Some Afterthoughts on Culture and Explanation in Historical Inquiry

  • Lorenz C
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Abstract

I argue here that the articles in this forum contain basic agreements. All three reject naturalism, reductionism, and monism while retaining causality as an explanatory category, and all three emphasize the role of time and argue for a view in which culture is regarded as both structured and contingent. The differences among the explanatory proposals of Hall, Biernacki, and Kane are as important as the similarities: while Hall favors a Weberian approach, Biernacki argues for a primarily pragmatic explanation of culture, and Kane for a primarily semiotic explanation. I argue that all three positions face immanent problems in elucidating the exact nature of cultural explanation. While Hall leaves the problem of "extrinsic" ideal-typical explanation unsolved, Biernacki simply presupposes the superiority of pragmatic over other types of cultural explanation, and Kane does the same for semiotic explanation. Hints at cultural explanation in the form of narrative remain underargued and are built on old ideas of an opposition between "analysis" and "narrative." This is also the case with the latest plea for "analytic narratves." I conclude that a renewed reflection on this opposition is called for in order to come to grips with cultural explanation and to get beyond the old stereotypes regarding the relationship between historical and social-scientific approaches to the past.

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Authors

  • Chris Lorenz

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