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States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China [Paperback]

Theda Skocpol
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

28 Feb 1979
State structures, international forces, and class relations: Theda Skocpol shows how all three combine to explain the origins and accomplishments of social-revolutionary transformations. From France in the 1790s to Vietnam in the 1970s, social revolutions have been rare but undeniably of enormous importance in modern world history. States and Social Revolutions provides a new frame of reference for analyzing the causes, the conflicts, and the outcomes of such revolutions. And it develops in depth a rigorous, comparative historical analysis of three major cases: the French Revolution of 1787 through the early 1800s, the Russian Revolution of 1917 through the 1930s, and the Chinese Revolution of 1911 through the 1960s. Believing that existing theories of revolution, both Marxist and non-Marxist, are inadequate to explain the actual historical patterns of revolutions, the author urges us to adopt fresh perspectives. She argues for structural rather than voluntarist analysis, and for an emphasis on the effects of transnational and world-historical contexts upon domestic political conflicts. Above all, she maintains that states conceived as administrative and coercive organizations potentially autonomous from class controls and interests must be made central to explanations of revolutions.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (28 Feb 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521294991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521294997
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 426,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'With lucidity and care, Skocpol has laid out a challenging comparison of three great revolutions … Here is a book worth studying, refuting, testing, elaborating, and emulating.' Charles Tilly

'I am convinced that States and Social Revolutions will be considered a landmark in the study of the sources of revolution.' Lewis A. Coser, The New York Times Book Review

Book Description

Theda Skocpol shows how all three combine to explain the origins and accomplishments of social-revolutionary transformations. States and Social Revolutions provides a new frame of reference for analyzing the causes, the conflicts, and the outcomes of such revolutions.

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eral - the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. Similarly, with the establishment of capitalism the advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning book 30 Jan 2004
Format:Paperback
This books provides an exceptionaly clear framework explaining the driving forces in world history over the last 500 years. It is a 'must read' for final year school historians and political scientists, and anyone studying social sciences at university. It clearly outlines liberal and marxist explanations for why revolutions occur before moving on to explain a structuralist approach. Whilst historians will no doubt quibble over specific details here and there, the book provides a workable model to explain when revolutions do and do not occur. The quality of its argument is indicated by the fact that recent events in Russia and in Iraq can easily be slotted into it.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revolution from a Structural Approach 25 Oct 2005
By Matthew P. Arsenault - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Theda Skocpol seeks to explain the causes of social revolution through a structural paradigm. Her level of analysis is the state. This paradigm, holding the state as the level of analysis and concentrating on structure, is defined well by Migdal. "This is a system-dominant perspective in which structuralists see states as interchangeable to the degree that they expect them to act similarly if facing the same array of forces" (215).

Skocpol contends that external forces can lead to economic and military instability within a state. This instability weakens both the structure of the state, and subsequently the nation's societal structure. In turn, this creates an environment well-suited for social revolutions. Skocpol defines social revolution as causing two important changes which separate it from other forms of political upheavals: "societal structural change with class upheaval" and "the coincidence of political with social transformation" (5).

In order to discover similar phenomena common across states which lead to social revolution, Skocpol uses a method of comparative historical analysis. She seeks to establish relationships between "causal variables referring to the strength and structure of old regime states and the relations of state organizations to class structures" (35). Her analysis spans three revolutions: France 1789, China 1911 and Russia 1917. In looking for commonalities across state boundaries, Skocpol is using what she referred to in Bringing the State Back In as the Toucquevillian approach. In this case, Skocpol is using the Toucquevillian point of view to explore how "state structures and the activities of states" influence social revolution. Skocpol asserts that revolutions emerge from "political crises centered in the structures and situations of old regime states" (47). The author argues that in the cases of France, China and Russia, all regimes faced similar threats which affected state, and consequently, societal structures.

