It is often the case that practical, empirically-minded historians who believe themselves to be quite exempt from the influence of any abstract social theory are, in reality, the unwitting slave of some defunct sociologist. The two sociological ghosts which haunt all attempts by historians to make sense of late medieval and early modern societies are Marxism and functionalism. This chapter briefly considers these approaches and argues that the strengths of each are synthesised in the neo-Weberian ‘closure theory’ developed by writers such as Parkin and Murphy. It considers, with the help of evidence drawn mainly from medieval England, the advantages of closure theory for historians and concludes by examining some of the criticisms which can be made of this approach.
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