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Structuralist Notes

History Notes > Disciplines of History - Making Historical Arguments Notes

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Structuralist Notes o o

In abandoning Marx's prophecies have historians been too quick to abandon his analytical insights?
Why has structural social history fallen from favour?

"In answering questions from this section candidates should discuss specific examples of historical writing. They should consider the ways in which historians select and use sources, the methodologies they have employed, and the historiographical context within which they write." Consider Thompson - cultural turn of the 60s, rejection of structuralist archetypes. Marxism breaks down, diffusion of power into diverse groups and minorities, Foucaldian discourses - state considered the enforcer of different nexuses of knowledge.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Introductory considerations 'History is nothing but the activity of man producing his aims'At Marx's funeral in 1883, Engels claimed that 'as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history'. o An overstatement - prophecies abandoned by most historians. Supposedly 'scientific' qualities of Marx's deterministic projection of human history are no longer accepted by the majority of historians. o However, this is not to say that a materialistic understanding of human progress and development is not without merit.For those who regard Marx as a grand theorist with a master narrative inspired by a prophetic vision, he remains of interest 'only because the influence of his predictions has been so disproportionate to their degree of correspondence with the actual course of later events.' (Runicman) o But any belief in the ability to use the past to extrapolate the future of human civilisation is inherently misconceived.
? Marx as 'a diagnostician of both the intra-and the intersocietal conflicts and contradictions which characterise different periods in humanity's past.' (Runciman)
? How can we overcome issues of culturally-specific transitions, as well as the role of human agency? These issues are undermined by deterministic, universal narratives.


Need more holistic approach - dialogue with different methodologies, less constrained to grand theory.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------How historians interpret MarxImportant to first distinguish between Marx's own theory, and the models which have been applied by subsequent historians, often interpreted in different ways. Marx: 'All I know is that I am not a Marxist.' o Must not overemphasise the rigidity of Marxist thought. No absolute transitions, society exhibits characteristics of different modes of production. o Difficulties of grand theories - Force historical reality into a general framework not necessarily reconcilable with it. 'Those who seek often find'. o Need models to make sense of an otherwise chaotic and jumbled string of events. The contingency of history makes it difficult to impose frameworks, but nevertheless it is part of human nature to do so.
? Must consider Marx in context. Grand narratives were a popular theoretical model. Kant - believed history was rational, and thus a universal history can be discerned. Newtonian consequences; the need to define laws and apply them to all facets of existence.Reconfigure Marx within a more nuanced framework. o Brenner : a more nuanced acceptance of the 'underlying differences which...account for contrasting lines of development in different places under similar constellations of economic forces' is needed. o Acemoglu, Robinson, 'Why Nations Fail': Employ the notion of inclusive and extractive institutions as a paradigm for historical development. A cumulative process, the result of a number of junctures within a nation's history that create 'feedback loops' - gradual development towards a more inclusive state creates the dynamic forces that lead to broader political enfranchisement, incentive-providing economies, the rule of law, etc. Extractive states stunt development and constrain political freedom for the sake of narrow, hegemonic elites.
? History as a 'history of class struggles', but the success of one class over the other, and of the hand mill over the steam mill, is entirely dependent on the institutional framework within which these struggles arise.
? The course of these institutions in themselves, rather than being inexorable, are contingent and cumulative - we can incorporate human agency and culturally-specific frameworks within this analytical insight.


A greater appreciation of the forces at work, both political and economic, is exhibited in the 'institutions' model for historical transition - employs Marxist thought without relying on universal prophecies.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Economic base and political superstructure.Common feature of Marxist thought: 'the assertion of the relative independence of different aspects of a social formation from each other, and, in particular, the primary significance of the economic.' (Calhoun) o Problems with this - economics alone cannot account for all economic phenomena, nor political theory for all political phenomena, etc. If we accept this, we are no longer constrained by an insistence that 'the strongest evolutionary force driving human history is economic rather than ideological or political' or that 'classes...are its agents.' (Calhoun) o But...Marx and Engels had to emphasise, even to the point of over-exaggeration, the economic factors in historical transitions in the face of those who sought to disregard them entirely. o Need to reconcile politics with economics - the two interact and sustain each other, not entirely a one-way phenomena. Bronterre O'Brien, an early Chartist: 'Knaves will tell you that it is because you have no property, you are unrepresented. I tell you on the contrary, it is because you are unrepresented that you have no property...'Ideological and political relations do have an influence on the evolution of new forms of society. Interaction between competing complexes of economic, ideological and political practices generated new institutions of a mutually sustaining kind.Example: relative decline and persistence of serfdom in earlymodern Europe demonstrates the importance of a less rigid and more nuanced consideration of Marxist insights. Brenner debate. o Use analytical insights without relying on teleological narratives. Structural history can be helpful up to a point, but we must root theory in the actualities of history, rejecting Marxian determinism in favour of a recognition of historical contingency.Not just an economic base: historical materialism shaped by not only economic, but political and social ties of dependence. Analytical insights employed in 'Institutions' theory recognises that economic base and political superstructure interact - not a one-way process.

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Western Europe in the early-modern era: destruction of serfdom in England paved the way for a proto-capitalist society. Marx - feudal ties in England had practically disappeared by the fourteenth century. 'The immense majority of the population consisted then, and to a still larger extent in the fifteenth century, of free peasant proprietors.'
? Composition of England's parliament ensured that their economic wealth also granted them political influence, demonstrating the interplay and mutually sustaining relationship between the nation's inclusive institutions.
? Relative 'inclusivity.' Sill a minute proportion of society in control of land. Enclosure of the commons by parliament in the seventeenth century saw land concentrated further in the hands of an agrarian class of capitalists, demonstrating that the political superstructure was as necessary as the economic 'base' in providing the means for transition. The two interact.But Marx's theories do not work in every context. Consider France no incentives provided - institutions were extractive. o Brenner: 'Thus, ironically, the most complete freedom and property rights for the rural population meant poverty and a self-perpetuating cycle of backwardness.' Croot and Parker challenge this - the real issue in France was 'not that the [French monarchy] bolstered up petty peasant ownership but depressed it so brutally'. o Regardless, stresses the importance of an incentiveproviding framework. Interaction of political and economic factors account for divergent tangents of economic development. Marxist thought can still be credible, but must be placed within the more enlightening theory of institutional development.Economics alone cannot account for all economic phenomena, nor political theory for all political phenomena, etc. If we take this as Marxist analysis, no longer debarred from insisting that 'the strongest evolutionary force driving human history is economic rather than ideological or political' or that 'classes...are its agents.' (Chris Wickham)Moreover, not always acting to oppress. Reform Bill of 1832 enfranchises the middle-classes. Superstructure can act as an instrument of political oppression, but also, within inclusive institutions, a gradual instrument of liberty. Remit of the state expands, in the realms of education, franchise extension, fuelling the economic boom. Chartists no longer articulate discourses that unite disparate working men in opposition to the class 'Other'. o It is these changes in political discourse itself that determine the ideas and responses of the working-class movements. 'Consciousness' and 'experience' of the social body do not address 'the problematic character of language.' Cannot abstract

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