According to Skocpol, a number of transnational and internal events can lead to changes in state structure: threats of invasion, defeats in war, political dependency and economic inequalities. In discussing state failure, Migdal writes, "States crack when they are hit simultaneously by three sorts of crises - a state financial emergency, severe elite divisions, and a potential and propensity for popular groups to mobilize" (216). In Skocpol's historical analysis, all three old regimes suffered similar pressures.

First, pre-revolutionary regimes could not compete economically with their industrializing neighbors. All three old regimes experienced difficulty making the transition from agrarian economies to industrialized societies. This created economic inequality between states. As Skocpol writes, "Modern social revolutions have happened only in countries situated in disadvantaged positions within international arenas" (23).

In addition to economic disequilibrium, all three old regimes encountered military threats from abroad. These regimes were unable to compete militarily with their neighbors due to their economic disadvantage and lack of industrialization. These pressures lead to Migdal's second type of crisis, "state financial emergency."

Secondly, in response to these external pressures, the structure of the old regimes weakened, and conflict between the state and elites emerged. The international pressures began to drain the state economically. In France and Germany, wars with industrialized rivals nearly bankrupted the state (65, 81). In China, the Imperial court was unable to counter the intrusion of foreign powers and the successive changes imposed to the economic structure (74). This in turn placed pressure on the elites.

In France, the state faced bankruptcy due wars and the lack of an industrialized economy. The state attempted to impose tax reform which would have increased taxation for an elite deeply engrained in the state structure. The elites no longer felt that the state could adequately protect their interests, and began to seek a more representative regime. In turn, this call for more representation weakened the Crown, and coupled with a disillusioned peasant class, was able to change state structure. Similar events in Russia and Manchu China illustrate Migdal's "severe elite divisions."

Thirdly, the weakening of the state/elite relationship and divisions in the dominant class were not the sole catalyst for social revolution. Rather, Skocpol argues that in all three revolutions peasant rebellions against landed elites were necessary conditions for successful change in society's structure. In addition, specific organizational structures found in the peasant class were important in providing the revolutionary potential of the peasant (117).

Skocpol writes, "Rentier agrarian systems, where small holder peasant families possess and work the land on their own, are notoriously susceptible to peasant revolts" (117). Peasants under such a system find themselves economically tied together against landlords. In other words, the peasants suffer collectively under the yoke of the land holding class. As such, the peasants develop "some organized capacity for collective action against their exploitative superiors" (115).

