Pub. Date:
Stanford University Press
Contention in Context: Political Opportunities and the Emergence of Protest / Edition 1

Contention in Context: Political Opportunities and the Emergence of Protest / Edition 1

by James M. Jasper, Jeff Goodwin
Current price is , Original price is $24.95. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804776127
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 11/16/2011
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jeff Goodwin is Professor of Sociology at New York University. James M. Jasper is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. They are coeditors of The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts (2009) and The Contexts Reader (2007).

Read an Excerpt


Political Opportunities and the Emergence of Protest

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7612-7

Chapter One

Peasant Revolts in the French Revolution

John Markoff's Abolition of Feudalism JACK A. GOLDSTONE

More than two hundred years later, the French Revolution of 1789 remains pivotal for the study of social protest and revolution. The complex intertwining of noble resistance to the Crown, nonnoble elites' resistance to the privileges of the nobility, urban and regional resistance to centralized rule, revolutionary resistance to the power and perquisites of the Catholic Church, popular resistance to the suppression of that Church's role in society, and peasant resistance against a host of seigneurial, economic, and political practices, still resists our efforts to unravel its secrets. Why particular groups acted in particular ways at particular times remains controversial.

John Markoff's remarkable volume offers a wealth of evidence about why French peasants acted in the manner they did during the prime revolutionary years, 1789–1793. As one might expect from the tangle of events involved, he has provided an extremely complex answer, attributing the events to at least eight different kinds of peasant actions, each with its own distribution over time and across French regional space. Moreover, the timing and frequency of peasant actions cannot be determined simply from looking at the long-term structural characteristics of particular regions and their peasantries—rather, the kind of actions peasants took, and when and where they acted, was the result of a dynamic interaction between peasant communities and various elites and institutions.

Markoff's main conclusion, somewhat surprising from either a Marxian or Tocquevillean viewpoint (his two primary foils), is that the destruction of seigneurial privileges was not strongly sought by the peasantry at the outset of the revolution in 1789; instead, anti-seigneurial actions grew in response to the proclamations and actions of the elites in their national assemblies in Paris. At the start, peasant communities seemed more concerned about traditional issues of contention: taxes and access to food. It was the representatives of the Third Estate who were most vocally concerned with the privileges of the nobility. Only after the Third Estate's attack on the nobility during the campaign for the Estates-General, and during the ensuing debates on feudal privileges that reached its dramatic peak in the National Assembly's sessions of August 4–11, did anti-seigneurial actions dominate the agenda of peasant protests.

Markoff's evidence comes from two distinct data sets. The first is an extensive computer-coded log of the contents of the cahiers de doléances (the lists of grievances written by the nobility, the Third Estate, and rural parishes for submission to the Estates-General in the spring of 1789). Although cahiers were also prepared by the clergy, these are not examined in this volume. Of course, the cahiers that were submitted by the Third Estate were supposed to incorporate the views of the rural parishes that sent their representatives to the urban centers where the Third Estate cahiers were composed. However, Markoff justifiably takes the Third Estate cahiers to represent mainly the views of the urban notables and professionals who dominated the national representation to the Third Estate, and relies on his sample of cahiers from rural parishes to assess the views of France's peasantry.

The second data set consists of a list of rural actions by peasant groups (minimum of 15 persons) in France from 1788 to 1793. This astonishing tabulation— whatever its flaws, no doubt the most complete survey we have of peasant actions during the first part of the French Revolution—is divided among various types of actions (panic, subsistence, anti-seigneurial, and so on), located by region, and dated by day, month, and year. The result is a panoramic tableau of what Markoff calls the "rhythms of contention" by the peasantry.

Combining his analysis of these two data sets with an examination of the debates and actions that occurred in the National Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, and the Convention, Markoff claims that the destruction of seigneurial dues, monopolies, and rights was neither the primary initial goal of the peasantry, nor the inevitable outcome of the Third Estate attack on noble privilege. Rather, the peasantry and the Third Estate forced or encouraged each other to go further in a give-and-take of insurrection and legislation from 1789 to 1793, until in the end the surviving feudal seigneurial rights were wholly abolished without any compensation. It was the course of this give-and-take, rather than any structural predisposition or enabling factors, and not the simple breakdown of coercive authority, that determined the timing and nature of peasant protests during the Revolution.

Origins of the Peasant Movement

Markoff establishes the initial goals and actions of the peasantry from 1788 through the summer of 1789—what we might call the insurrectionary ideology of the peasantry—from the targets of complaint in the cahiers of the rural parishes. The initial actions, the practical aspect of peasant insurrection during this period, are classified from the survey of actions by rural groups.

