Nicholas Pedriana, Rational Choice, Structural Context, and Increasing Returns: A Strategy for Analytic Narrative in Historical Sociology, Sociological Methods & Research 2005 33: 349-382.

February 7, 2010

This article considers one way to construct “analytic” narratives in historical sociology. The author grounds his approach in ongoing methodological debates over temporality and sequence in historical processes and the assumed trade-off between historical particularity and causal generality. He promotes narratives that exploit both the sequential/ eventful and contextual properties of analytic time, with an approach that combines and builds on two emerging developments in narrative methodology: the use of rational choice theory and the idea of “increasing returns” in path-dependent historical processes. While doing narrative in this way will not be appropriate for analyzing all historical processes, it can be a useful methodological strategy for many of the questions, events, and outcomes that interest historical sociologists. The author draws on his own research program on early equal employment law in the mid-to late 1960s to illustrate how this method can work in practice.

Key Words: rational choice theory • analytic narratives • increasing returns • historical sociology • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission