Historical Sociology by Philip Abrams

By Philip Abrams

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It seeks to deal with the specific, detailed features of historical change in a way that both the enlightenment and the necessity approaches fail to do; to explain why the problem of old age is met by contributory pension schemes in one country and by noncontributory schemes in another, or why welfare is treated as a right of the citizen in one period and as a gift of the state in another. It fills the gap between the ideas of great men and the problems of society by concentrating on the diverse ways in which problems are experienced by actual members of society and on the ways in which members of society turn their experience into competing and alternative proposals for dealing with problems and struggle to secure one solution rather than another.

Thers while many more find that their labour must be divided 10 ways over which they have little or no control, is surely not Historical Sociology 34 some sort of specially odd or as Durkheim called it 'abnormal' case but rather what normally happens in most societies most of the time. What proportion of any given group of schoolleavers in contemporary Britain have any real range of choice about the way in which their labour will be divided? In other words the division of labour occurs historically within some context of structured inequality.

The reasons why socialists advance proposals for dealing with inequality are no doubt very different from the reasons which make such proposals acceptable to the dominant class. For socialists the attack on inequality contained in educational reforms and welfare measures springs from an ideological commitment to improve the lot of the under-class. But their eventual acceptance by the dominant political class rests on quite different grounds. Without too much exaggeration we could say that whether or not socialist approaches to inequality become politically viable or acceptable depends on whether or not they confer advantages on the dominant class or at least on important sections of it.

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