Despite the massive attention given to the French Revolution as bringing about the "end of feudalism," in the spring of 1789 this was hardly the peasantry's main concern. Of the complaints in the rural cahiers, only 10 percent of the listed complaints focus on payments made under the seigneurial regime, and merely 4 percent on the clerical tithes and church exactions (casuels), while 32 percent focus on taxes (Table 2.2, p. 41). Of the eleven topics most often mentioned in the rural cahiers, seven are explicitly about taxation. Taxation in general is mentioned most frequently, followed by the salt tax, the tax on alcoholic beverages, the tax on legal acts, the taille (land tax paid by commoners), the tax advantages of the clergy, and the tax advantages of the nobility. The salt monopoly, the royal corvée (compulsory labor services on roads), and the Provincial Estates round out the top ten. The top-ranking seigneurial right, the lord's right to raise pigeons for hunting, even though they fed voraciously upon the peasants' fields, is only fourteenth (Table 2.1, pp. 30–31).

What is striking is not only the small weight given to seigneurial exactions by the peasants, but the contrast with the cahiers of the Third Estate. Many of the parish cahiers (23 percent of them, to be exact) make no mention of seigneurial rights at all, about the same as the cahiers of the nobility. In contrast, grievances about seigneurial rights are mentioned in 98 percent of the cahiers of the Third Estate. Among the peasant cahiers that do complain of seigneurial impositions, the mean number of complaints per document is only 5.7; but among the Third Estate cahiers making such complaints, the mean number of complaints per document is more than triple, at 17.4 (Table 2.3, p. 41). In short, the Third Estate is much more concerned than the peasantry about the privileges and exactions of the nobility, stressing how the latter weigh upon commerce, liberty, and opportunities for improvement. The main articulation of anti-seigneurialism at this time clearly comes from the bourgeoisie. This is remarkable given the modern claim that the financial interests of the nobility and the upper Third Estate were almost indistinguishable (Taylor 1967).

If peasants seem more concerned with taxes than with seigneurial impositions, however, their attitude toward the latter is more radical than that of the urban notables who dominated the Third Estate. Among all the demands for actions on seigneurial rights contained in the sample of peasant cahiers, 36 percent called for the abolition of those rights without compensation. This is more extreme than the peasants' position on taxes (where only 24 percent of demands for action called for abolition without compensation), or the position of the Third Estate on seigneurial rights (where only 27 percent called for abolition without compensation.) In the peasant cahiers, 45 percent of demands for action regarding seigneurial dues recommended abolition (either outright or with indemnity), and only 15 percent suggested their reform, while only 24 percent of demands regarding taxes called for their abolition and 42 percent called for tax reform. Apparently, Tocqueville (1955) was correct in noting that to a substantial degree, peasants by 1789 saw the seigneurial regime as something they could do wholly without, unlike taxes, which might need reform but were likely to stay in some fashion.

If the flow of words shows that anti-seigneurial goals are not the primary element in peasants' written grievances in 1789, the flow of peasant protest events confirms that anti-seigneurialism was also not primary in peasants' actions. Overall, from 1788 through 1793, only 36 percent of all events were classed by Markoff as "antiseigneurial." These included attacks on chateaux, on the lord's rabbit warrens or pigeons, symbolic destruction of the lord's property or insignia, destruction or denunciation of manor rolls detailing feudal rights, collective and public refusals to pay dues, attacks on the lord's agents, and, rarely, attacks on the person of the lord. Subsistence events (grain riots or stoppages of grain carts), land conflicts, and panics together comprise 47 percent of all events, with anti-tax, religious, and counterrevolutionary events making up most of the rest (Table 5.1, p. 218).

The temporal pattern is even more striking. During the peak of the peasant insurrection in the summer of 1789, only 31 percent of events were antiseigneurial; the rest were mainly panic and subsistence events. Anti-seigneurial actions by peasants did become dominant later in the Revolution: they form 81 percent of events during the peak of peasant actions in January–February 1790, 54 percent of events during the peak of June–August 1790, 69 percent of events during the peak of June 1791, and 47 percent of events during the peak of February–April 1792. They then recede after the onset of war with Austria and Prussia, forming only 29 percent of events during the peak of August– September 1792, while subsistence events rise to 77 percent of all events in November 1792, and counterrevolutionary events dominate (87 percent of all events) in March 1793 (Table 6.3, p. 297). In short, anti-seigneurial events are not the primary movers of peasant actions during the Revolution as a whole, or in its early stages in summer of 1789. They become primary only during the height of the debates about the abolition of seigneurial rights, and about whether indemnities will be paid to the holders of those rights (1790–1792).

Markoff's conclusion regarding the peasant anti-seigneurial movement runs as follows: although anti-seigneurial ideas were in the air in the late 1780s, they were far more important to the Third Estate, for their link to other privileges that blocked social and economic opportunity for nonnobles, than to the peasantry. The Third Estate, not the peasantry, identified seigneurial privileges as at the heart of what was wrong with the old regime. In 1789, although considerable anti-seigneurial actions by peasants existed, the majority of peasant mobilization (69 percent of events) consisted of grain riots and panics. It was the National Assembly that chose to respond to this peasant action by offering to abolish seigneurial rights on August 4.

