engage the attention of both social scientists and men of affairs? How far are concepts that have been lifted out of Western folk sociology and put into the technical vocabulary of the social sciences—concepts such as family, political party, feudalism, and law—adequate for a truly comparative social science? What is the most promising strategy for developing more adequate ones?

One example may serve to illustrate the difficulty. The studies of occupational prestige conducted by the National Opinion Research Center in the United States have been repeated in many other countries, both Western and non-Western, with results which appear to be strikingly similar in the sense that the same occupations appear to have very similar relative prestige in all industrial and industrializing societies (Inkeles & Rossi 1956). However, there is much debate concerning the meaning of these findings. Do they mean that there is a system of social stratification characteristic of all industrial societies and that this structure has an internal logic of its own which operates independently of particular cultural settings? Or does the selection of occupation as the focus of prestige build into these studies an essentially Western stratification configuration, thus masking the differences in meaning which different cultures may give to similar organizational forms (Lipset & Bendix 1959, chapter 10; Fallers 1964, pp. 117-121)? No doubt the answer lies somewhere in between, but this is hardly an adequate conclusion, for the territory “in between” is vast. As Western social scientific techniques and concepts are increasingly extended to other societies, such problems may be expected to proliferate.

Comparative macrosociological perspective

One strategy for meeting some of the difficulties just described is the comparative macrosociological one. This approach is “holistic” in the sense that it takes seriously the interrelatedness of elements within sociocultural wholes. It need not involve assuming the impossible task of dealing exhaustively with all aspects of a sociocultural whole, norneed it imply the view that the human social world is divisible into functionally discrete, self-sufficient systems (see Levy 1952, chapter 3). It does, however, require an attention to the larger sociocultural context of the particular elements under study and an attempt to conceptualize such contexts. The logic of such an analysis is more clinical than generalizing; instead of using the data of diverse particular societies to test a broad generalization, it brings together diverse general ideas in the attempt to understand particular societies. In the context of the social sciences as a whole, of course, it contributes to generalization because the application of general ideas to particular societies is a means of testing their adequacy. Even though its central subject matter may be one society, an analysis in this genre is always either implicitly or explicitly comparative because the general ideas of which it makes use have their origins in earlier attempts to understand other societies, or even the same society at an earlier period.

On purely scientific grounds, such an approach is supported by our appreciation of the consequences for particular institutions and collectivities of involvement in larger-scale units (Steward 1950). Apart from this, however, the organization of the contemporary world into populistic nation-states and clusters of states confronts men everywhere with the practical necessity to think analytically about such large-scale social units. Africans and Europeans, Russians and Americans are urged by their governments to support policies toward one another as units—policies informed by understandings which, however adequate or inadequate, are inevitably macrosociological.

Of course, different styles of comparative macro-sociological analysis are possible. One—the bolder –is represented by the various recent attempts by social scientists to leap out of history and to construct, in a burst of creative imagination, a universally applicable conceptual scheme for the comparative analysis of all societies (Parsons 1951; Levy 1952) or particular aspects of all societies, such as the political (Easton 1953). Another, less ambitious, style involves the comparison of particular societies or aspects of societies, case by case, in the effort to test more limited propositions (e.g., Bendix 1956). [These and other differences in comparative studies are discussed inAnthropology, article onthe comparative method in anthropology; Politics, comparative; Social institutions, article oncomparative study.]

Both of these styles have contributed substantially to the development of a more adequate comparative perspective for the social sciences; which of them one pursues depends upon how seriously one takes the relativity side of our paradox—how impressed one is by the cultural-historical distinctness and “given-ness” of particular societies and, hence, by the difficulty of arriving at universal categories. The regional articles in this encyclopedia, by their very nature, contribute to the less ambitious style in comparative macrosociology. These articles differ rather widely in focus and in analytical explicitness; but they all represent attempts to deal in a social scientific way with large-scale units, and they all employ intersocietal comparisons in an effort to increase our understanding of the societies under study. Often, either implicitly or explicitly, they employ concepts taken from Western thought about Western societies, and they thus raise the question of the explanatory power of such concepts in different cultural-historical settings. It may be suggested that explicitness in these matters is a virtue and that a self-conscious reference to the Western roots of our ideas and methods can contribute to the success of the comparative enterprise. Before discussing some of the propositions which emerge from the regional articles, therefore, it is appropriate to recall the historical context in which the macrosocio-logical perspective emerged in Western thought.

