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Historical events as transformations of structures: Inventing revolution at the Bastille

Conclusion

Just as the taking of the Bastille led to a cascade of further events, so the theoretical reflections touched off by my analysis of that event has led to a cascade of further reflections. And as the analyst must draw an arbitrary boundary to establish analytical closure to an event, so must I bring to a close an article that still seems to me radically open and unfinished. I believe I have written enough to establish that thinking about historical events as I do here - that is, treating them as sequences of occurrences that result in durable transformations of structures - is potentially fruitful. Precisely how fruitful can only be determined by future work on other historical events.

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I have had useful comments on this article from Ronald Aminzade, Laura Downs, Muge Goçek, David Laitin, Colin Lucas, Sherry Ortner, Sharon Reitman, Sidney Tarrow, the Editors of Theory and Society, and the members of the Social Theory Workshop at the University of Chicago. Earlier versions of the article were presented at the Center for Comparative Research in History, Society, and Culture at the University of California, Davis; the Fifth Norwegian National Sociology Conference; the Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley; and the 1994 Dean's Symposium at the University of Chicago.

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Sewell, W.H. Historical events as transformations of structures: Inventing revolution at the Bastille. Theor Soc 25, 841–881 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00159818

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Keywords

  • Historical Event
  • Analytical Closure
  • Arbitrary Boundary
  • Theoretical Reflection
  • Durable Transformation