The debate on historical sociology: Rational choice theory and its critics

Edgar Kiser, Michael Hechter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


In the past two decades, many sociologists have denied the usefulness of general theories in favor of more particularistic approaches to historical explanation, which makes it difficult to specify both the causal relations and the causal mechanisms that account for social outcomes. This article offers some philosophical and theoretical justifications for the use of general theory in historical analysis and contends that general theory guides the selection of facts, provides a source of generalizable causal mechanisms, facilitates the cumulation of knowledge across substantive domains, reveals anomalies that lead to new questions, and creates the conditions under which existing theories can be supplanted by superior ones. The authors further outline the concrete research practices that flow from their approach and discuss several empirical studies that exemplify these five advantages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)785-816
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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