Breen, T.H. 2010. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. Hill and Wang.
In the final years of the eighteenth century, political insurgents on both sides of the Atlantic attempted something radically new: to institute government by the consent of the governed. Yet these efforts played out rather differently in France and the United States. As exemplars, these two cases have long informed the theoretical imaginations of political sociologists and social movement scholars. Two recent works at the intersection of history and social theory, however, suggest that we may all need to recheck some of our basic assumptions.
With American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill & Wang, 2010), T.H. Breen has produced that rare work of scholarship that one actually might want to read in a hammock or a beach chair. Exploiting the organized obsession with the American Revolution, embodied in so many wonderful local history associations and library collections, Breen reconstructs the close-to-the-ground processes by which some communities remained loyal to the British Empire while in others the social network pressures to join the insurgency became close to irresistible. Continue reading
Recently, Donald Sutherland, who plays the villain, President Snow, in the Hunger Games movies, said that he hoped those films would cause a “revolution” among young people. Sutherland, a longtime supporter of left-wing causes, asks why young people aren’t marching in the streets to fight inequality, and suggests a fairly typical assessment: there is no revolution because millennials are too worried about job hunting and making ends meet to get organized.
While there is, undeniably, always a time/resources crunch aspect to whether or not people become activists, there is another potentially interesting notion at work here, and the Hunger Games, the movie that Sutherland stars in, represents a useful cultural artifact to make the case with. Continue reading
A Protester carrying a sign in Puerta del Sol’s Square in Madrid in May 2011, a couple months after the Egyptian Revolution. The sign reads “Tahrir Square.”
When Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vender set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, he could not have imagined that his action would lead to a nationwide mass movement in his own country, described as the first revolution in the events known as the Arab Spring of 2011. He could not have at all conceived that his action, followed by his country’s revolution, would become “contagious,” spreading to Tunisia’s North African neighbors Egypt and Libya and beyond. Despite how the events known as the Arab Spring and their complex outcomes have developed and that some have involved a certain degree of civil war as well as international intervention, most entailed large mass protests. In addition, the Arab spring revolutions began as a chain of revolts across several different countries. Each Arab spring revolution was distinct but was constituted, in part, by the regional reverberations of the Arab spring revolutions across national borders. Continue reading