Review: Charles Tilly (2006). Why? What Happens When People Give Reasons … And Why


  • Jörg Potthast Social Science Research Center, Berlin (WZB)



justification, attribution, causation, reasoning, conventions, 9/11, sociology of scientific knowledge


While it is clear that we are constantly giving as well as receiving justifications, it is less clear how justification works. New York sociologist Charles TILLY (1929-2008) claims that both social scientists and historians have failed to properly address this question and to develop on its methodological implications. Therefore, he has written a book on "why?". Is there an imperative to justify? If there is, how is it activated? How do justifications emerge? How do situations which have justification come to an end? TILLY argues that operations of justification take a variety of forms and he distinguishes four different formats justification can take: Justifications are given in terms of conventions (pp.32-60), stories (pp.61-95), codes (pp.96-125), and technical accounts (pp.126-156). While TILLY has chosen to highlight these different forms throughout the main chapters of his book, he maintains that all types of justifications have something in common. Whatever form justifications may take, they always relate to "practices" and "social relations." This implies that neither practices nor relations determine justifications (and vice versa). URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901135


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Author Biography

Jörg Potthast, Social Science Research Center, Berlin (WZB)

Jörg POTTHAST is a research fellow at the Social Science Research Center, Berlin (WZB). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, he has carried out research projects in the fields of science & technology studies and the sociology of work and organizations. Recent publications include Die Bodenhaftung der Netzwerkgesellschaft. Eine Ethnografie von Pannen an Großflughäfen (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2007) and Ethnography of a paper strip: The production of air safety (STI Studies, 4[1], 47-68).




How to Cite

Potthast, J. (2008). Review: Charles Tilly (2006). Why? What Happens When People Give Reasons … And Why. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1).