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The End of Revolution, and Its Means

Processual and Programmatic Approaches to Revolution in the Epoch of Revolution Debate

Benjamin Abrams

In Contention volume 5, issue 2, Benjamin Abrams interviewed the political theorist John Dunn on the topic of modern revolutions. In the interview, Dunn advanced the view that the “Epoch of Revolution” had ended by 1989 and that what many scholars called revolutions today were simply instances of regime collapse. The interview received a lot of attention from scholars and practitioners including Hugo Slim. Slim challenged Dunn’s concept of revolution in this issue, and Dunn responded defending his ideas. This article attempts to tease out the differences underlying the two scholars’ disagreement as to whether the Epoch of Revolution has truly passed. The article proposes that while processual approaches (such as Slim’s) conceive of revolution primarily as a political means, Dunn’s “programmatic” approach to revolution conceives of it as not only a means but also a political end. The article also considers the implications of Dunn’s theory of revolution, and the representative challenges of academic interviewing.

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Modern Revolutions and Beyond

An Interview with John Dunn

Benjamin Abrams and John Dunn

John Dunn, FBA, is emeritus professor of political theory at King’s College, University of Cambridge. His work on revolution began in 1972 with the publication of his landmark volume, Modern Revolutions: An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon. A second edition was published in 1989, and the volume has since been translated into several foreign languages. Alongside revolution, Dunn’s thought has examined questions of regime collapse, reconstruction, the political trajectories of modern states, and the emergence and significance of democracy. His work lies at the intersection of history, political theory, and sociology. In the interview, Dunn offers a categorization of revolution as a distinctly bounded historical phenomenon that has not persisted into the twenty-first century. “The Epoch of Revolution,” he argues, begins with 1789 and had definitively ended by 1989. After the Epoch of Revolution, Dunn argues, we now confront a more enduring and generic phenomenon: regime collapse.

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Giovanni A. Travaglino and Benjamin Abrams

It is hard to think of the study of social protest and political behavior as anything but an interdisciplinary enterprise. It is grounded in a great many different perspectives, approaches, and levels of analysis. Different disciplines may even rely on fundamentally different conceptions of the social, the political, or the individual. Accordingly, the field has been privileged with a rich and impressive array of theoretical and empirical work dating as far back as the work of Marx, Rousseau, and Hobbes.

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Benjamin Abrams and Giovanni A. Travaglino

When we think about protest, we often associate it with the notion of organized social movements, but studying organized movements only captures a small part of the realities of social protest. Dissent often takes alternative forms, and can be studied from myriad angles. The articles in this issue offer different perspectives on social protest, examining the roles of small activist collectives, organized policing efforts, local private politics, digital communities, and revolutionary vanguards in instances of collective action and political behavior.

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Benjamin Abrams and Giovanni A. Travaglino

Social protest is not always a simple process. Social movements, activists, or political parties can attempt to change the status quo, but they do not often do so through a single, traceable process of contention. Instead, they encounter selective participation, community dynamics, dilemmas about how and where to spend their time, and interventions by governments and other elites that seriously impact their momentum. The articles in this issue assess these complicating phenomena, examining issues of system justification, local community responses to hate, the balancing of online and offline protest, and the role of government and media elites in circumventing the rise of protest movements.

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Benjamin Abrams and Giovanni A. Travaglino

Just as there are many repertoires of contention, there are also many repertoires of scholarship. Much of our writing on contentious politics utilizes one specific repertoire: the empirical research article. And yet, there is a plurality of forms through which we can advance scholarly knowledge on the subject of protest. This issue was devised, in a broad sense, as a celebration of that plurality. The articles in this issue offer a smorgasbord of scholarly work, highlighting the breadth of scholarly tactics that are available to academics and practitioners in the field of contentious politics.

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Giovanni A. Travaglino and Benjamin Abrams

Since its inception, Contention has aimed to illuminate our understanding of activism and political behavior across a full variety of contexts and settings. By examining political behavior across multiple geographical and social sites, we can explore unique opportunities to expand the horizon of our theoretical frameworks, test the generalizability and applicability of our claims, and gain a stronger grasp of how different structural arrangements and historical trajectories might shape political action.