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CSOC 1035A - Sociology of Revolutions

Type d'enseignement : Elective

Semester : Spring 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

This course is about revolutions - a crucial topic for students of society and politics, but one that is often neglected by, or left on the margins of social science curricula. It is also a topic that demands attention now perhaps more than ever. During the Cold War, scholars took it for granted that revolutions regularly played a decisive role in shaping history. In the 'new world order' following the end of the Cold War, many scholars wondered aloud if revolution had had its day. Then suddenly, in 2011, the world was told that revolutions were back - and that they were turning decades-old dictatorships upside down, all across the Arab world. Similar movements elsewhere led observers to ask if we were on the brink of another world revolutionary moment like 1848 or 1917-1922. But by now, no one seems sure anymore if the events of 2011 were really revolutions at all. Many of the movements of 2011 fizzled out, or degenerated into vicious bloodletting without achieving obvious social or political gains. This brings up fundamental questions about how we think of and theorise revolutions. How and why do they happen? And what do we really mean by "revolution" in the first place? In addressing these questions, this course will examine attempts to grapple with the subject of revolution from the eighteenth century to the present day, taking in very different positions and intellectual traditions from within and without the academy. Along the way, we will also consider various historical events that have been called revolutionary - because theories of revolution are meaningless if divorced from the empirical reality they are supposed to refer to. The basic concerns of the course are sociological, and much of the substance derives from what is often called the "sociology of revolutions". However, the course also touches on political science and historiography, as well as other fields, and our classes will have a highly inter-disciplinary spirit. The course is designed not just with the trainee social scientist in mind, but also the informed observer of contemporary political events. Thus, participants will be expected to keep up to date with relevant news and current affairs.


DAVIS, Donagh (PhD, Researcher)

Pedagogical format

This course has been offered in an elective, small-group seminar format, for a number of reasons. In a lecture format typical of many undergraduate courses, it would be difficult to convey more than a superficial overview of different scholarly perspectives on revolution. This course is geared towards more than that: the topic of revolution is taken as an inherently complex and problematic one, throwing up various puzzles that we will attempt to grapple with throughout the course. These puzzles will form the basis of our discussions in class. These learning goals will be reflected in the approach to course assessment: earlier coursework will seek to ascertain that course participants have absorbed basic knowledge required for an appreciation of the role of revolutions in history - from empirical knowledge of various revolutions, to familiarity with assorted theories of revolution. Final assessment will require participants to put this knowledge to work, by applying their preferred approach to revolution to a chosen instance of revolution - demonstrating that approach's utility, and explaining why it is more useful than other approaches. A seminar on revolution could be approached in many different ways. This one has been designed as it has in the hope of fostering a coherent 'train of thought' running from one session to another - from the eighteenth century birth pangs of the modern concept of revolution that we cover in the first class, to the prognosis for revolution in the twenty-first century, which we consider in the final session. In between, classes will consider successive problems and controversies encountered by revolutionary scholars and thinkers, in a semi-chronological manner.

Required reading

Foran, John, ed. 1997. Theorizing Revolutions. London: Routledge

Additional required reading

  • Goldstone, Jack A. 1991. Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Goodwin, Jeff. 2001. No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945–1991. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Huntington, Samuel P. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • McAdam, Doug, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. 2001. Dynamics of Contention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.