Historians and the Study of Protest*

  • Bert Klandermans
  • Conny Roggeband
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


In reflecting on the distinctive way in which historians have approached the study of social movements and collective action, we call attention to a number of issues that have been addressed in the literature on history as a discipline. A distinction that has often been made between the disciplines of history and the social sciences concerns the general and the particular. Historians are purportedly more concerned with context-dependent generalizations, offering findings that are relevant only to the particular context they are studying and overly cautious in making inadequately contextualized generalizations based on evidence from a particular time and place. However, historians cannot avoid the use of general concepts, such as revolution or social movement; hence they necessarily generalize. Such concepts select certain instances as “facts” and make their descriptions more meaningful by suggesting causal analogies to phenomena in other times and places that may also be labeled revolutions or social movements. Nevertheless, the types of generalizations and levels of generality with which historians are typically comfortable are those that apply to a relatively limited number of cases delimited in time and space, rather than the decontextualized general laws to which social scientists sometimes aspire. As a discipline, historians are organized along the lines of time and space, and most historians focus their research on a particular place during a delimited period of time. Philip Abrams (1982:194) contrasts the historians’ “rhetoric of close presentation (seeking to persuade in terms of a dense texture of detail)” with the sociologists’ “rhetoric of perspective (seeking to persuade in terms of the elegant patterning of connections seen from a distance).”


Collective Action Social Movement Social Movement Research Political Opportunity Latin American Study 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bert Klandermans
    • 1
  • Conny Roggeband
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Social SciencesVrije UniversiteitAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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