This theoretical tension proves immensely useful for clarifying and helping to explain the political processes at the core of empire and colonial state formation. So, my theoretical work articulates historical sociology with political theory so as to understand intergroup competition. I do this in two ways. First, I theorize principle and agent relationships in the colonial administration, and second, I study agency relations in the mixed legal systems that developed out of the colonial state and are retained as legacies in contemporary Malaysia. Here, I find inspiration in theorists of culture and power including Sally Engle Merry and Lawrence Rosen.
The comparative and historical dimensions of my work are keenly Weberian but with a twist: I see in the arc of history patterns identified in Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of social change. In the rise and fall of civilizations lies the reckoning for our collective hubris in the telos of progress. Writing during a time in Muslim history when scholarship was endemically chained to power, Ibn Khaldun set an agenda for historiography that sets truth – empirical not metaphysical – apart from error in the careful account of the chains in the transmission of knowledge.
When assembled, these thinkers provide a new vision for social theory that guides my work. It is a vision that systematically connects mental schemas to a framework of action – that binds chains of power to chains of knowledge – to apprehend and encounter alterity in modernity.
Hanisah Binte Abdullah Sani is a comparative-historical and political sociologist of empire and state formation, modernization and development. She studies how law and religion organize elites and build states, and specializes in the colonial and modern histories of Southeast Asia. She received her doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago in 2019. Currently, she is a visiting associate at the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, and a National University of Singapore overseas postdoctoral fellow.