The Origins of Social Movements Revisited

Mathis Ebbinghaus, University of Leipzig

To pursue their welfare, citizens routinely defy powerful state structures. The prevailing view is that social movements emerged with the rise of democracy, capitalism and the nation-state from the 18th to the 19th century. In this article, I challenge this conventional wisdom on the origins of social movements. I argue that the focus on social and political structures has clouded our sight of social movements in the premodern era. Based on primary sources and historical scholarship, I show by example of the German Peasants’ Revolt of 1524 and 1525 that Charles Tilly's influential definition of social movements applies to popular contention well before the 18th and 19th centuries. Social movements are therefore not just a popular response to modernity. The article provides sociological insights into a critical premodern social movement and has broad ramifications for understanding the origins of social movements.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 231. Social Movements, Political Protest, and Advocacy