The Rise of the Masses: Spontaneous Mobilization and Contentious Politics (Paperback)

The Rise of the Masses: Spontaneous Mobilization and Contentious Politics By Benjamin Abrams Cover Image
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An insightful examination of how intersecting individual motivations and social structures mobilize spontaneous mass protests.

Between 15 and 26 million Americans participated in protests surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others as part of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, which is only one of the most recent examples of an immense mobilization of citizens around a cause. In The Rise of the Masses, sociologist Benjamin Abrams addresses why and how people spontaneously protest, riot, and revolt en masse. While most uprisings of such a scale require tremendous resources and organizing, this book focuses on cases where people with no connection to organized movements take to the streets, largely of their own accord. Looking to the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Black Lives Uprising, as well as the historical case of the French Revolution, Abrams lays out a theory of how and why massive mobilizations arise without the large-scale planning that usually goes into staging protests.

Analyzing a breadth of historical and regional cases that provide insight into mass collective behavior, Abrams draws on first-person interviews and archival sources to argue that people organically mobilize when a movement speaks to their pre-existing dispositions and when structural and social conditions make it easier to get involved—what Abrams terms affinity-convergence theory. Shedding a light on the drivers behind large spontaneous protests, The Rise of the Masses offers a significant theory that could help predict movements to come.

About the Author

Benjamin Abrams is a lecturer in sociology at University College London.

Praise For…

“Skillfully drawing on and synthesizing an impressive range of theoretical perspectives, Benjamin Abrams has fashioned a highly original theory of spontaneous mass mobilization. As if that weren’t enough, he goes on to make a compelling, empirically informed case for the application of his affinity-convergence theory to four iconic mass movements, ranging from the French Revolution to the George Floyd Protests of 2020.  Anyone interested in the dynamics of spontaneous mass action will want to read this book.”
— Doug McAdam, Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Stanford University

“Drawing on four diverse cycles of contention. . . . Abrams shows how much of the process of mobilization can be explained as the product of affinities and convergence on the part of unorganized groups—the 'masses' in his title—while their failures can be explained as their inability to create viable and robust structures around their affinities. His book should be read by social movement specialists and by general readers concerned with the current waves of mass mobilization alike. While the book is based on immense reading and research, it is Abrams's deep thinking that I admire most. A very readable and engaging book."
— Sidney Tarrow, author of Power in Movement

“Social movements and revolutions are enormously consequential. Yet, their confounding and elusive mysteries are not fully understood. How do they burst forth, who brings them into being, and why do they fail or succeed? Do they spring from spontaneity or organization? The Rise of the Masses squarely confronts these fundamental questions through careful analysis, copious evidence, and enthralling narratives of historic movements. In so doing, Abrams illuminates how these engines of social change operate. This book is a rich fount of knowledge that should be widely read.”

— Aldon Morris, author of The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement

"This book will be important reading for those interested in explaining mobilization generally and delving into how we can better understand more spontaneous mobilizations. In addition, it would be of interest to any scholars or publics interested in the four core cases of analysis. I found the book compelling, beautifully written, and convincing."
— Catherine Corrigall-Brown

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226826837
ISBN-10: 022682683X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: June 9th, 2023
Pages: 304