The Urban Advantage in Revolution and the Struggle for Control of Public Space

More than 500.000 people used the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv for pro-European protests in December 2013. © Konstantin Chernichkin/n-ost

Mark Beissinger will explore the shift of revolution since the end of the Cold War to cities and the rise of “urban civic revolts”—i.e., revolts that attempt to mobilize as many people as possible in central urban spaces in a concentrated period of time, thereby paralyzing government and society with the hope of inducing regime collapse. In contrast to rural rebellions and urban armed revolts, urban civic revolts attempt to take strategic advantage of the spaces between buildings--the empty space of the public square and the boulevard--to mobilize large numbers in order to disrupt political and commercial life. This type of  revolt demonstrates an extraordinarily high rate of success due largely to the ways in which it can effectively leverage the revolutionary advantages of cities: the power of numbers; the thickened presence of communications networks; and the vulnerability of concentrated centers of power and commerce to disruption. As this talk will explore, the emergence and outcome of urban civic revolts to a large extent reflects a struggle between regimes and oppositions for control over public space--through its design and the regulation and policing of its use.  

Mark R. Beissinger is the Henry W. Putnam Professor of Politics at Princeton University. He is author or editor of five books, including most recently (with Stephen Kotkin) Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2014).  His recent writings have dealt with such topics as individual participation in the Ukrainian and Arab Spring revolutions, the impact of new social media on opposition movements in autocratic regimes, and the evolving character of revolutions globally over the last century.