An excellent recent historical writing example of this is Amanda Vickery's extraordinary Gentleman's Daughter. Vickery wanted to know what really happened to genteel women in the eighteenth century. General accounts of women in this period have emphasized the removal of women from their role in production, the creation of "idle domesticity," and the rise of "separate spheres" for men and women. Vickery attacked this tradition on several grounds. First, scholars have traced these developments to wildly varying periods between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Second, these arguments usually originate in the simple (and erroneous) deduction that some kind of gradual transition must exist between the starting point of the medieval productive family and the end point of the late-nineteenth-century system of absolutely separate spheres. Scholars deduced this transition and then imposed it on data. Indeed, Vickery also attacks the methodological roots of these accounts, which are usually based on print sources (which are highly selective). She also notes that the urge to locate family trends with respect to related political and economic contexts has led to an arguing from contextual evidence (about politics, say, or production in the industrial revolution) to the family (as in the assumption that as production moved out of the household into factories, women must have played a smaller role in it). Note that these arguments use a wide variety of heuristic moves in addition to the contextualizing one.
Vickery sets aside contextual phenomena such as the rise of consumption, the transformation of the economy, and the remaking of social life. She also sets aside the "larger" history of England in the eighteenth century. Robert Walpole, the Pitts, the Seven Years' War, the American War of Independence, the industrial revolution-these, too, are nearly absent. Rather, she starts with the immediate situation itself, with thousands of pages of diaries and letters written by more than one hundred women (and a few men) in the north of England. And from these myriad details, she builds up a complex picture of the everyday world of these women, under the headings "gentility," "love and duty," "fortitude and resignation," "prudent economy," "elegance," "civility and vulgarity," and "propriety." Of course, the women are seen in extraordinary local contextual detail. But we see the larger context only as they saw it. We see only what the documents discuss. That eliding of larger events is indeed part of the book's empirical message, part of characterizing the world of experience these women knew.
In some ways, then, what the book does is exchange one set of contexts (the larger social processes seen by t heorists) for another (the experiential contexts of everyday life: neighborhood, friends, correspondents, retailers, and so on). In this sense, historians never fully decontexmalize. What results is a book of extraordinary strength of detail, a book whose portrait of women's lives utterly resists being assembled into larger arguments. Again and again, Vickery finds a middle way between the poles of prominent theoretical debates. On marriage, for example, she concludes: Marriage carried the potential both for harmonious license and for miserable servitude, as it long had done. The patriarchal and the companionate marriage were not successive stages in the development of the modem family, as Lawrene Stone has asserted, rather these were, as Keith Wrightson has sensibly argued, "poles of an enduring continuum in marital relations in a society which accepted both the primacy of male authority and the ideal of marriage as a practical and emotional partnership." (Vickery 1998:86) By removing women's experience from the grasp of general arguments, as well as from important areas of political and social history, and taking it on its own terms as experience, Vickery both decontextualizes and recontextualizes. The result is to make the book hard to summarize and reduce to an abstract finding that can be inserted into theoretical debates about family and gender in Europe. This example makes it especially clear that the issue of context is always complex. Most removals from one context are attempts to emphasize another. When you use the contextualizing/noncontextualizing heuristic, you must indeed be deeply aware of this multiplicity of contexts. Even the most apparently noncontextualizing of SCA work is still situating its subjects somewhere.