By Kathryn Jezer-Morton
Every two years, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) honours a Canadian scholar for their distinguished and sustained contribution to the literature of the social sciences. This year, the honour goes to McGill’s Prof. John A. Hall of the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts.
Hall is the James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology. His work in sociology deals with state-building and nation-building, with an emphasis on European history. His recent research looks into the ways in which Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland – all three small, relatively homogenous nation-states – managed the 2008 financial crisis. A book on the topic, The Paradox of Vulnerability, is currently in press.
The Royal Society of Canada established the Innis-Gérin Medal in 1966 to honour economic historian Harold A. Innis (1894-1952) and sociologist Léon Gérin (1863-1951), who were Presidents of the RSC from 1946-1947 and 1933-1934 respectively.
Hall expressed gratitude for the award. “Writing is a very lonely activity, with comparative historical work being slightly specialized. So to be recognized for looking at patterns of history is simply wonderful,” he said. “There is a tendency to look at the events of the very last days, and to produce instant policy fixes that can do as much harm as good. Concentration on slow-moving long-term processes makes us aware of the constraints that we face, thereby allowing us to recognize our genuine options. Humility can breed wisdom – and better policy.”
“On behalf of McGill, I congratulate Prof. Hall on this wonderful recognition of his accomplishments in the field of sociological theory,” said McGill’s Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation, Rosie Goldstein.
In 2011, Hall’s biography of the British-Czech philosopher and social anthropologist Ernest Gellner, Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography, was published to critical acclaim. Hall has authored over 20 books since 1979. He will be in Princeton in 2017-8 as the Laurence S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching.
“My work has always moved between history and social science,” said Hall. “Sociological theory is very often blind, concerned most of the time with the nature of industrial societies. It must and can be improved by considering the whole historical record. But history can irritate me because sometimes it doesn’t have clear enough analytic questions. So I go back and forth between the disciplines,, irritating some but with many friends on both sides.”
Hall will receive the Innis-Gérin Medal at the Royal Society of Canada’s Annual General Meeting, which is to be held in November in Kingston, Ontario.