The emergence of the perspective. The preoccupation with sociocultural differences is as old as the social sciences themselves, as Aristotle’s comparative studies of constitutions and Herodotus’ accounts of the institutions of non-Greek peoples show. One can, however, trace the immediate intellectual ancestry of contemporary comparative macrosociological concerns to more recent origins in the reflections of Western intellectuals upon their own past as they entered the postmedieval world of accelerating social change. There are, to be sure, gems of Western-non-Western comparison to be found in the literature of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, such as Machiavelli’s perceptive analysis of the French and Ottoman polities ([1532] 1941, pp. 104-105). For the most part, however, early modern intellectuals’ interests were so seized by the revolutionary transformations occurring in their own societies that they used the data of non-Western societies (especially the non-literate societies of which they were being made aware by the voyages of discovery) more for the purpose of allegorical speculation upon the roots of their own institutions than for serious comparative analysis. It was the increasing awareness of change within Western societies and the growing knowledge of their ancient and medieval pasts produced by new historical scholarship that proved most fruitful for comparative macrosociology until almost the end of the nineteenth century. The comparative perspective which emerged was one concerned with developmental stages in time rather than with differences and similarities among contemporary societies. However, as the Western societies achieved world dominance, especially in the nineteenth century, and as Western intellectuals became more conscious of their societies’ preeminence, the comparative mode of thought was extended to the non-Western world, which was often seen as representing stages through which the West had passed. The Western experience came to be viewed as the end of history–a paradigm for understanding the experience of non-Western societies.

The classics of early comparative macrosociological thought were centrally concerned with characterizing and analyzing the new institutional complexes which set the societies of their day apart from those from which they had emerged. To mention only a few of the landmarks: Hobbes and Bodin sought to understand the nature of the new sovereign, secular state; Adam Smith analyzed the conditions for the politically autonomous market economy; Tocqueville considered the significance of increasing popular participation in politics; Marx traced the consequences of the separation of labor, under the system of industrial production, from the personalistic ties of kinship and feudal patronage; Weber considered the causes and consequences of the pervasive development of bureaucratic organization. From these studies emerged a set of conceptual models of the characteristic institutions of modern societies.

Other writers in this vein sought, through broad developmental typologies ( “custom” and “reason,” “status” and “contract,” Gemeinschaft and Gesell-schaft, “mechanical” and “organic”), to grasp intellectually the changing nature of whole societies. While there were occasional doubts among writers of this genre about the universal applicability of their developmental schemes–Marx, for example, considered the possibility of a distinctive “Asiatic mode of production” as an alternative to feudalism in precapitalist societies–on the whole, the question was either ignored or handled by assimilating non-Western forms as earlier stages. Nineteenth-century anthropology, while it contributed some classics of ethnographic description, was generally cast in a similar intellectual mold.

For some other Western intellectuals, the experience of radical social transformation stimulated thoughts of quite a different kind, both in relation to their own societies and, later, in relation to the world at large. Beginning in the eighteenth century and then, increasingly, in the nineteenth, especially in the wake of the French Revolution, with its attempt to unify Europe under a new, uniform sociopolitical order, there developed a new consciousness of the distinct identity of the various European peoples and their cultural traditions. Herder’s philosophy of history, Burke’s theoretical formulation of political conservatism, the Grimm brothers’ linguistic and folkloristic studies, Burckhardt’s holistic sociocultural histories, and Hegel’s assertion of German national identity as a historical imperative may be taken as representative. Their work suggested that if the European societies were experiencing a common institutional transformation, it was a transformation in which the new institutional forms had to adapt to distinct sociocultural settings.

Perhaps the most striking manifestation of this perspective was the interpretation given by its proponents to economic systems, the aspect of social life often considered most amenable to universalistic analysis. The modern capitalist economy, which to Adam Smith was the natural outgrowth of a universal “. . . propensity in human nature to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another,” became, in the hands of the German “historical” economists, the expression of a distinctively modern, Anglo-Saxon cultural complex, or Geist: “Manchestertum” (Parsons 1937, chapter 13).

The nineteenth century also saw the development of disciplined Orientalist scholarship, in part the offshoot of linguistic studies, whose products made it increasingly difficult to view the various contemporary non-European civilizations as simply analogous to earlier Western phases. By the end of the nineteenth century a new anthropology, resting upon firsthand field observation of contemporary peoples and upon archeological and historical-linguistic documentation of their pasts, was demonstrating the inadequacy of the universal typologies for understanding the nonliterate societies; it was increasingly appreciated that even the latter possessed highly differentiated sociocultural systems whose histories could not easily be reduced to a series of type stages. Concerned in large part with what could plausibly be viewed as functionally self-contained little societies, the new anthropology also contributed a strong impetus toward holism.