The author uses the example of Russian obshchina as an organizational structure that provides a means to collective action and ensuing peasant revolution. The obshchina was a communal village which administered commonly held lands and disseminated the right to use among the villagers. In turn, the members of the obshchina were "collectively responsible for payment and labor obligations to service-nobles who possessed nearly exclusive jurisdiction over them" (128). Because of the closely knit relationships and responsibilities of peasants in the obshchina, the structure was conducive to collective action. Similar organizational structures of the peasant classes in France and Manchu China illustrate Migdal's "potential and propensity for popular groups to mobilize."
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pioneering work for political sociology 23 Sep 2000
By "simonhoey" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A new way of studying political sociology was first initiated when Skocpol's "States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China" was published in the 1970s.
Skocpol's discussion in the book is based on Marxist class struggle revolution, combined with the consensus theories which explain revolution as response to disequilibum of social system. In the very beginning, Skocpol attended on a fundamental question on most revolutions happened in old-regimes: Why revolution occurred in predominantly agrarian countries? (refer to "Old-Regime State in Crisis") He clearly stated a logical development from the three cases. Revolutionary crises developed when the old-regime states became unable to meet the challenges of evolving international situations. Disintegration of centralized administrative and military machinaries had therefore provided the sole unified bulwark of social and political order. Skocpol concluded that in most cases the pre-revolution states were fully established imperial states. They had a proto-bureaucratic: some officers, especially at higher levels, were functionally specialized. State not in a position to control directly over local agrarian socioeconomic relationship. Before social revolutions could occur, the administrative and military power of these states had to break down. Finally, the old regimes to their downfall were not due to internal conditions alone. Intensifying military competition with nation-state abroad that possessed relatively much greater and more flexible power based on economic breakthroughs to capitalist industrialization or agriculture and commerce. Success in meeting this foreign competition depended on the ability of the monarchy suddenly to mobilize extraordinary resources from the society and to implement in the process reforms requiring structural transformations. France, Russia and China did mobilize to meet foreign competition in the nineteenth century, but avoiding social-revolutionary transformations.
It preserve a way to address a deeper analysis on the role of peasantry in the revolutions (refer to "Agrarian Structures and Peasant Insurrections"). Peasant revolts or mobilization for guerrilla warfare played a pivotal role in each revolutionary process. In agrarian countries where peasants are the major producing class. From Skocpol's point of view, without peasant revolts, urban radicalism in predominantly agrarian countries has not in the end been able to accomplish socio-revolutionary transformations. Peasant revolts against landlords were a necessary ingredient in France, Russia and China revolutions, whereas successful revolts by urban workers were not. According to Skocpol,the revolts weakened mainstays of the socioeconomic and political orders of the old regime. Together the extensiveness and anti-landlord focus of the revolutionary peasant revolts created decisive constraints at the societal level on the range of sociopolitical options available to elite contending for national power. Peasants participated in these revolutions without being converted to radical visions of a desired new national society, and without becoming a nationally organized class-for-themselves. Instead, Skocpol thought that they struggled for concrete goals-typically involving access to more land, or freedom from claims on their surplus. Political and cultural marginality and relative socioeconomic immobility, bears the burden of varying combination of taxes, rents, usurious interest rates, and discriminatory prices, peasants always have grounds for rebellion against landlords, states agents, and merchants who exploit them.
Skocpol then exploited the transformation process of the peasantry from local levels into a collective force capable of striking out against its oppressors by answering first, the relation of peasantry to the field of power which surrounds it, and second, class structure. For the first question, Skocpol did a great job by analyzing the degrees and kinds of solidarity of peasant communities, the degrees of peasant autonomy from direct day-to-day supervision and control by landlords and their agents, and finally the relaxation of state coercive sanctions against peasants revolts. He answered the second question from the view point of relations of direct producer to one another, to their tools and to the land in the immediate process of production, and relations by which an unpaid-for part of the product is extracted from the direct producers by a class of non-producers.
In the last part of the book, Skocpol asked what would be followed the revolution. (refer to "What Changed and How: A Focus on State Building") He answered this with flying color as well. He provided his idea with couple elements. First, the changes after revolution. According to Skocpol, the pre-revolutionary landed upper class was no longer exclusively privileged in society and politics. Second, new authority and emergent political leaderships were challenged by disunity and counterrevolutionary attempts at home, and by military invasions from abroad, to build new state organizations to consolidate the revolutions. Third, Skocpol pointed out that peasant and urban worker were more directly incorporated into national politics and state-run project after the revolution. Forth, Skocpol believed that new state leadership acted as state builders rather than as representatives of classes. Fifth, the old-regime states had once broken apart, fundamental political and class conflicts were set in motion, not to be resolved until new administrative and military organizations were consolidated in the place of the old. Revolts from below directly attacked the property and privileges of dominant classes, thus accomplishing changes in class relations. Last but not least, political ideologies probably functions nothing, but served the political reality and aim of leaders.
