Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

system was not easy. It was to Europe's credit that it was done, since without the thrust of the sixteenth century the modern world would not have been born and, for all its cruelties, it is better that it was born than that it had not been.

It is also to Europe's credit that it was not easy, and particularly that it was not easy because the people who paid the short-run costs screamed lustily at the unfairness of it all. The peasants and workers in Poland and England and Brazil and Mexico were all rambunctious in their various ways. As R. H. Tawney says of the agrarian disturbances of sixteenth-century England: "Such movements are a proof of blood and sinew and of a high and gallant spirit. . . . Happy the nation whose people has not forgotten how to rebel."

The mark of the modern world is the imagination of its profiteers and the counter-assertiveness of the oppressed. Exploitation and the refusal to accept exploitation as either inevitable or just constitute the continuing antinomy of the modern era, joined together in a dialectic which was far from reached its climax in the twentieth century.❖

Theda Skocpol ( 1947-) teaches at Harvard University, where she had been a student in the 1970s (receiving her Ph.D. in sociology in 1975). She was initially denied tenure at Harvard on the superficial grounds that her widely acclaimed book, States and Social Revolutions, was not sufficiently original. Skocpol brought sex discrimination charges and fought the denial. Eventually, after much embarrassment to the Department of Sociology and to Harvard, she was awarded tenure. Some believe that the attempt to deny tenure also involved a dispute over the role of secondary analysis and historical data (as opposed to quantitative studies) in sociology. While away from Harvard, Skocpol taught at the University of Chicago. She is considered a leader in the revival of interest in the sociology of the state. She is also the author of Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States ( 1992), which, like her first book, has been widely acclaimed as a classic in political sociology.

The selection presents the key elements in Skocpol's theory of the state. She takes up and revises earlier arguments for the relative autonomy of state from class power. The subtlety of her structural interpretation is seen in the way she relates the state to the structured world-system, on the one hand, and, as she puts it, the "class-divided socioeconomic structures," on the other. The study for which she devises this theory is an attempt to explain the phenomenon of social revolution with reference to the classic revolutions in eighteenth-century France and to Russia and China in the twentieth century. She explains that in none of these cases could the revolution be accounted for without accounting for changes in state structures in relation to world events and class-based pressures from below in the societies.


The State as a Janus-faced Structure

Theda Skocpol ( 1979)

We can make sense of social-revolutionary transformations only if we take the state seriously as a macro-structure. The state properly conceived is no mere arena in

____________________
Excerpt from States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 29-32. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.

-397-

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