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Spontaneity and Organization in European Democratic Contention

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February 18, 2011
9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
University of Texas at Austin

This workshop sponsored examines a crucial puzzle in the study of democratic contention in Europe during the 19th and early 20th century, namely what role spontaneous mass action played: Whereas theoretical assumptions embraced by many social scientists do not leave much room for spontaneity, historians have regularly observed contentious efforts that seemed to start in a spontaneous, unorganized, not centrally directed fashion. To shed light on this issue, historians and social scientists will analyze the revolutionary episodes of 1848, 1871, and 1917-19 in Western and Central Europe. In empirical terms, the workshop seeks to ascertain what role unorganized, spontaneous "crowds" played in the eruption of these protests and uprisings and in their wave-like spread in 1848 and 1917-19. In theoretical terms, the workshop will assess what factors explain these protests and their diffusion: How important were "rational" interests and cost/benefit calculations; ideas, ideologies, and cultural norms; sentiments and emotions; or cognitive shortcuts?

Confirmed Participants

Kathleen Canning (University of Michigan) is Arthur F. Professor of History, Women's Studies, and German. Her publications include: Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850-1914 (Cornell, 1996; 2nd edition: University of Michigan, 2002) and Gender History in Practice: Historical Perspectives on Bodies, Class, and Citizenship (Cornell, 2006). She is co-editor of the just published essay collection, Weimar Publics/Weimar Subjects: Rethinking the Political Culture of Germany in the 1920s (Berghahn, 2010). She is currently working on a book manuscript on citizenship and sexual crisis in the aftermath of war and revolution in Germany, 1916-1924.

David A. Shafer (California State University) is an Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary European History at California State University, Long Beach. His book The 1871 Paris Commune. French Politics, Culture, and Society at the Crossroads of the Revolutionary Tradition and Revolutionary Socialism (London and New York: Palgrave-Macmillan Press, 2005) situated the Commune as a social class revolution, but predicated this on a new paradigm of class in reconsidering it from a cultural, rather than a socio-economic, lens. He is presently under contract to write a biography of French surrealist, playwright, author, actor, poet, substance abuser, "madman" Antonin Artaud for Reaktion Press's "Critical Lives" series. This work examines the vicissitudes of Artaud's life around a secular application of the theological concept originally developed by Saint John of the Cross, known as "dark night of the soul."

Jonathan Sperber (University of Missouri) received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1980, where he studied with Leonard Krieger, a once well-known and now largely forgotten historian. Since 1984, he has been at the University of Missouri, since 2003 as Curators' Professor of History. Sperber's scholarship has centered on the social and political history of central Europe during the 19th century, including books on popular religion, the revolutions of 1848, the mathematical analysis of election returns and property, civil society and the law. He is currently writing a life of Karl Marx, under contract with W.W. Norton. If all goes well, it will be appearing in print in 2012.

Kurt Weyland (University of Texas at Austin) focuses on democratization, market reform, social policy and policy diffusion, and populism in Latin America. He has drawn on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including insights from cognitive psychology, and has done extensive field research in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela. After receiving a Staatsexamen from Johannes-Gutenberg Universitat Mainz in 1984, a M.A. from UT in 1986, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1991, he taught for ten years at Vanderbilt University. He has received research support from the SSRC and NEH and was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, in 1999/2000 and at the Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame, in 2004/05. From 2001 to 2004, he served as Associate Editor of the Latin American Research Review.

  • Center for European Studies

    University of Texas at Austin
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    Austin, Texas 78712