This highly schematic outline of course violates intellectual history, classifying the ancestors of the contemporary social sciences into categories more distinct than a full appreciation of the thought of any one of them would warrant. Tocqueville and Marx were on both sides of the fence, and so, as we shall see, was Weber. However, our purpose here is not to do justice to the total work of particular writers but, rather, to trace the emergence of the logic of inquiry characteristic of comparative macrosociology–a logic to which both the universalizing, typologizing and the cultural-historical, relativizing streams of thought have contributed. The former, as it emerged from reflections upon the Western transformation, was necessarily ethnocentric, both because its producers were basically concerned with their own affairs and because they lacked adequate data on other societies. Historical and ethnographic data were gradually becoming available, but the data that, given the context of their thought, would be most crucial–the data of a modern but non-Western society–did not exist because there were as yet no such societies. It is hardly surprising that the paradigm of the modern society and its characteristic institutions which we inherit from early comparative macrosociological thought is essentially Western.

At the same time, the relativism which in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could challenge this paradigm remained, on the whole, rather unsystematic and even antiscientific, for the writers responsible for it were generally humanistic or ideological in orientation. The bald assertion that each cultural tradition possesses its own unique genius may be an effective rallying cry, but it is not, in that form, easily assimilated into systematic inquiry. Such assimilation awaited a frame of reference in which cultural tradition might be related systematically to the social organizational forms with which the universal-typological mode of thought dealt.

Max Weber, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, achieved a provisional synthesis which has been extraordinarily productive for comparative macrosociology (Weber 1906-1924; 1922; Parsons 1937, chapters 13-17). Fundamentally concerned, as were his predecessors, with understanding the development of Western institutions, he also made himself conversant with the best historical scholarship of his time, both Western and Orientalist. For him Western dominance, especially the remarkably productive modern Western form of economic organization, became an object of explicit inquiry within a comparative frame of reference, rather than a simple fact to be assumed. The Western institutional paradigm became a tool for comparative study–a set of concepts to be tested against other data. Thus, his “ideal type” concepts were tested against an extraordinarily wide range of Western and non-Western material and were re shaped to make them more adequate for comparative purposes.

Perhaps the most important example is his concept of the Stand, or “status group.” In the European context, the term (and its French and English counterparts, etat and “estate”) referred to the “estates of the realm” into which premodern European societies were divided–aristocracy, clergy, and bourgeoisie. As such, its meaning was bound up with all the organizational and cultural particularities of European feudalism. Weber generalized it to mean a social group bound together by common interests and common conceptions of honor, duty, and destiny–a culture-bearing and culture-creating collectivity. But the status group was also part of a larger whole; Weber saw societies as made up of competing status groups, each developing and defending its own variant of the common culture (Bendix I960; Dahrendorf 1957). With this concept, he was able to isolate and examine similarities and differences among European aristocrats, Chinese literati, and Indian Brahmins and, in what is perhaps the focal point of his work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905), to analyze the interrelated development of a new dominant status group and a new ethical emphasis within the Western tradition. Weber’s types of authority provide further examples of his effort to develop concepts more adequate for comparative analysis. In each case, an element of the Western institutional paradigm is tried out on the data of other societies; reformulated in terms of a more general type, of which it then becomes a variant; and systematically related to the elements in the cultural tradition of which it is the institutional embodiment.

The contemporary situation

Comparative macrosociology was born out of the attempt to understand the modern transformation of Western societies and the position of dominance these societies had achieved in the nineteenth century. Today, while formal political dominance by the West has receded, the transformations of other societies begun under Western control or Western stimulus have continued and have even accelerated. Relatively modern but non-Western societies, whose emergence even in Weber’s time seemed problematical, are now a reality and a challenge to social science understanding. The remaining “little societies,” descendants of the nonliterate communities of the nineteenth century, have mostly been incorporated into larger ones. At the same time, the Western societies themselves have continued to evolve; in important respects the paradigm of the modern institutional system built up by the pioneers is now out of date even in its homeland.

