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The Roots of Radicalism

Tradition, the Public Sphere, and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Movements

The Roots of Radicalism

Tradition, the Public Sphere, and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Movements

The story of the rise of radicalism in the early nineteenth century has often been simplified into a fable about progressive social change. The diverse social movements of the era—religious, political, regional, national, antislavery, and protemperance—are presented as mere strands in a unified tapestry of labor and democratic mobilization. Taking aim at this flawed view of radicalism as simply the extreme end of a single dimension of progress, Craig Calhoun emphasizes the coexistence of different kinds of radicalism, their tensions, and their implications.
The Roots of Radicalism reveals the importance of radicalism’s links to preindustrial culture and attachments to place and local communities, as well the ways in which journalists who had been pushed out of “respectable” politics connected to artisans and other workers. Calhoun shows how much public recognition mattered to radical movements and how religious, cultural, and directly political—as well as economic—concerns motivated people to join up. Reflecting two decades of research into social movement theory and the history of protest, The Roots of Radicalism offers compelling insights into the past that can tell us much about the present, from American right-wing populism to democratic upheavals in North Africa.

416 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: General History

Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology, Social History


“Even as it has expanded dramatically over the past three decades, the field of social movement studies has narrowed, grown more ahistorical, and coalesced around a stylized image of movements as progressive, rational and ‘agentic.’  Calhoun’s book represents a bracing corrective to this image.  It is historically literate, attuned to various traditions of radicalism—reactionary no less than progressive—and committed to the notion that movements are as much acted upon as ‘agentic’ and no more rational than those who study them.”

Douglas McAdam | Stanford University

“[This book] brings to bear both rich historical cases and comparative reflections on one of the central theoretical debates in sociology and history. Through his deep and broad analysis of protest in the early nineteenth century, Calhoun develops an important and contrarian contribution to the debate over collective action that has heretofore been dominated by the imagery of individual rational actors.”

Elisabeth S. Clemens | University of Chicago

The Roots of Radicalism is a searching analysis of how radicalism in its many guises today came into being.  Calhoun puts practices, rather than ideologies, front-and-center.  His knowledge of history is profound, his explanations of different concepts of practice are luminous.  The great virtue of this book is to make the trials of Western revolutionaries in the past speak to the upheavals now occurring elsewhere in the world.”

Richard Sennett | New York University

“An important contribution to political sociology, historical sociology, and theory of social movements, and useful for understanding contemporary social upheavals. Highly recommended.”


Table of Contents


1. Resituating Radicalism
2. Progress for Whom?
3. The Radicalism of Tradition: Community Strength or Venerable Disguise and Borrowed Language?
4. The Public Sphere in the Field of Power
5. The Reluctant Counterpublic (with Michael McQuarrie)
6. Class, Place, and Industrial Revolution
7. Industrialization and Social Radicalism: British and French Workers’ Movements and the Mid Nineteenth-Century Crises
8. Classical Social Theory and the French Revolution of 1848
9. New Social Movements of the Early Nineteenth Century
10. Social Movements and Social Change


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