There are two main ways of approaching the study of revolution in the contemporary world – and they are both wrong. So argues George Lawson in his book, Anatomies of Revolution.
On the one hand, Lawson argues, revolutions appear to be everywhere: on the streets of Yangon, Hong Kong, Minsk and Kobani, amidst the Naxalite guerrillas of Central and Eastern India, in the rhetoric of social movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, in film franchises ranging from Star Wars to the Hunger Games, and much, much more. Rarely do weeks go by without a revolution of one kind or another being proclaimed. On the other hand, there is an equally common, but apparently contradictory, belief – 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 in the Soviet Union, it is supposed, revolutions appear more as minor disturbances than as projects of deep confrontation and systemic transformation. What is left, for good or for bad, are pale imitations rather than ‘real’, ‘proper’, ‘authentic’ revolutions. Revolution, it seems, is nowhere.
Anatomies of Revolution sees both of these positions as untenable. The first makes revolution so all-encompassing that it becomes an empty term without substantive content – it’s too loose. The second fails to see the enduring appeal of attempts to overturn existing injustices and generate alternative social orders – it’s too complacent. The book’s main aim is to generate a more judicious 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.
This forum contains contributions from a range of commentators – Jack Goldstone, Adam David Morton, Eric Selbin, Maria Tanyag, Ayse Zarakol – who took part in roundtables on Anatomies of Revolution at the Oceanic Conference on International Studies (OCIS) in December 2020 and the International Studies Association (ISA) Convention in March 2021. It closes with a reply by George Lawson. The essays raise a range of issues about, and pose a number of challenges to, the book. But all of the commentators agree that it serves as an essential starting point for assessing the myriad ways in revolution appears in the contemporary world.
The set image reproduces Iakov Chernikhov, Fantasy #67: Linear Resolution of 3-Dimensional Architectural Rendering in Axiometric Perspective, 1933.