Max Weber’s Sociology of Civilizations: A Reconstruction

Kalberg, Stephen. 2021. Max Weber’s Sociology of Civilizations. Routledge.
Max Weber's Sociology of Civilizations
This volume examines civilizations through the broad lens articulated by the works of Max Weber. In focusing upon his comparative-historical mode of analysis and his causal explanations for the sources, contours, and trajectories of civilizations, this study reconstructs Weber’s sociology in a manner that provides clear guidelines to researchers seeking to investigate civilizations systematically. Through detailed interpretations of the West’s unique development from Antiquity to the Modern era, precise comparisons to the long-range and singular pathways taken by China and India, and careful demarcations of the “particular rationalisms” of several civilizations, the author addresses Weber’s powerful model-building on the one hand and his opposition to organic holism and structural presuppositions on the other hand. Both a broad-ranging conceptual framework and case-based empirical investigations are pivotal to Weber. His research strategy emphasizes further the “subjective meanings” of actors East and West and the deep cultural origins of groups. Finally, this volume masterfully conveys Weber’s contextual and multi-causal methodology rooted in a tight interweaving of the present with the past. Max Weber’s Sociology of Civilizations: A Reconstruction will appeal to comparative sociologists and historians, as well as to theorists of all persuasions. The social scientist pursuing a cross-civilizational agenda will here discover the distinct contribution of Weber’s “interpretive understanding” procedures to the now-essential field of civilizational analysis.

Agents of Reform: Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State

Anderson, Elisabeth C. 2021. Agents of Reform: Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Agents of Reform
The beginnings of the modern welfare state are often traced to the late nineteenth-century labor movement and to policymakers’ efforts to appeal to working-class voters. But in Agents of Reform, Elisabeth Anderson shows that the regulatory welfare state began a half century earlier, in the 1830s, with the passage of the first child labor laws. Agents of Reform tells the story of how middle-class and elite reformers in Europe and the United States defined child labor as a threat to social order, and took the lead in bringing regulatory welfare into being. They built alliances to maneuver around powerful political blocks and instituted pathbreaking new employment protections. Later in the century, now with the help of organized labor, they created factory inspectorates to strengthen and routinize the state’s capacity to intervene in industrial working conditions. Agents of Reform compares seven in-depth case studies of key policy episodes in Germany, France, Belgium, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Foregrounding the agency of individual reformers, it challenges existing explanations of welfare state development and advances a new pragmatist field theory of institutional change. In doing so, it moves beyond standard narratives of interests and institutions toward an integrated understanding of how these interact with political actors’ ideas and coalition-building strategies.

Power in Modernity: Agency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King’s Two Bodies

Reed, Isaac Ariail. 2020. Power in Modernity: Agency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King’s Two Bodies. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Power in Modernity
In Power in Modernity, Isaac Ariail Reed proposes a bold new theory of power that describes overlapping networks of delegation and domination.  Chains of power and their representation, linking together groups and individuals across time and space, create a vast network of intersecting alliances, subordinations, redistributions, and violent exclusions. Reed traces the common action of “sending someone else to do something for you” as it expands outward into the hierarchies that control territories, persons, artifacts, minds, and money. He mobilizes this theory to investigate the onset of modernity in the Atlantic world, with a focus on rebellion, revolution, and state formation in colonial North America, the early American Republic, the English Civil War, and French Revolution. Modernity, Reed argues, dismantled the “King’s Two Bodies”—the monarch’s physical body and his ethereal, sacred second body that encompassed the body politic—as a schema of representation for forging power relations. Reed’s account then offers a new understanding of the democratic possibilities and violent exclusions forged in the name of “the people,” as revolutionaries sought new ways to secure delegation, build hierarchy, and attack alterity. Reconsidering the role of myth in modern politics, Reed proposes to see the creative destruction and eternal recurrence of the King’s Two Bodies as constitutive of the modern attitude, and thus as a new starting point for critical theory. Modernity poses in a new way an eternal human question: what does it mean to be the author of one’s own actions?