Revolution, Violence, and the Pursuit of Peace

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This entry understands revolution as emancipation from an oppressive constellation of power or from systemic forms of exploitation and subordination, achieved through mass mobilization. This way, this research hopes to update Skocpol's structural definition of revolutions (Skocpol 1979) for the twenty-first century. Contemporary scholarship has highlighted the limitations of foregrounding the state and class as central categories of analysis. While the modern state possesses a large arsenal of technologies and strategies to oppress resistance, the question how to achieve emancipation requires identification of networked forms of power that link state actors to transnational and domestic forces (Belmonte and Cerny 2021). Hence, revolutionaries’ capacity to upend sociopolitical oppression and economic marginalization depends on their understanding of the strengths and vulnerabilities of power constellations that extend beyond and below the state. Indeed, if revolutions keep being conceptualized in state-centric terms, they are likely to remain trapped in the pattern of replacing one form of oppression with another. In a similar vein, exploitation and subordination need to be understood intersectionally, linking class, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and other identity markers (Crenshaw 1993) in order to fully grasp the emancipatory potential of revolutions. Incomplete revolutions might tackle one dimension of an intersectional structure of domination or emancipate society from one oppressive heterarchy, while leaving others intact. A great revolution in the twenty-first century, by contrast, would need to uproot the structures that perpetuate different interlinked dimensions of exploitation, subordination, and oppression. By including the concept of emancipation, this definition aims to refocus structural approaches towards Arendt’s notion that freedom is the main pursuit of revolutions (Arendt, [1963] 1990). The latter makes revolutions relevant for critical peace and conflict studies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPalgrave Encyclopedia of Peace and Conflict Studies
EditorsOliver Richmond, Gëzim Visoka
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9783030117955
ISBN (Print)9783030117955
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • revolution
  • peace
  • violence


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