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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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Zygmunt Bauman . 1994. A Revolution in the Theory of Revolutions? International Political Science Review, 15, 1: 1524.

Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff . 1991. Of Revelation and Revolution I: Christianity, Colonialism and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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John Gledhill . 1985. The Peasantry in History: Some Notes on Latin America Research. Critique of Anthropology 5, 1: 3356.

Agnese Horvath . 1998. Tricking into the Position of the Outcast: A Case Study in the Emergence and Effects of Communist Power. Political Psychology 19, 2: 331–47.

Webb Keane . 2003. Semiotics and the Social Analysis of Material Things.” Language and Communication 23, 3–4: 409–25.

Paul Manning . 2007. Rose-Colored Glasses? Color Revolutions and Cartoon Chaos in Postsocialist Georgia. Cultural Anthropology 22, 2: 171213.

William Sewell . 2005. Logics of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Susan Seymour . 2006. Resistance. Anthropological Theory 6, 3: 303–21.

Scott Straus . 2001. Organic Purity and the Role of Anthropology in Cambodia and Rwanda. Patterns of Prejudice 35, 2: 4762.

Bjørn Thomassen . 2010. Anthropology, Multiple Modernities, and the Axial Age Debate. Anthropological Theory 10, 4: 321–42.

Bjørn Thomassen . 2012. Anthropology and Its Many Modernities: When Concepts Matter. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18: 160–78.

Victor W. Turner 1979. Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, 4: 465–99.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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