From Registers to Social Structures in France. Thoughts on the Method

By Antoine Prost

The exploitation of social sources raises a number of methodological issues which are analysed in this paper on the basis of several examples taken from a series of research produced over the last 40 years. This line of thought illustrates the evolution of quantitative social history on a case basis. It stresses how methods have evolved as regards problem defining and successive paradigms, as well as the available computerized tools. The analysis of social structures from previously defined socio-professional categories did not resist the constructivist critique. But the construction of social categories from empirical data appears nearly impossible without some sort of epistemological leap. The incorporation of individuals in their immediate environment leads to a very rich quantitative microstoria that does not, however, allow to consider society as a whole. In order not to give up upon this ambition, it is necessary to structure different levels of analysis in a pluridimensional social history.

Go to the article on