IR Seminar Series
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There are two main ways of approaching the study of revolution in the contemporary world – and they are both wrong. On the one hand, revolutions appear to be everywhere: on the streets of Kobane, Caracas, and Tehran; in the rhetoric of groups like Podemos and Black Lives Matter; and in the potential of new technologies to reshape people’s lives. But can revolution really be street mobilization, social movement, and technological breakthrough at the same time? This issue is complicated by a second equally common, but apparently contradictory, meme – that revolutions are irrelevant to a world in which the big issues of governance and economic development have been settled. With the passing of state socialism, it is supposed, revolutions appear more as minor disturbances than as projects of deep confrontation and systemic transformation. Both of these positions are untenable. While the former makes revolution so all-encompassing that it becomes an empty term without substantive content, the latter is overly complacent, failing to see the enduring appeal of attempts to overturn existing conditions and generate alternative social orders. This talk aims to generate a more nuanced appreciation of the place of revolution in the contemporary world, examining how revolutions emerge, how they unfold, and how they end. Its central task, therefore, is to unravel the ‘anatomies of revolution’.
George Lawson is Associate Professor in International Relations at LSE. His theoretical work is oriented around the relationship between history and theory, with a particular interest in historical sociology. His empirical work ranges from the study of revolutions to the 19th century origins of contemporary international order. His books include: Global Historical Sociology, edited with Julian Go (Cambridge, 2017); The Global Transformation, with Barry Buzan (Cambridge, 2015); The Global 1989: Continuity and Change in World Politics, edited with Chris Armbruster and Michael Cox (Cambridge, 2010); and Negotiated Revolutions: The Czech Republic, South Africa and Chile (Ashgate, 2005). His next book, Anatomies of Revolution, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2019.