To the task of analyzing these continuing transformations, comparative macrosociology brings a characteristic logic of inquiry. While there remain important differences in emphasis, it is generally accepted today that both the universal-typological and the relativistic views have a degree of validity. That the interconnectedness of the modern world produces a certain convergence on a common modernity is beyond all doubt; but we have also learned that this process, as it develops in the various societies of the world, represents neither a simple recapitulation of Western history nor a simple borrowing of Western sociocultural forms. The characteristically modern institutional complexes—the sovereign nation-state, populistic politics, industrial organization, bureaucratic structures, and the like–interact with local cultural traditions and their institutional embodiments in complex ways to produce societies whose shape we find it difficult to predict but possible, through careful comparative analysis, to understand. Such analysis must make use of models, but we recognize that these models have their origins in historical societies and that comparative inquiry involves “liberating” them from their origins by recognizing these origins and explicitly testing them against the data of other societies with other histories. The liberation process will never, of course, be complete, for history does not end. There is a continuing dialectic between comparative conceptualization and historical experience. However, as new historical experience emerges and as our perception of it grows, we are able to draw our “universal” models for conceptualizing and analyzing societies from an ever-widening range of data.

The present preoccupations of comparative macro sociological studies are illustrated by the regional articles in this encyclopedia. Most of their writers, characteristically, feel it necessary to introduce their analyses of present-day societies with accounts of their histories and premodern cultures; all face the problem of conceptualizing societies in which distinct tradition and its institutions interact with modernity. Among them, the article on Japan takes up most explicitly the general theme we have been pursuing here, for Japanese society presents the clearest challenge to the Western paradigm [seeJapanese society]. Highly modern in an economic sense, Japan nevertheless continues to exhibit both a vigorous cultural continuity and numerous traditional social organizational forms. Premodern kinship and quasi-kinship institutions, while not unaffected by change, continue to play a prominent role in both political and economic life. The author of the article on Japanese society concludes, contra Veblen (who in this instance represents the earlier view that the modernization of the West is paradigmatic), that this combination may be a relatively stable one and that it may be necessary to recognize a distinctively Japanese “modernism.”

China is less fully modern in the economic sense, but the recent revolutionary transformation of Chinese society under an ideology drawn from one stream of Western experience poses an equal challenge to comparative understanding. As the article on Chinese society shows, a persistent problem for students of the Chinese revolution has been the question of whether the revolution is “essentially Marxist” or “essentially Chinese,” i.e., whether it represents a basic change in society and culture along Marxist lines or a nationalist reassertion of traditional Chinese identity [seeChinese society], The author acknowledges important elements of continuity but argues, in Weberian terms, that the emergence of a new dominant culture-bearing collectivity (the party) suggests a fundamental transformation. Incidentally, his discussion of the older dominant group, the “gentry,” raises the question of the adequacy of this term, taken from English history, for understanding the premodern Chinese situation. The article on southeast Asia raises similar questions concerning the appropriate models for conceptualizing the structure of premodern societies in that area [seeAsian society, article onSoutheast asia].

Several of the regional articles raise the question of the nature of the state in areas in which state and nation are in radical discontinuity. The model of the state assumed by the modern Western institutional paradigm is one in which a culturally and linguistically united people–a nation–is governed by a political institution possessing a monopoly of ultimate power within its boundaries and autonomy vis-a-vis other states (Kohn 1944; Jouvenel 1955). Although modern Western experience contains numerous exceptions to this model (Belgium and Switzerland have contrived to maintain states comprising culturally diverse groups, while as imperial powers several European states have exercised varying degrees of sovereignty over dependent polities, both within and without Europe), still the model has been felt to be paradigmatic in the sense that there is a strain toward sovereignty (decolonization) and, especially as populistic polities develop, toward a coincidence between political and cultural boundaries (nationalism).

Today this conception is being tested in the experience of the new states and in social scientists’ analyses of this experience. On the one hand, as the article on sub-Saharan Africa shows, the new states of that region–the new “global societies” – typically contain many formerly autonomous societies whose present political and cultural unity is mostly the result of European colonial rule [seeAfrican society, article onSub-Saharan africa]. On the other hand, the Arabs, whose present-day societies are analyzed in the article on north Africa and in one on the Near East, find their sense of linguistic, cultural, and religious unity violated by political fragmentation [seeAfrican society, article onNorth africa; Near eastern society, article onthe islamic countries]. Once united with non-Arab coreligionists within the mosaic empire of the Ottomans, they have achieved political independence but not political community. However “artificial” and “unstable” they may be, modern state boundaries in Africa and the Near East have proved highly resistant to change in response to ideological stirrings, suggesting that organizational forms may take on a life of their own that is independent, to some degree, of cultural forces.

