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Notes towards an Anthropology of Political Revolutions

  • Bjørn Thomassen (a1)

While resistance and rebellion have remained core themes in anthropology at least since the 1960s, anthropologists have paid much less attention to the study of political revolutions as real historical events. Yet there are compelling real-world reasons why they should orient their analytical apparatus and ethnographic efforts towards revolutionary events. This article advances a series of reasons why anthropology can enrich and supplement existing political science and history traditions in the study of political revolutions. Anthropology can do so via key concepts developed by Victor Turner: “liminality,” “social drama,” “communitas,” “frame,” and “play.” Turner's ritual approach gains further relevance when linked to another series of concepts developed by Marcel Mauss, Gabriel Tarde, Georg Simmel, and Gregory Bateson, such as “imitation,” “trickster,” “schismogenesis,” and “crowd behavior.” To study revolutions implies not only a focus on political behavior “from below,” but also recognition of moments where “high and low” are relativized or subverted, and where the micro- and macro-levels fuse in critical conjunctions.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
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