The Limits of Protagonism: A Political Anthropology of 1848

By Mark Traugott

The application of Burstin’s concept of protagonism to the events of 1848 is complicated by the much shorter time frame and equivocal outcome of the February revolution. Not a single one of the principal actors fully corresponds to the model that Burstin has so skillfully described for 1789, in part because the Great Revolution and the decades of social turmoil that followed so dramatically transformed the consciousness of subsequent generations of political activists. The parallel between protagonism and the notion of the “repertoire of contention” is briefly explored, along with reflections on how profoundly and permanently the context for revolutionary action was changed by the experience of 1789.

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