Dynamics of Contention

Dynamics of Contention

Dynamics of Contention

Dynamics of Contention


Dissatisfied with the compartmentalization of studies concerning strikes, wars, revolutions, social movements, and other forms of political struggle, McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly identify causal mechanisms and processes that recur across a wide range of contentious politics. Critical of the static, single-actor models (including their own) that have prevailed in the field, they shift the focus of analysis to dynamic interaction. Doubtful that large, complex series of events such as revolutions and social movements conform to general laws, they break events into smaller episodes, then identify recurrent mechanisms and proceses within them. Dynamics of Contention examines and compares eighteen contentious episodes drawn from many different parts of the world since the French Revolution, probing them for consequential and widely applicable mechanisms, for example, brokerage, category formation, and elite defection. The episodes range from nineteenth-century nationalist movements to contemporary Muslim-Hindu conflict to the Tiananmen crisis of 1989 to disintegration of the Soviet Union. The authors spell out the implications of their approach for explanation of revolutions, nationalism, and democratization, then lay out a more general program for study of contentious episodes wherever and whenever they occur.


“On thinking of the events that have happened since the beginning of the week, ” confided Parisian bookseller Siméon-Prosper Hardy to his journal on July 17, 1789, “it is hard to recover from one's astonishment” (BN Fr 6687 [Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fonds Français, no. 6687]). It had, indeed, been quite a week in Paris; that week's pages of Hardy's neatly penned journal contain extraordinarily vivid portraits of contentious politics. No such tumults had shaken Paris since the Fronde of 1648–1653. From the time when the Third Estate's representatives to the Estates General in Versailles declared themselves a national assembly on June 17, detachments of royal troops had been gathering around the Paris region. On several occasions, however, whole companies had refused to use their arms against civilians or had even joined in popular attacks on troops that remained loyal to the king. By early July, signs of great division were appearing within the regime.

When the king dismissed popular finance minister Jacques Necker on July 11, mass marches and gatherings began to overflow Parisian streets. That night people sacked tollgates on the city's perimeter, then danced around the ruins. During the next few days, electoral assemblies, their provisional committees, and their hastily formed militias began running much of Paris. Meanwhile, bands of Parisians broke into prisons and other public buildings, freeing prisoners, seizing arms, and taking away provender stored within.

On the 14 of July, searches for weapons continued. According to Hardy's account:

People went to the castle of the Bastille to call the governor, the marquis Delaunay, to hand over the weapons and ammunition he had; on his refusal, workers of . . .

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