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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: June 2012

20 - Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements


The sociological study of revolutions has made enormous explanatory strides during the past two decades. We now understand much better than previously both the “classic” revolutions in England, France, and Russia and more recent revolutions in so-called developing societies (e.g., China, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, and Nicaragua). Some scholars have also fruitfully examined the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as a peculiar type of revolution, and there is a growing literature on so-called Islamist movements as a revolutionary phenomenon. According to Randall Collins, “The most striking accumulation of knowledge” in the field of macrohistory “has taken place on Marx's favorite topic, revolution” (1999:3).

Sociologists have been especially interested in understanding “great” or “social” revolutions, that is, revolutions that bring about not only a change of political regime but also fundamental economic and perhaps cultural change (but cf. Tilly, 1993). Social scientists in the United States in particular have been especially fascinated with such revolutions – perhaps because of the often strenuous efforts by their own government to prevent or reverse such revolutions, or perhaps because the United States itself was borne of a revolution that some analysts consider “great” or “radical” (e.g., Lipset, 1988; Wood, 1992). Crane Brinton (1965[1938]), Barrington Moore (1966), Chalmers Johnson (1982[1966]), Ted Robert Gurr (1970), Samuel Huntington (1968), Eric Wolf (1969), Jeffery Paige (1975, 1997), and Ellen Kay Trimberger (1978) are just a few of the scholars who have made important contributions to this tradition.

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