Revolution, Modernity and Social Change SOCIO4106

  • Academic Session: 2019-20
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

The contemporary relevance of revolution has been demonstrated on many occasions over the last 20 years alone, most notably in Eastern Europe (1989-91) the Middle East/North Africa (2011-2013) and now in the Ukraine (2013-). This course will provide students with the conceptual and theoretical apparatus to explain the sociological basis of modern revolutions, allowing them to explore the deeper causal mechanisms beneath the often superficial media discussions of events. More generally, it will encourage students to distinguish between those revolutions which are essentially political and leave existing structures intact, and those which are essentially social and which either initiate or consolidate a more fundamental process of social change. One of the main themes of the course is the spatial dimension of revolutionary movements: the extent to which these can become regional or international phenomena rather than being confined to the territory of a single nation-state.


The first five lectures will revisit some key sociological thinkers, but specifically in relation to the particular aspects of their work dealing with revolution. Figures dealt with this in context will include Machiavelli, Harrington, Hobbes, Locke, Paine, Burke, Tocqueville, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci and Benjamin. This will provide a context for reviewing more recent debates in the historical sociology of revolution. The second five lectures will deal with the structural components of different types of revolution, including the Scottish experience as a case study in bourgeois revolution, and how these can be recognised from the varieties of social forces, organisational forms and political outcomes which they involve.


The course will be global in reach, in that it discusses the differences between revolutions in the developed and underdeveloped worlds, most importantly the way in which, from the Twentieth Century at least, the former appeared to fail while the latter succeeded. One theme which emerges from this will be the changes which occurred in Marxism during its journey East, in the work of Mao, Guevara, Cabral et al, but also the way in which Marxism itself has been overtaken there, by Islamist or simply 'democratic' ideologies, some of which-particularly in Latin America-look back to the bourgeois revolutions of the Nineteenth century ('Bolivarism') for inspiration. Finally the course will look at the question of whether social revolution is still possible anywhere on the globe under contemporary conditions of neoliberal globalisation.


20 contact hours over the course of a single semester. This will normally consist of 2 hours per week and may be a combination of lectures and seminars/workshops.

Requirements of Entry

Mandatory Entry Requirements

Entry to Honours Sociology requires a grade point average of 12 (Grade C) over Sociology 2A and Sociology 2B as a first attempt.

Excluded Courses





A 4000 word essay chosen from a selection of topics.

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? No


Course Aims

By the end of the course, Students should have acquired an understanding of:

the different theories of revolution (and counter-revolution) associated with classical sociology and social theory more generally;

how these theories were themselves responses to the periods of revolution and counter-revolution in which they emerged, from Harrington and the English Revolution onwards;

the relationship between theories of revolution and related theories of class structure and socio-economic development; and

key contemporary debates concerning the nature of revolutions

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ distinguish between different types of revolution (political, democratic, social) and the subdivisions within the latter category (feudal, bourgeois, socialist, etc.);

■ evaluate the explanatory power of different theories; and

■ use these theories to analyse the sociological and spatial basis of both historical and contemporary revolutionary events.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.