Month: February 2015

Tilly, Theories and Modern Revolutions Oh My

The way one structures the concept of revolutions will ultimately determine how many revolutions have actually occurred throughout history. Therefore, broader definitions will not only lead one to recognize more events that qualify as a revolution, but they are important in identifying the issues within a society that deserve attention- especially in the context of oppression.

Charles Tilly argues this point enthusiastically. He claims that there is a deficiency of “grounded analysis of revolutionary process that connect them [revolutions] firmly to our accumulating knowledge of state formation and routine political contention” (Tilly, 5).

Why is this important?  Tilly focuses on connecting factors, similarities, shifts of power and the outcomes of revolutions in order to connect the past, present and future. He asks “how forcible transfers of state power have changed in character as a function of transformations in European social structure, especially the organization of states and relations among states,” “how changes in revolution connect with alterations in non-revolutionary conflict and collective action,” and “how revolutions work, and whether the regularizes within revolutions have changed systematically over the five centuries under review” (Tilly, 5). These questions connect factors, which show that revolutions all involve forced transfer of power over states so this must involve how states use force because they vary in time, space and social setting. This is valuable when as a society, we wonder about our own fates, triumphs and outcomes.

Tilly’s objective of analysis however, does not base itself on solely violence because he believes that certain incidents of collective violence is actually “collective action. He believes this because the collective violence is just a typical part of competition between groups over power and numerous conflicting goals. (Skocpol,10). Whereas collective action, “defined as ‘People’s acting together in pursuit of common interests.” (Skocpol, 10). Collective action in revolutions according to Tilly involve all the contenders fighting for “Ultimate political sovereignty over a population” where all the challenging contenders succeed in at some point over throwing the already existing power holders. Revolutionary situations involving “multiple sovereignty” contain two main parts we need to consider according to Tilly. The first part we need to consider is all the long-term shift of social trends from one group to another in society. (Skocpol, 11). The second part we must take into consideration is the importance of examining any “medium-term occurrences, such as the proliferation of revolutionary ideologies and the increase of the popular discontent, that make revolutionary contenders for sovereignty likely to emerge and large elements of the population likely to support their claims.” The revolutionary moment arrives when an alternative government, body, or some kind of group is being followed more favorably than the actual government. This means there are where there is two “sovereign” states ruling over the people, although the second one is illegitimate. Because of the multiple sovereignty, the original government is more likely to collapse because there is less support. But in order for multiple sovereignty in a revolution to be successful there has to be force, In short, multiple sovereignty can only be successful with a force against the standing government (Skocpol, pg.11).  The idea of multiple sovereignty can be applied to the Egyptian and Libyan protests

This picture is of a protest taking place in Libya

This picture is of a protest taking place in Libya

because they started to follow groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. With people paying more attention on these other groups, the political governments in place could not stand alone. Eventually, there were new political officials because of the collective action in Arab Spring, classifying them as revolutions.

Another thing that could potentially cause a revolution would be a war, along with multiple sovereignty. The outcomes of wars correlate to revolutions and wars are involved in multiple states- how the other states react to internal conflict will strongly affect the outcomes. In order to identify which states might have revolutions, it is crucial to inspect domestic and the relationships among states. War, is an event that has affected nearly every generation, including our own can act as an indicator or a correlation of revolutionary events to come.

However, collective action and multiple sovereignty are not the only things that cause revolutions. Tilly also claims that social perceptions act as a corresponding factor to revolutions. If we want to examine the parallels between our modern day predictors of revolution, it is crucial to examine past attitude shifts. A personality of a revolution will be shaped by the causes and common mindsets. In order to provide examples of this, Tilly states that “1. By shaping the state’s structure and its relation to the subject populations; 2. By determining who are the major actors within any particular polity as well as how they approach political struggle; and 3. By affecting how much pressure example of the transition between an agrarian to an industrial economy; which eliminated the power of the caste like landlord/peasant relationship, bears upon the state and from which directions”(Tilly, 6).  These social perceptions are all indeed possible factors to cause a revolution. People are more likely to rebel if they are being oppressed, whether in a social structure of classes, or economically.

There is never just one thing that can be picked out and determined as the cause of a revolution.  Many theorists believe that there are multiple things that factor into the cause of an event.  Tilly believes that collective action, multiple sovereignty, and social perceptions are all significant factors when trying to determine an event as a revolution. His ideas on collective action help show that no sole event can cause a revolution singlehandedly. He also believed that multiple sovereign groups with some sort of force against the standing government would be required to cause revolution. Lastly, he believed that many social perceptions, such as economic and social class struggles had to be in place in order to incite a revolution. Looking at revolutions in various ways is the only way to truly identify their cause.



Works Cited


Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and

China. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979. 3-42. Print.


Tilly, Charles. European Revolutions, 1492-1992. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993. Print.

Relative Deprivation: Worth the Revolution?

Relative deprivation, that is when inequality or class differences grow unbearable, or when people’s expectations for further progress are dashed, is arguably one of the causes that lead to revolutions. It is essential to note, relative deprivation is different than poverty. While poverty only directly negatively affects one class, Goldstone argues that relative deprivation affects all classes, causing them to unite. The extremely impoverished do not have the resources to rise against the powerful regime fasting them to their poverty-stricken lives; however, when those from the middle-class and most elite of the society become aware of the faults within the regime that leads to such extreme class differences among other issues, a revolution, Goldstone argues, will thus form.

Relative deprivation may also be defined as being deprived of something that one feels entitled to.  This is interesting in that it is different from absolute deprivation–actually having nothing.  From the readings, it seems it is not how much a certain class or individual possesses, but rather how much one possesses in comparison to other classes or individuals in a society.  Relative deprivation can be recognized in the United States through the classic idiom of “keeping up with the Joneses.”  It is not a matter of how much any individual citizen of the United States has; the measure of status is how much one has accumulated relative to one’s neighbor.

Illustration by Allan Sanders

Keep Up With the Joneses

Relative deprivation varies based on the individual, however; when enough people feel the ramifications of relative deprivation it motivates classes to join together for a greater cause.  Few elites would be willing to die to protect the rights of peasants, meaning whatever uniting cause is prevalent must be immensely important. In the Skocpol reading, it is said that a peasant class can not win a revolution on their own; the peasant class can win if they are joined with the elites of a community and their resources, however.

Class struggles are often a driving factor of any revolution, as seen through the class readings. It is the severity, length of time, and lack of significant change in the class struggle that ultimately deprives a certain class. The economic, political, social or overall freedoms a class is felt denied upon can gain momentum for a revolution. Yes, the deprivation unites the struggling class in a powerful way. The momentum towards a revolution must be combined with other forces, however. It is clear to say that relative deprivation is not the only cause of revolutions; political upheaval or religious fervor have motivated revolutions in the past and may do so again in the future.

From the readings it can be determined that revolutions have a better chance of being successful when there is cross class participation. On the surface it generally would appear as though different classes have nothing to unite over, but in practice the classes generally agree upon the fact that someone else has something they want. For the lower classes this may be better living conditions or representation by the government; for higher classes it may be a desire for more power. Either way the biggest motivating factor for the classes to unite is a desire for something more. An effective example of this can be seen in the American Revolution. While divided over loyalties to the crown, class divisions essentially disappeared as the rebels fought against Great Britain.

It is essential to recognize that extreme inequality can lead to despair among subjugated classes just as easily as it can lead to revolution. The poor are left without resources or means of creating an effective revolutionary force, severely hindering the possibility or likelihood of a revolution. Revolutions being rare, an idea supported by numerous thinkers and scholars must somehow be reconciled with the fact that for nearly all of human history there has been inequality and poverty. The mere presence of relative depravity is not enough, on its own merit, to bring forth a revolution.



Revolutions…What is the cause?


King Louis XVI helped triggered the French Revolution by attempting to avoid bankruptcy.

What is a revolution? Most people see revolutions as a forcible overthrow of a government or social system in favor of a new set up.  The big question that ponders most theorists is “What causes these revolutions?” Theorists such as Theda Skocpol sees revolutions as a rapid transformation of a society’s class and structure while political scientist Jack Goldstone sees revolution as a state breakdown which only happens when a government becomes weak. Sure, there’s numerous causes revolution; but out of all of those causes, which ones matter the most?

It is very important to point out all the possible causes of the various revolutions that have happened throughout history. Although it may be difficult to find a common factor between the varieties of revolutions, it becomes increasingly important to point out that revolutions are not always caused by class struggle. Class struggle can be one of the causes of a revolution, but in most cases class struggle is not the only causing factor. As stated above, both Skocpol and Goldstone see beyond class struggle as the primary causes of revolutions, because class struggle comes from something much deeper than a supposed alienation or unhappiness of lower classes in compared to the hierd9f3e6ec37cf9e5b292719bd4a43db40.jpgarchy. Both Skocpol and Goldstone see politics as a major cause of revolutions.

Skocpol theorizes that political crises are the trigger points to launch revolutions, and the political groups in turn become the social forces of a revolution. She makes this point with this quote “The political-conflict groups that have figured in social-revolutionary struggles have not merely represented social interests and forces. Rather they have formed as interest groups within and fought about the forms of state structures. The vanguard parties that have emerged during the radical phases of social revolutions have been uniquely responsible for building centralized armis and administrations without which revolutionary transformations could not have been consolidated (29).” This part of Skocpol’s revolution theory is important to examine because it does speak about social forces, because even Skocpol can agree with that there are more causes of revolutions than just class, or social, problems but class struggles can be added to the formula of what makes up a revolution. Goldstone also sees political aspects of being some major causes of revolutions. Goldstone theorizes that revolutions are because of forcible political change because of elites of attacking a weakened ruler or government instead of aiding the situation. Goldstone also sees politics partaking in the causes of revolutions because rulers spreading new ideologies, such as enforcing beliefs to justify that person’s rule and heavily forcing it upon the common population. This is also another scenario where another theorist states that although class struggle may not always be a primary cause, it is more certainly an underlying factor of the formula of what makes up a revolution.

With all the changes that come within a state such a political: change in power from one person to the next, or change in economics: people losing jobs or inflation, these changes will almost always effect the social aspects of a state. From the problems that are created, and the unrest of a state, class struggle will likely come out of the problems because those with the least will be the most impacted. It is important to discuss that class struggle is not the only cause of revolutions because class struggle usually is a result of a much bigger problem; there are many more contributing factors to revolutions than just unhappy citizens, because there is always something to make the citizens unhappy.

The media image of the graphic organizer web of the causes of the French Revolution clearly states what has been said all along, that there are several causes of revolutions much bigger than just class struggle. This organizer describes that the French Revolution was a product of five major problems: the age of Enlightenment, France was an absolute monarchy with a weak monarch, France sent troops and supplies to aid the revolutionaries in America, financial difficulties in France, and lastly, the population being divided into three states. All these causes of the French Revolution were all equally important and all had equally important impacts to the creating of this revolution, much more than just a problem of class struggle within France. Revolutions are much more complicated than citizens unhappy with the way they are being treated, revolutions are a result of citizens doing something about both the economic and political state of their country.


Work Cited:

Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China (Cambridge: CUP, 1979), 29.