8

DISCOURSES AND SOCIAL FORCES

The role of culture and cultural studies in understanding revolutions

John Foran

From the seeds of culture blossom flowers of resistance and liberation.

Amilcar Cabral

Like many other specialized but historically central topics within the social sciences, the study of revolutions has not proven immune to changes in the larger currents within social theory generally. This means that since the early 1980s, and with increasing urgency in the early 1990s, the "cultural" turn within the social sciences has begun to have an impact on theorizing about revolutions. This turn constitutes a critical new moment in the actual study of revolutions, one potentially capable of affecting our thinking on a par with the previous "turn" toward structural theories in the 1970s associated with the work of Theda Skocpol, Jeffery Paige, and Charles Tilly, among others, and just before them, Eric Wolf and Barrington Moore, Jr. This development has paralleled and been affected by the rise of the sociology of culture in the United States, cultural studies in England, and post-structuralism in France and elsewhere. The purpose of this chapter is to take some stock of the many diverse currents within this most recent approach as applied to revolutions, establishing their historical lineages and identifying the major debates among them, and to set out a new research agenda for incorporating the undeniable insights of this body of work into future, better-rounded perspectives for studying revolutions.

Among the major issues involved here are the perennial questions of the causes and outcomes of revolutions; the difficulties of thinking about how culture, ideology, and discourse play a role in these; and the relationship of such factors to social structure, state, and political economy as principles of explanation. The following chapter will take up in turn the larger field of studying culture, current approaches to revolution and culture, the problem of the cultural origins of revolutions, and the role played by cultural forces in shaping their outcomes. Along the way, I shall make my own argument about the centrality of culture in the making and unmaking of revolutions, touching base empirically with a diverse set of cases across time and

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Theorizing Revolutions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Agknowledgements x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - State-Centered Approaches to Social Revolutions 11
  • 2 - Structural Theories of Revolution 38
  • 3 - Agents of Revolution 73
  • 4 - Population Growth and Revolutionary Crises 102
  • 5 - Revolution in the Real World 123
  • 6 - Gender and Revolutions 137
  • 7 - Race and the Process of the American Revolutions 168
  • 8 - Discourses and Social Forces 203
  • 9 - The Comparative-Historical Sociology of Third World Social Revolutions 227
  • Bibliography 268
  • Index 289
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