I apologize for focusing too much on the contents of the book. However, why I do it is because we can understand his contribution only if we go deeply into his ideas. Skocpol did a great job here. I gain a lot from reading "States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China". The book is a must for both politics and sociology students, or those have interest in the field.
21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Logical Fallacies & the Problem of Mid-Level Theory 14 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Four the past several weeks, I have been attempting to obtain copies of reviews of States & Social Revolutions that would have been written at the time of the book's initial publication. In fact, I had hoped that I could find whole books dedicated to rebutting much of the flawed argument that Skocpol puts forth in this book. I could find neither. But first, let me state my case against Skocpol.
First, there exists the problem of mid-level political theory. There is deep level theory, mid level theory, and what I deem specific political commentary. In deep level theory, one can make certain broad, rather common arguments: when states come under external military pressure, it impacts their economy. On the specific level, one could comment on how a specific war impacted a specific economy. But in the mid level, the arguments become tenuous. This happens when a scholar attempts to take a handful of countries, and to claim that a rather specific series of events (X, Y, Z) impacted those countries, took place in those countries, and had the same results in those countries. This is mid-level theory (in my understanding), and it is often highly flawed.
Skocpol advances three test cases to "prove" her argument. Indeed, she writes as though her book is empirically proving a mathematical equation to be true. This is one of the more superficial (though irritating) aspects of the book. Notwithstanding her penchant for a heavy-handed egotistical tone of writing, her argument is still tenuous. Her three test cases are France, Russia, and China. Essentially, Skocpol argues that all of these countries were impacted by their international situation and/or conflict. In France, the external actor was Britain's military might and the situation was exacerbated by France's poor geographic position. In Russia, the actor was WWI. In China, the Sino-Japanese war. These external situations necessitated governmental reforms in all three nations; reforms that would allow the nation to deal with threatening international conditions. Such reforms would deal with agricultural production, taxation, gathering of a military, etc. According to Skocpol, one of the key causes of a social revolution is that the elite classes in the countries where the revolution occurs will be antagonistic to the government's attempts at reform. When this antagonism reaches a hilt, social cohesion and coercion mechanisms fail, and the peasants revolt.
The first aspect of Sxocpol's argument is a sound one. In all three cases, there was international pressure and the government attempted reforms. As the argument progresses, it becomes quite weak. In France, the nobility were - as Skopol's claim requires - antagonistic to government efforts for reform, this did result in a breakdown in social cohesion and in coercion mechanisms. In China, the same held true. In Russia, however, the government reforms were accepted by the nobility. (STRIKE ONE).
According to Skocpol's logic, a rejection of governmental reforms by the nobility should result in a social revolution. In France, this happened. In Russia, there was no rejection by the noble class, but a revolution too place nonetheless. (STRIKE TWO). In China, there was no peasant revolt, yet Skocpol uses China as a case to prove her argument. (STRIKE THREE).
The argumentation in the book is poor. France is Skocpol's best case. But furthermore, it is instructive to note that Skocpol focuses exclusively on states, classes, governments---- but never on individual people. Her model is a very deterministic one: If conditions X, Y, and Z are present, there will be a social revolution. This is poor logic. She excludes any social/cultural factors that may have led to revolutions in any of her test cases. A great example is the case of Russia. Skocpol ignores Czar Nicholas' personal incompetence, and the difference between his ruling style and that of his predecessors. Furthermore, she ignores Russia's rapid industrialization and the power of a growing working class culture/shared identity/etc.
I reccomend this book to everyone interested in politics, if only because it will give you some good historical grounding for the periods and cases studied, and because it is always fun to deconstruct the "standard work".
20 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Over-rated 23 Oct 2000
By Milantyus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Skocpol's "comparative analysis" leaves out only one minor detail: people. It seems never to occur to her that social revolutions are ultimately the consequence of human agency--that is, people taking history into their own hands. Marx's famous dictum from the opening of the "Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napolean" that "men make their own history, but they do not make it exactly as they choose," is lost on Skocpol. Rather, such phenomena as socio-economic classes, states, political institutions, etc., exist for her as if they were variables in Euclidian geometry. By comparison, Stalin could pass for Kant, if not Hegel, and Althusser might as well be Lukacs. If you care about this subject, look to Barrington Moore, Jr., E. P. Thompson, and more recent studies of each ofthe three revolutions Skocpol compares.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 28 April 2013
By Annie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Great book. I love skocpol as she helped me write my research paper. Read it and weep. This book is great for people wanting to learn about revolutions. #YOLO
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