Protagonism and Political Crises

Special Report: Protagonism and Political Crises
“Ordinary” Individuals and “Extraordinary” Politicizations
By Quentin Deluermoz, Boris Gobille


Conceived as an introduction to the thematic dossier, this article reconsiders the notion of « protagonism » developed by the historian Haim Burstin in connection with the French Revolution. The specific features of the notion in question are presented, as well as the way it condenses significant shifts in the analysis of political crises and revolutions. Testing this historically-oriented proposal on various fields and areas of knowledge makes it possible to engage in an original interdisciplinary exercise ; it also enables us to evaluate the fruitfulness of the perspective the notion induces us to adopt on a central issue linked to critical situations : their capacity to transform individuals into agents of History contributing to the dynamics of events. The presentation of contributions provides the opportunity to make a preliminary assessment. The notion appears to enable us to revisit nodal dimensions of critical moments, resulting from the temporalities at stake, the unstable and processual productions of legitimacy, the incidence of affects on behaviors, and the signifying work carried out by organized collectives. However, in order to make the notion even more operative, additional elements seem to be necessary, such as taking account of political regimes, temporal cultures and historical precedents, cycles of repertoires of contention, and forms of collective invisibilization. Beyond that, this experience reminds us of some of the crucial issues facing analysis, such as those related to comparison, and suggests others, such as the occasional blurring of boundaries between the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary.”
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