Fernand Braudel on Structural History

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Joshua Goldstein:

"Structure refers to the deeper forces of social change and conjuncture to the actual course of history. One can look at long-term change (structure), medium-term change (conjuncture), or very rapid change, "the shortest being the easiest to detect" (Braudel 1984:17).

Wallerstein's (1979:673) view of long cycles resonates with "structural history." He sees cyclical patterns as a "central part" of "long-term, large-scale social reality." "To seize this reality, we need data over wider space and longer time, and we have to search first of all for the continuities."

"This "Structural History," pioneered by Braudel, emphasizes the systemic level of analysis, especially the level of the world as a whole, and examines the traces of long-term forces of change in society.

Those who study history, Braudel argues, help society to develop and refine its collective self-temporalization — how we see our society in time. "World time" is Braudel's (1984:17) term for time "experienced on a world scale," which governs certain realities and excludes others. For Braudel, structural history means not only a new time scale but a change in focus, from the political to the economic/social/cultural aspects of history. His interpretations tend toward "geohistory" in which politics is "secondary to other historical ensembles of action" and the emphasis is on "a space ecologically articulated rather than on a nation politically expressed" (Kinser 1981:103). While shifting the focus away from the state and "politics," Braudel (1984:19) also steers clear of the approach in which economics drives all other aspects of society (economism): It would be a mistake to imagine that the order of the world-economy governed the whole of society. . . . An economy never exists in isolation. Its territory and expanse are also occupied by other spheres of activity—culture, society, politics — which are constantly reacting with the economy. Reality is a totality, the "set of sets," in which each set (economics, politics, culture, society) "extends beyond its own area" (Braudel 1984:45)."