Yet another pattern of state formation is illustrated (perhaps “constituted” would be the better term, in view of the uniqueness of the case) by Israel, a society formed through the recolonization of their homeland by a religious community dispersed for two thousand years throughout Europe and the Islamic world. Culturally and linguistically differentiated by the Diaspora, the Jews nevertheless retained sufficient sense of community, first to form a cohesive organizational structure across existing political boundaries and then, around this structure, to establish and defend a territorial base. [SeeNear eastern society, article onisrael.]

While the regional articles are far from supporting the notion that the present-day development of the non-Western world may be understood as simply a process of “Westernization,” Western imperial influence has nevertheless been an important factor in the history of most societies outside Europe, and these articles therefore provide much material for the comparative study of imperialism. For the Old World non-European societies, imperialism represents an interlude–often far-reaching in its consequences but an interlude nevertheless– in histories in which the elements of continuity are indigenous. For the societies of the New World, however, the imperial imprint has been much more decisive. Even in Middle America and South America, where there were some large-scale indigenous societies with highly complex cultures, European immigration was so massive and its cultural impact so profound that the resulting contemporary societies are more accurately viewed as American variants of Iberian society than as modernized or Westernized native American ones [seeMiddle american society; South american society]. In the societies of the Caribbean, continuity from the indigenous past is still more tenuous. Populated largely by persons of African slave descent, these societies remain variously Spanish, English, and French in dominant language and culture and “colonial” in socioeconomic structure [seeCaribbean society].

In the article on Anglo-American society we have a thoroughgoing comparative analysis of a European imperial society and its daughter societies overseas. Utilizing Parsons’ scheme of pattern variables, the author analyzes the variations upon common sociocultural themes which arose in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States and concludes that today these differences are declining in response to common developmental trends. [SeeAnglo-american society.]

Continental Europe, whose intellectuals have played such a central role in the development of the social sciences and whose societies have provided so much of their data, occupies a special place in comparative macrosociological studies. From one perspective–the one stressed here–its common sociocultural features have provided a paradigm for the comparative study of other societies. But while these common features are real enough, so that one might speak of the region as a “culture area” in the anthropological sense, it is (like other regions) internally differentiated in ways that invite comparative study on a more detailed level. This perspective is represented in this encyclopedia by the articles on various sociocultural complexes that are historically characteristic of Europe, such as democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, Christianity, bureaucracy, political parties, and labor unions, all of which are analyzed comparatively. Indeed, much of the content of this encyclopedia, both substantive and conceptual-theoretical, is at least implicitly concerned with intra-Western comparative analysis. [SeeBureaucracy; Capitalism; Christianity; Communism; Democracy; Labor unions; Parties, political; Socialism.]

Of all the regional articles, the one on south Asian society gives least attention to the problem of cultural continuity and discontinuity [seeAsian society, article onsouth asia]. Acknowledging that Indie and Islamic cultures continue to inform the societies of the area, the author argues provocatively for an austerely social structural analysis in terms of levels of complexity. This analysis of south Asian society also reminds us that models for comparative investigation are today drawn from diverse areas. While the author implicitly draws upon Western models for the analysis of the more complex levels of south Asian society, his frame of reference for analyzing village and tribal communities, he says, is derived from social anthropological studies of Africa. The study of south Asian society, in turn, has provided at least one model whose applicability to other societies social scientists have found it enlightening to explore. The article on the concept of caste, the area’s most distinctive sociocultural complex, examines the south Asian phenomenon, compares it with others and, in a manner which well exemplifies the logic of comparative macrosociological analysis, reformulates it so as to elucidate intersocietal similarities and differences [seeCaste, article onthe concept of caste].

The native societies of North America [seeIndians, north american] and of Australia [seeOceanian society] have been so displaced by European immigration that the article on Anglo-American society, which gives an account of the modern societies of these areas, can completely ignore them. The island societies, still under colonial rule, are perhaps destined for some sort of independence, a situation which, if it develops, will test some of the hypotheses suggested in the article on “small societies” [seeSocieties, small]. While of little immediate relevance to the comparative study of contemporary national societies, research on these societies has been extremely productive of ideas which have influenced comparative macrosociological thought, for it was in relation to them that Malinowski, Boas, and Radcliffe-Brown developed the new anthropology, which emphasized holism. As the articles mentioned above show, continued anthropological research on these societies has produced a rich literature of comparative analysis, both synchronic and diachronic.

