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Tradition/Modernity: An Ideal Type Gone Astray

  • L. E. Shiner (a1)

In a recent essay in this journal Dean C. Tipps subjected the tradition/ modernity concept to a thorough ideological and empirical critique and concluded that the time has come to get rid of it. Although his ideological and empirical analyses were convincing, the methodological remarks at the end of the essay were incomplete. If the contention that we should no longer attempt to revise the tradition/modernity concept is to stick, compelling methodological grounds must be given since ideological bias and empirical inadequacy can in principle be corrected. I want to show that in so far as the tradition/modernity concept is an ideal type, efforts to make it better ‘fit’ the spread of empirical data are in principle wrong. Moreover, efforts to transform the concept into an empirical ranking device or a classificatory system are open to equally serious objections. In order to do this I will first clarify the nature and function of ideal types, empirical types and classification systems.

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1 Tipps Dean C., ‘Modernization Theory and the Comparative Study of Societies: A Critical Perspective’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 15, No. 2, 03, 1973, pp. 199225.

2 The present essay is part of a paper prepared for the Workshop on Comparative Method held at Harvard University in the Summer of 1970 under the sponsorship of the Committee on Comparative Politics of the Social Science Research Council. I am grateful to Leonard Binder, Philip Converse and Sidney Verba for the invitation to participate in the workshop.

3 A helpful survey of the current conceptions of the ideal types in social science is Don Martindale, ‘Sociological Theory and the Ideal Type’, in Gross Llewellyn, ed., Symposium on Sociological Theory,Evanston: Row, Peterson, 1954, pp. 5791. The most important philosophical discussion remains Hempel's ‘Typological Methods in the Natural and Social Sciences’, reprinted in Hempel Carl G., Aspects of Scientific Explanation, New York: Free Press, pp. 155–71. It should be noted that we are excluding from consideration the reformulation of the ideal type by Becker and McKinney since they attempt to solve the ambiguities in Webers formulation not by singling out the different concepts but by expressly conflating them. They conceive their ‘constructed types’ to be both empirically descriptive and predictive—two characteristics which I have deliberately excluded since they belong to ‘empirical types’ discussed below. See Becker Howard, Through Values to Social Interpretation, Durham: Duke University Press, 1950, p. 218, and McKinney John C., Constructive Typology and Social Theory, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966.

4 These difficulties have been signaled for a long time as have efforts to bring some coherence into Weber's discussion. My own analysis follows the main line of interpretation extending from Schelting down to Janoska-Bendl. Schelting Alexander von, Max Weber's Wissenchafts- lehre, Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1934, pp. 329–40;Janoska-Bendl Judith, Methodologische Aspeckte des Idealypus, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1965.

5 Weber Max, On the Methodology and the Social Sciences, trans. – – –7. Hereafter cited as Methodology.…

6 Shelting, op. cit., p. 333. Shelting suggested that Rickert's term ‘relative-historical con cepts’ be used but I cannot see that this adds anything. It is for this reason that I do not follow Roger's scheme of three kinds of types, ‘concrete historical individuals’, ‘relative historical concepts’, and ‘general ideal types’. Rogers Rolf E., Max Weber's Ideal Type Theory, New York: Philosophical Library, 1969, p. 89.

7 Weber Max, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans, by Henderson A. M. & Parsons Talcott, New York: Oxford University Press, 1947, p. 110.

8 lbid., pp. 92–111.

