Revolutionary revolutions

Social scientists study revolutions, large collective action aiming for change, and contentions, conflict outside the realm of formal political institutions. There are many different types of contentions such as social movements, organized protest over a common goal that is formed over time, social revolutions, insurgencies, civil wars, terrorism, and “everyday forms of resistance”. It is believed through the iron law of oligarchy theory that contentions always lead to a new elite. One of the most important aspects in any revolution is mobilization, the ability to have individuals engage in discourse but compromise and move forward. (1)


In a New York Times article, Beverly Gage discusses what turns an organized political moment into a social movement in today’s world. With the prevalence of social media, mass gatherings are easier to come by, but it is hard to cause them to stick, no matter how much initial potential they have. She states that the modern leader-less, wide sweeping protests struggle to last long term, but the turnover rate may indicate their success. (2)


How do different regime-types affect the type of contentions that occur within the state?


America, as a democracy, has a relatively strong civil society that frequently holds protests and attempts to create new movements often. In weaker democracies or authoritarian regimes that do not allow for strong civil societies, people might have to resort to more aggressive forms of contention such as insurgencies or civil wars in order to promote their message. For an example, India has little freedom of speech or expression or freedom of assembly, and, therefore, they have a poor civil society.

(1) Tyler Dickovick and Jonathan Eastwood, “Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases”, Oxford University Press, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

(2) Beverly Gage, “When Does a Moment Turn Into a ‘Movement’?”, New York Times, (May 15, 2018).

Do Social Revolutions Stimulate Progress?

Cate Pollini


In “States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China,” Skocpol analyzes the various components that intermesh together to create social revolutions. Social revolutions are best explained by finding the emergence of tension, instead of the making of the revolution. In Skopol’s terms, the emergence of a social revolution can be identified by a state breakdown and peasant mobilization. In France, Russia, and China social revolutions emerged due to military breakdown and the imperial state being caught between class uprisings and weak institutions. However, definitions of social revolutions are dependent on political and social backgrounds of countries as Skocpol stated, and some definitions are therefore insufficient like with Max Weber’s definition with bureaucratic domination.


As of July 24, 2018, Saudi women have been permitted to drive cars. Since Saudi Arabia is home to two holy Islamic sites and is a major oil exporter, successful social reforms would be able to bring about a moderate Islamic world. However, even though women being permitted to drive cars may be considered a social revolution it would be more accurate to categorize it as a social reform since there is no state breakdown or peasant mobilization like in Skocpol’s thesis.


Are social reforms able to stimulate the same amount of progress as social revolutions?


In regards to a country that has a long history of militants and repression like in Saudi Arabia, gradual social reforms may be best for change so no coup or insurgency will be sparked. An example of this would also be in Nigeria with the Biafran war. Nonetheless, social revolutions and reforms are dependable on a country’s political economy, social and international background.     



Tyler J. Dickovick and Jonathan Eastwood, Comparative Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings: “States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2017), 220-225.

Leaders. “How to Ensure Muhammad Bin Salman’s Reforms Succeed.” The Economist. June 23, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2019.