Brock University

Comparative-Historical Sociology

Comparative-historical sociology is a research tradition with particular methods that generally explores the unfolding of major social processes over time. This session invites papers that either offer comparative-historical analyses or that review some aspect of the methods underlying the research tradition.

Session Organizer: Matthew Lange, McGill,


Professors and Politics: Noam Chomsky’s Contested Reputation in the United States and Canada

James Lannigan, McMaster University, , Neil McLaughlin, McMaster University,

There is an extensive literature comparing the politics, sociology and economics of the United States and Canada, but very little work comparing the role that public intellectuals play in the space of public opinion binationally. Noam Chomsky provides a theoretically useful example of an established academic and public intellectual whose reputation is deeply contested in both countries although somewhat less so in Canada. Our comparative case study offers leverage to contribute to debates on the sociology of reputations, intellectuals, and the politics of professors using data from six major Canadian and American newspapers from 1995-2009 and an innovative coding of marginalization and consecration. In earlier work it has been shown that Chomsky is discussed as a public intellectual more prominently in Canada than in the United States (Townsley and McLaughlin 2011). Here we examine the comparative construction of “public intellectual” reputations in the context of the political context of post 9-11 America and the Harper era in Canada. We document small but theoretically important and substantively interesting differences between the Canadian and American receptions of Chomsky, show change in the patterns of portrayal and number of publications over time, and offer an analysis of differences between political attacks and consecrations.


The Ideology and Politics of ‘Caste as Race’: A Comparative-Historical Analysis

Anisha Datta, Western University,

Using a comparative-historical lens, the paper will examine the ideological and political implications of defining caste as race. The nineteenth century colonial discourse had conceptualized caste as race in British India. The rise of professional Oriental scholarship, located in European universities, began to generate new forms of colonial knowledge. This knowledge had a lasting impact in the budding field of anthropology, a field which conceived ‘race’ as a central framework. Drawing on anthropology, the colonial administrators propounded the ‘official view’ of caste, by conceiving the latter in terms of European race theory. In this view, caste became reduced to a number of physical characteristics, and enumerable census identities. Did the colonial discourse of racializing caste, play a role in defining and ruling India? Secondly, what is the relationship of this colonial discourse to the recent demands made by dalit activists that caste based discrimination should be included in the agenda of the UN Conference against Racism? For sure, the internationalization of caste based injustice is a worthy endeavor, in particular if it envisions the annihilation of caste. But, can caste be annihilated by defining it in terms of race? The paper will attempt to answer these three historically intertwined questions.


The Institutionalization of Symbolic Interactionism in English-Language Canadian Sociology, 1922-2000

Rick Helmes-Hayes, University of Waterloo, , Emily Milne, University of Waterloo,

This paper examines the establishment and growth of symbolic interactionism (SI) as a disciplinary specialization in English-language Canadian sociology, 1922-2000. Nicholas Mullins (1973) and others have studied the institutionalization and development of SI in the United States, but no equivalent work has been undertaken in Canada. We fill this gap by documenting the establishment and growth of SI in English Canada in the 20th century in terms of some basic indicators of institutionalization: faculty members hired, literature published, graduate programs established, annual conferences held, and the like. Data sources include: university calendars, interviews, correspondence, and secondary literature. We divide the institutionalization of SI into three periods: 1920-59 (“gaining a foothold”); 1960-79 (“becoming mainstream/ mission accomplished”); and 1980-2000 (“winning the battle/ losing the war”). We offer a three-pronged theoretical ‘framing’ of our findings using Mullins’ Theory and Theory Groups in American Sociology (1973), Anthony Oberschall’s The Establishment of Empirical Sociology (1972), and Gary Alan Fine’s “The Sad Demise, Mysterious Disappearance and Glorious Triumph of Symbolic Interactionism” (1993).


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