Eric Selbin: Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance: The Power of Story.

Author:Lawson, George
Position:Book review

Eric Selbin Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance: The Power of Story, Zed Books: London, 2010, 272 pp.: 9781848130173 16.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk); 9781848130166 65 [pounds sterling] (hbk)

Do revolutions need revolutionaries? At first glance, this may seem like an odd question. Yet for many years, academic research denied the importance of people to revolutions. Rather, revolutions were seen as emerging out of the confluence of structural factors (state instability, class conflict, demographic change, and the like) that took place at a level of remove from the messy history of those who actually took to the streets and fought in the countryside. Over recent years, a concerted effort has been made to reconnect revolutions with revolutionaries. After all, just as many revolutions take place in unlikely settings, so many others fail to occur in societies that seem most primed for change. As a result, scholars of revolution have reawakened interest in the people who struggle to make their country--and the wider world--a different place.

Eric Selbin is in the vanguard of this move: Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance constructs a people-centred approach in which the stories told about revolution provide us with central insights into why they 'happen here and not there, now and not then, among these people and not them' (p. 3). Selbin has three main concerns: first, to highlight the importance of stories as necessary features of revolutionary struggles: 'stories are the reason why revolutions are made ... without them, there is no resistance, no rebellion, no revolution' (p. 78); second, to shift revolutionary scholarship away from the impersonal movement of social forces towards the intentional action of individuals; and third, to focus more on cultural tropes and 'revolutionary imaginaries' than on political and economic factors.

Although Selbin is keen to stress the ways in which revolutionary stories arise in local contexts, he also sees certain commonalities to how revolutionary narratives are constructed across time and place. Selbin explores three 'narrative structures' that act as revolutionary 'stock pots', 'broad scripts' and 'archives of feeling': myth, memory and mimesis. These 'tools of connection' between everyday life and collective action interweave in four main revolutionary traditions: 'civilising and democratising revolutions' (such as the American War of Independence); 'social revolutions' (e.g. France, Russia and Cuba); 'freedom...

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