9 Weber , Methodology …, p. 93.

10 Hempel, op. cit., pp. 160–61, has asserted that ideal types are really theories and ex planations which means that the term ‘ideal type’ is merely a misleading terminological peculiarity. Unfortunately, Hempel's view of the structure and purpose of ideal types is based on a conflation of ideas drawn from Weber and Becker with apparently little concern for trying to disentangle the various meanings given to the term ‘ideal type’. Hempel's rather one-sided delineation of the ‘real’ intention of ideal types is understandable if we keep in mind the ambiguities in Weber and Becker's deliberate interpretation of constructed types as hypotheses. Hempel's interpretation is also influenced by the fact that his main concern is not to explore the actual character of ideal types so much as to demonstrate the ‘unity of science’ against claims that ideal types are a characteristic which distinguishes the social from the natural sciences. However, the analysis we have suggested above provides a more coherent account of what Weber and many who followed him have said, yet does not imply a radical dichotomy of the sciences. To the extent that other uses of the notion of ideal type do intend it as a theoretical formulation (e.g. Becker, McKinney) Hempel's comments apply.

11 Weber , Methodology …, p. 93. In a similar passage Weber speaks of the function of ideal types as their comparison with empirical reality in order to describe divergences ‘with the most unambiguously intelligible concepts, and to understand and explain them causally’. ibid., p. 44. This passage is characteristic of the ambiguities in Weber's formulation. Is the explanation derived directly from the ideal type or does the type simply call attention to what is to be explained? By italicizing the phrase about ideal types functioning to provide un ambiguous concepts, Weber's emphasis seems still to be on the heuristic value of types for achieving clarity.

12 Weber , Methodology …. p. 97.

13 Weber , Theory …, p. 111.

14 Weber , Methodology …, p. 104.

15 Weber , Theory…, p. 110. For a slightly different distinction between extreme types and ideal types see Brown Robert, Explanation in Social Science, Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1963, pp. 177–85.

16 Hempel , op. cit., pp. 157–60.

17 Scarrow Howard A., Comparative Political Analysis, An Introduction. New York: Harper & Row, 1969, Chapter 2.

18 Hempel , op. cit., p. 159.

19 A good discussion of the problems of the logic of classification as related to comparative politics is Kallenburg Arthus L., ‘The Logic of Comparison’, World Politics, Vol. XIX, No. 1, 08. 1966, pp. 6982.

20 Of course, what is included in any list of traits, characteristics or factors varies from author to author. The list presented here reflects my own collation of the traits most com monly found in a dozen works consulted and their order indicates in a rough way the fre quency of their appearance. Terminology also varies and in some lists of characteristics of ‘developed’ politics, one finds ‘modernity’ listed as a trait alongside ‘capacity for change’ or ‘nationhood’. See, for example, Lucian Pye's ‘Introduction’ to Pye Lucian W. and Verba Sidney, eds. Political Culture and Political Development, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965, pp. 1112.

21 Huntington Samuel P., ‘Political Development and Political Decay’, World Politics, XVIII, 04, 1965.

22 Almond Gabriel A. and Bingham Powell G. Jr, Comparative Politics, A Developmental Approach, Boston: Little, Brown and Co., pp. 213 ff. See also David Apter's distinction between two types of ‘Traditionalism’, Apter David, ‘The Role of Traditionalism in the Political Modernization of Ghana and Uganda’, World Politics, Vol. XIII, No. 1, 1960.

23 Almond & Powell , op. cit., p. 302.

24 Ibid., p. 323.

25 There are at least six different types of secularization concepts in use today and the confusions this has produced along with the lingering ideological overtones have led to numerous calls for its restriction or outright elimination. See Shiner Larry E., ‘The Meanings of Secularization’, International Yearbook for the Sociology of Religion, 1967, pp. 51–9, and Blumenberg Hans, ‘Sakularisation: Kritik einer Kategorie historischer Illegitimatat’, in Die Philosophie und die Frage nach dem Fortschritt, Kuhn Helmut und Wiedman Franz, eds., Munchen: Verlag Puset, 1964. An extended historical account is Lubbe Hermann, Säkularisie-rung: Geschichte eines ideenpolitischen Begriffs, Freiburg: 1965. For an idea of the difficulties involved in dealing with differentiation in comparative study see Marsh Robert, Comparative Sociology, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967.

26 Hexter J. H., Reappraisals in History, New York: Harper & Row. 1963, pp. 41–3.

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