In explaining the foundations of the discipline known as historical sociology—the examination of history using the methods of sociology—historical sociologist Philip Abrams argues that, while people are made by society as much as society is made by people, sociologists’ approach to the subject is usually to focus on only one of these forms of influence to the exclusion of the other. Abrams insists on the necessity for sociologists to move beyond these one-sided approaches to understand society as an entity constructed by individuals who are at the same time constructed by their society. Abrams refers to this continuous process as “structuring”.
Abrams also sees history as the result of structuring. People, both individually and as members of collectives, make history. But our making of history is itself formed and informed not only by the historical conditions we inherit from the past, but also by the prior formation of our own identities and capacities, which are shaped by what Abrams calls “contingencies”—social phenomena over which we have varying degrees of control. Contingencies include such things as the social conditions under which we come of age, the condition of our household’s economy, the ideologies available to help us make sense of our situation, and accidental circumstances. The ways in which contingencies affect our individual or group identities create a structure of forces within which we are able to act, and that partially determines the sorts of actions we are able to perform.
In Abrams analysis, historical structuring, like social structuring, is manifold and unremitting. To understand it, historical sociologists must extract from it certain significant episodes, or events, that their methodology can then analyze and interpret. According to Abrams, these events are points at which action and contingency meet, points that represent a cross section of the specific social and individual forces in play at a given time. At such moments, individuals stand forth as agents of history not simply because they possess a unique ability to act, but also because in them we see the force of the specific social conditions that allowed their actions to come forth. Individuals can “make their mark” on history, yet in individuals one also finds the convergence of wider social forces. In order to capture the various facets of this mutual interaction, Abrams recommends a fourfold structure to which he believes the investigations of historical sociologists should conform: first, description of the event itself; second, discussion of the social context that helped bring the event about and gave it significance; third, summary of the life history of the individual agent in the event; and fourth, analysis of the consequences of the event both for history and for the individual.
15. Which one of the following most accurately states the central idea of the passage?
(A) Abrams argues that historical sociology rejects the claims of sociologists who assert that the sociological concept of structuring cannot be applied to the interactions between individuals and history.
(B) Abrams argues that historical sociology assumes that, despite the views of sociologists to the contrary, history influences the social contingencies that affect individuals.
(C) Abrams argues that historical sociology demonstrates that, despite the views of sociologists to the contrary, social structures both influence and are influenced by the events of history.
(D) Abrams describes historical sociology as a discipline that unites two approaches taken by sociologists to studying the formation of societies and applies the resulting combined approach to the study of history.
(E) Abrams describes historical society as an attempt to compensate for the shortcoming of traditional historical methods by applying the methods established in sociology.
16. Given the passage’s argument, which one of the following sentences most logically completes the last paragraph?
(A) Only if they adhere to this structure, Abrams believes, can historical sociologists conclude with any certainty that the events that constitute the historical record are influenced by the actions of individuals
(B) Only if they adhere to this structure, Abrams believes, will historical sociologists be able to counter the standard sociological assumption that there is very little connection between history and individual agency.
(C) Unless they can agree to adhere to this structure, Abrams believes, historical sociologists risk having their discipline treated as little more than an interesting but ultimately indefensible adjunct to history and sociology.
(D) By adhering to this structure, Abrams believes, historical sociologists can shed light on issues that traditional sociologists have chosen to ignore in their one-sided approaches to the formation of societies.
(E) By adhering to this structure, Abrams believes, historical sociologists will be able to better portray the complex connections between human agency and history.
17. The passage states that a contingency could be each of the following EXCEPT:
(A) a social phenomenon
(B) a form of historical structuring
(C) an accidental circumstance
(D) a condition controllable to some extent by an individual
(E) a partial determinant of an individual’s actions
18. Which one of the following is most analogous to the ideal work of a historical sociologist as outlined by Abrams?
(A) In a report on the enactment of a bill into law, a journalist explains why the need for the bill arose, sketches the biography of the principal legislator who wrote the bill, and ponders the effect that the bill’s enactment will have both one society and on the legislator’s career.
(B) In a consultation with a patient, a doctor reviews the patient’s medical history, suggests possible reasons for the patient’s current condition, and recommends steps that the patient should take in the future to ensure that the condition improves or at least does not get any worse.
(C) In an analysis of a historical novel, a critic provides information to support the claim that details of the work’s setting are accurate, explains why the subject of the novel was of particular interest to the author, and compares the novel with some of the author’s other books set in the same period.
(D) In a presentation to stockholders, a corporation’s chief executive officer describes the corporations’ most profitable activities during the past year, introduces the vice president largely responsible for those activities, and discusses new projects the vice president will initiate in the coming year.
(E) In developing a film based on a historical event, a filmmaker conducts interviews with participants in the event, bases part of the film’s screenplay on the interviews, and concludes the screenplay with a sequence of scenes speculating on the outcome of the event had certain details been different.
19. The primary function of the first paragraph of the passage is to
(A) outline the merits of Abram’s conception of historical sociology
(B) convey the details of Abrams’s conception of historical sociology
(C) anticipate challenges to Abrams’s conception of historical sociology
(D) examine the roles of key terms used in Abrams’s conception of historical sociology
(E) identify the basis of Abrams’s conception of historical sociology
20. Based on the passage, which one of the following is the LEAST illustrative example of the effect of a contingency upon an individual?
(A) the effect of the fact that a person experienced political injustice on that person’s decision to work for political reform
(B) the effect of the fact that a person was raised in an agricultural region on that person’s decision to pursue a career in agriculture
(C) the effect of the fact that a person lives in a particular community on that person’s decision to visit friends in another community
(D) the effect of the fact that a person’s parents practiced a particular religion on that person’s decision to practice that religion
(E) the effect of the fact that a person grew up in financial hardship on that person’s decision to help others in financial hardship