Once these rights were challenged by the National Assembly, peasant attacks on seigneurial privileges intensified, growing from 1790 to 1792. The peasants' actions then spurred bourgeois legislators to react in turn, so that following each of the insurrectionary waves of 1790 and 1792 the National and Legislative Assemblies addressed the dismantling of the feudal regime. However, the Assemblies' actions were not always in the same direction; in 1789 the Assembly considered the abolition of seigneurial dues mostly without compensation, but in 1790 they turned back and sought extensive compensation and indemnities. This provoked more anti-seigneurial peasant protests, which in fact dominated peasant actions from 1790 through the winter of 1791 and spring of 1792. This led the Assembly to consider more radical concessions on abolition without compensation in the summer of 1792. Finally, following another wave of peasant actions in spring 1793, this time primarily counterrevolutionary, seigneurial rights were wholly abolished without any indemnity or compensation in July 1793. By this time, the elites of Paris had become accustomed to projecting their own concerns about feudalism onto the peasantry, responding to any peasant actions with further actions on seigneurial rights. As Markoff puts it, "for peasant insurrection to lead to concessions to the countryside on seigneurial rights, it was not necessary for the insurrection to have anti-seigneurial themes, only that it be large and widespread" (p. 511).

Markoff has thus overturned one bit of false reasoning—that because the Revolution's legislation on rural matters was primarily anti-seigneurial, the insurrectionary actions of peasants were also mainly anti-seigneurial. But we now have to explain several different forms of peasant action that contributed to the French Revolution, with panics, subsistence actions, and anti-tax actions, as well as anti-seigneurial reactions being the predominant ones up until the counterrevolutionary period beginning in 1793.

Here Markoff helpfully dismisses many of the structural verities about peasants and revolution. Using both regional mappings and a list of characteristics of rural communities, Markoff engages in what he calls "using France as a laboratory" to test various theories of rural mobilization. Most striking are his largely negative findings; none of the standard sociology-of-peasant-rebellions stories seem to apply. Whereas Skocpol (1979) and Stinchcombe (1983) see peasant mobilization against rural authorities as rooted in the communal life of open-field villages, Markoff's "data suggest that this theory is mistaken.... The role of open field settlement was actually to inhibit mobilization against the lords" (pp. 386–87).

* * *

The northeast had a slightly higher than average percentage of anti-seigneurial events among its total peasant actions, but the Mediterranean region (south-center, southeast, and southwest) showed an even higher proclivity to antiseigneurial events. The north-central region, stretching across open-field plains from Chartres and Tours to Burgundy, had one of the lowest proclivities to anti-seigneurial events. Where the northeast (but not the north-center) does stand out is in the proportion of its events dealing with land issues: conflicts over the commons, enclosures, and woodlands. Although these were only 8 percent of all events in Markoff's sample, they were especially concentrated in the northeast and the southeast (Table 7.4, p. 353).

Regional differences are common. As noted, anti-seigneurial events are overrepresented as a fraction of total peasant actions in the northeast and throughout southern France. Counterrevolution is overrepresented in the west and to a lesser degree in the southwest. Subsistence events are overrepresented in Normandy, and for anti-tax actions, both Normandy and the far north stand out. Wage conflicts in rural areas are essentially limited to the area around Paris and the far north, while religious events and panic events are fairly evenly distributed, except that the south was less prone to panics and more prone to religious-oriented actions (Table 7.4, p. 353).

The problem with these regional differences is that they tell us little or nothing about the causes of different kinds of protest. The northeast and southern France are generally treated as widely different ecological, social, political, and economic zones, the northeast being an area of large estates, rentier peasants, and commercial grain farming, the latter an area of small farms, ownercultivators, and olive-wine-grain production; why should both these regions be more inclined to anti-seigneurial protests? Subsistence events are overrepresented in Normandy because it was a granary from which much grain was shipped out; rural wage conflicts were concentrated in the zones of rural textile industry around Lille and Paris.


Excerpted from CONTENTION IN CONTEXT Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface JAMES M. JASPER....................xi
List of Abbreviations....................xv
Introduction: From Political Opportunity Structures to Strategic Interaction JAMES M. JASPER....................1
1 Peasant Revolts in the French Revolution JACK A. GOLDSTONE....................37
2 Rural Social Movements in Nicaragua Anthony W. Pereira....................59
3 Human Rights in Argentina AMY RISLEY....................83
4 Rural Unions in Brazil JOHN L. HAMMOND....................114
5 The Civil Rights Movement FRANCESCA POLLETTA....................133
6 The Women's Movement JOHN D. SKRENTNY....................153
7 Gay and Lesbian Liberation ADAM ISAIAH GREEN....................183
8 The U.S. Movement for Peace in Central America JAMES M. JASPER....................203
9 Opportunity Knocks: The Trouble with Political Opportunity and What You Can Do about It EDWIN AMENTA AND DREW HALFMANN....................227
10 Sensing and Seizing Opportunities: How Contentious Actors and Strategies Emerge CHRISTIAN BRÖER AND JAN WILLEM DUYVENDAK....................240
11 Eventful Protest, Global Conflicts: Social Mechanisms in the Reproduction of Protest DONATELLA DELLA PORTA....................256
Conclusion: Are Protestors Opportunists? Fifty Tests JEFF GOODWIN....................277

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews