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Revolutions, Sociology of

John Lie and Nicholas Hoover Wilson

Subject Cultural Studies
Sociology » Government, Politics, and Law, Social Movements

Key-Topics Marxism, social change

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


What distinguishes revolution from riot or rebellion, collective action or collective violence, or coups d'état or just plain old regime change? Historical records are replete with instances of sudden, violent, extra-constitutional, and consequential regime change. However, the modern concept of revolution is the product of the French Revolution of 1789–94. The events that came to be known as the Revolution denoted and dominated modern politics. Henceforth, revolution referred to a sudden, violent political change that leads to consequential extra-political transformation. The French Revolution generated a new class of political actors – revolutionaries – and a new political ideology – the possibility and desirability of intentional, mass uprising to achieve sudden, extra-constitutional political change. In the modern political imagination, revolution came to denote the possibility of a better – indeed, utopian – future through the seizure of state power and the construction of a new revolutionary order. Before the French Revolution, the concept of revolution was used in a radically different way. Though today we may speak of the Roman Revolution or the English Revolution, contemporary observers employed other categories. Thus, the English Revolution was usually called the Great Rebellion, while what we would call restoration was called the Great – and later the Glorious – Revolution ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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