Charles Tilly, Throwing it Down!

Today I discovered a new (to me) essay by Chuck: 1984’s “Social Movements and National Politics.”  I have bemoaned elsewhere the limited impact Tilly’s work has had on political science research on conflict, and it is wonderful to read for the first time a piece from his oeuvre.  I literally stopped, stood up, and celebrated (paid homage to) several passages (e.g., those opening four paragraphs!).

Since the NBA Finals are in play, images of Dr. J and Michael finishing on the break filled my head as I bore witness to another Tilly passage packed with mind-blowing insight for so few words.  I would like to share one with you.

In this passage Tilly tells a story to set up his finish, which makes more generally the point I raised in my Presidential Address to the Peace Science Society a few years back: the terms  we tend to use when we study conflict are the state’s terms, and we gotta stop.


Tilly opens the chapter by discussing a group of women banding together at a Languedoc, France market, in 1682, to drive the Crown’s officials from the toll booth they had recently erected at the city gate to facilitate collection of a new grain tax.  From there he sketches the Camisards, a group of Languedoc Protestants who resisted, during the 1680s and 1690s, the Crown’s efforts to eliminate their “sacrilegious” worship.  He raises these events to help us figure out how we might usefully define the concept “social movement.”

If we run forward in time from the era of the Comisards to our own day, we encounter inter-village fights, mocking, and retaliatory ceremonies such as Riding the Stang and Katzenmusik, attacks on tax collectors, petitions, mutinies, solemn assemblies, and many other forms of action, most of them long abandoned in the early period.  As we approach our own time we notice electoral rallies, demonstrations, strikes, attempted revolutions, mass meetings, and a great variety of other means, most of them unknown in the time of the Comisards.

Now there are two important things to notice about these forms of action.  First, they are forms: learned understood, sometimes planned and rehearsed by the participants.  They are not the “outbursts” and “riots” dear to authorities and crowd psychologists (Tilly 1984, p. 307;  emphasis mine).


He sneaks it in: an aside; a snark.  The use of story.  The economy.  #BoyIsKillinIt

Oh, to have that game.


Tilly, Charles. 1984. “Social Movements and National Politics.” In C. Bright & S. Harding (eds.) Statemaking and Social Movements, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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