The future

The scholarship which underlies the regional articles is the fruit of the great post-World War II expansion of the social sciences’ concern with the non-Western, or “developing,” world. Much of this activity has been carried out in the context of “area studies” programs, interdisciplinary programs of research and training organized around regions of the world characterized by common cultural traditions. In terms of the dialectical pattern of development in comparative macrosociological studies outlined above, the emphasis during this period has been on the relativizing side: in an effort to make their social scientific concepts and theories more relevant to the task of understanding non-Western societies, many social scientists have become Indologists, Africanists, or China specialists as well as, or even in some cases instead of, social scientists. Recent developments suggest that today at least a partial reversal in emphasis may be in progress. As the results of specialized regional studies become more readily available to the social scientific community at large through secondary works of synthesis, somewhat more ambitious styles of comparative analysis again become profitable.

In the vanguard of this movement have been the students of economic development—the economists and economic historians, who have all along reached for generalization more persistently than other social scientists have. Few economists have become “area specialists.” The reason for this is, of course, quite simple. From the time of Adam Smith to the present, the criterion of economic growth in monetary terms has provided economists with a relatively unambiguous standard about which to organize data for intersocietal comparison. Thus, while some, like Gerschenkron (1962), Hirschman (1963), and Rosovsky (1961), have become deeply engaged with the data of particular societies, their work has articulated directly with that of such generalizers as Bauer and Yamey (1957), Lewis (1955), and Schultz (1964).

For other social scientists, at any rate insofar as they have not been centrally concerned with the sociocultural prerequisites or concomitants of economic growth, there exists no such universal standard. Although a number of writers have attempted to conceptualize a “modernity” toward which all contemporary societies aspire or are tending (Shils 1959-1960; Kerr 1960), it is widely recognized that tradition remains a crucial element in all societies and that consequently there are likely to be many paths toward the future. Thus, for example, the analytic scheme proposed by Levy (1966), perhaps the most elaborate and rigorous in the recent literature of comparative macrosociology, is much more differentiated and open-ended than those of most nineteenth-century writers. The Western paradigm has been thoroughly relativized.

Levy’s work is directed toward the comparative analysis of whole societies; much more common are comparative studies of particular aspects or institutions, such as Janowitz’ study of the military (1964), Apter’s volume on politics (1965), and Lenski’s work on social stratification (1966). Given the rising standards of regional scholarship, much comparative work is, of necessity, collaborative. The volumes produced by the Committee on Comparative Politics of the Social Science Research Council (Almond & Coleman 1960; Conference on Communication .. . 1963; LaPalombara 1963; Conference on Political Modernization . . . 1964), the Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations of the University of Chicago (Chicago . . . 1963; Johnson 1967), and the Congress for Cultural Freedom (Democracy . . . 1959; Bellah 1965) exemplify recent efforts to achieve comparative perspective through seminars and workshops of regional specialists.

Finally, as non-Western studies have matured, there has developed a discernible tendency toward completing the circle of comparative analysis by bringing their results to bear upon the history of the West. Lipset (1963) has re-examined the United States as “the first new nation,” Moore (1966) has compared the historical role of agrarian organization in Europe and Asia, and Palmer (1959-1964), in his monumental study of the Western revolutions of the late eighteenth century, has felt it appropriate to comment upon the relationship between the events with which he is concerned and those of the twentieth century in the non-Western world. Bendix (1964) has compared the development of authority and citizenship in western Europe, Russia, India, and Japan; Eisenstadt (1966) has analyzed comparatively movements of protest and processes of change in the West and in the “third world.” This article may therefore end with the observation with which it began: the road toward a more universal perspective for the social sciences leads through the study of diverse particular societies, considered comparatively.

Lloyd A. Fallers


Almond, Gabriel A.; and Coleman, James S. (editors) 1960 The Politics of the Developing Areas. Princeton Univ. Press.

Apter, David E. 1965 The Politics of Modernization. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Bauer, Peter T.; and Yamey, Basil S. 1957 The Economics of Underdeveloped Countries. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Bellah, Robert (editor) 1965 Religion and Progress in Modern Asia. New York: Free Press.

Bendix, Reinhard 1956 Work and Authority in Industry: Ideologies of Management in the Course of Industrialization. New York: Wiley. → A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Harper.

Bendix, Reinhard (1960) 1962 Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Bendix, Reinhard 1964 Nation-building and Citizenship: Studies of Our Changing Social Order. New York: Wiley.

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