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The Transformation of Popular Politics in Europe’s Long Nineteenth Century

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - TRANSPOP (The Transformation of Popular Politics in Europe’s Long Nineteenth Century)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-01-31

The project studies how ordinary people in Europe developed and adopted, in increasing number, the practices of political participation through civil society and social movement initiatives creating thus an important institutional component of modernity. Empirically, the project aims to recover the neglected richness of civil society initiatives across Western Europe in the long 19th century. Theoretically, the project strives to develop a conceptually robust alternative to predominant class-based and single cause accounts of social change by taking into account, in the case of these movements, the inherently polyphonic heterogeneity of modernity and capture the inherently path-dependent and agent-specific causality of change.

The subject matter of the project contributes to the important task of rediscovering and elucidating the common European heritage of popular involvement in politics, of democratization, and of ordinary people taking their fate in their hands. To insist on this legacy of increasing and progressive popular empowerment has proven particularly timely against two challenges that arose after the project's inception: the concomitant rise of authoritarian politics and of new forms of demagogic and paradoxically anti-democratic populism. We want to present to academic and wider audiences the positive heritage of democratic civil society (with all its problems) and amplify its positive and resilient potential against increasing subversion of democratic norms and demagogic manipulation of reality.

The interrelated objectives of the project are:

(1) to create innovative data sets of public mobilization in the European long nineteenth century and offer them to the scholarly community, thus spurring further research on the topic,
(2) analyze the data sets created in order to uncover causal dynamics obscured by prevalent accounts,
(3) experiment with methodological innovations in the coding and analyzing the data, and,
(4) create a new theoretical framework for explaining the rise of popular politics
The work performed thus far falls under five general areas: data collection and coding, analyses, conceptual advances, knowledge transfer and interdisciplinary collaboration, and publications. Although we have made progress in all of these areas, we have devoted most of our time during this first half of the action to data collection and coding. We have compiled and processed an extensive range of data that will serve as the stepping stone for the analyses and conceptual work we will prioritize in the later stages of the the research.

Data Collection and Coding
Significant progress has been made in developing and consolidating a number of original databases. We have collected and processed four types of data: network, practices, newspapers and temporal data. Network data refers to information about the relationships between actors involved in popular politics. Practices data captures how people went about engaging in politics. Our newspaper database contains materials printed in newspapers from various countries and periods. Finally, temporal data are timelines created from close reading of a variety of historical sources. These databases will allow us to study the social movements we are interested in through a variety of vantage points, from exploring their internal interactional dynamics to understanding the movements’ cultural underpinnings as well as their importance in informing later practices of political protest. Different kinds of data complement each other.

The databases that will be made available through the host institution’s (UC3M) library online repository ( We are are working closely with the university’s library and information services to ensure open and sustained access to the databases that result from this project.

The databases are original insofar as the information they contain is derived from historical documents that have never been processed until now. We are working on the following databases:
A relational database containing the names of all the actors involved in abolitionist movements across the Atlantic world (UK, France, Spain, the US, Spain, the Netherlands)
A database of activities and practices within the central national organizations of the movement, extracted mostly from the minutes of these organizations.
A database of newspaper coverage of concepts related to Atlantic slavery and the slave trade in the 19th century. The challenge in coding and organizing this database is to be able to distinguish and code the various uses of the concept of “slavery” and their transformation in the period.
A database of petitioning events and political meetings in the UK and the territories of the Austrian empire, Germany, and the Netherlands.
The final of the databases is now in its initial conceptual state. We are working on setting the parameters of a database tracing the conceptual change of ideas of “mass” or “popular” political participation extracted from 19th century newspapers in the Habsburg empire, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Network Data
Abolitionist Societies
We completed a database on eighteenth and nineteenth century abolitionist networks in Britain and France. It contains data on 150 activists, including information about religious affiliation, occupation, place of birth, relationship to parliament (for the British case), and state (for the French case). We are in the process of expanding the database to cover abolitionist movements in Spain as well. This data will allow us to make evidence-based arguments about the underlying social dynamics that influenced the movements’ development, from transnational advocacy ties to recruitment strategies.

Data on Practices
Internal Interactional World of Abolitionist Societies
We are currently developing a database that codes the practices contained in the meeting minutes of the British and French abolitionist societies and are in the process of compiling information on the Spanish case. The objective in building this database is to leverage the semantic structures recorded in the minutes in order to understand the interactional dynamics of these movements. Our database contains information on, for example, who attended meetings, who communicated with the members of the societies, and who were most often commissioned to carry out specific tasks. This knowledge will enable us to make systematic comparisons between national movements and understand the processes through which they innovated in practices for political protest.

Petitioning Practices
We have collected qualitative evidence on historical changes in petitioning practices in Britain between the mid-17th and late 18 centuries. The purposes is to develop a long term comparative study of petitioning as an innovative popular practice in Europe. These data complement the data collected elsewhere in the project. Here we abstract from concrete social movements and focus on the use of petitions as tools of popular mobilization across movements and national contexts. The “baseline” is established by data on petitioning in Britain. This is an important starting point because Britain was the only state where petitioning was a established and legally permitted practice. By contrast, other European countries did not have this tradition and often explicitly prohibited it. In the next step in this line of research we will collect data on how this initially British practice spread across European states in the nineteenth century.

Textual Data
Public Discourse on Slavery and the Slave Trade
We are preparing a textual corpus on newspaper materials related to the slave trade and slavery in British newspapers between 1750 and 1805 that are available through the Burney Collection of 17th-18th Century Newspapers. This corpus will provide a foundation for evidence-based arguments about the emergence of public reaction against the slave trade in Britain and the cultural and social context in which this reaction crystallized. Our analyses will make use of the most up-to-date computerized text analysis methods, positioning the project at the cutting-edge of methodological innovations on Big Data research, comparative historical sociology, and digital humanities.

The Birth of International Free Trade Movements
We are developing a digital database of Dutch and British newspaper archives to gain a better understanding of the modularity of the influence of British Anti-Corn Law League (ACLL). The ACLL coalesced around the issue of corn trade and it successfully lobbied for trade liberalization reforms that would allow for cheaper bread. Around the same time, free trade movements crystallized in other European countries. This database will allow us to further enquire about the extent to which nineteenth-century political activism was organized around a well connected European, and possibly global, network that closely followed what happened in other national circumstances.

Temporal Data
Event-Driven Chronologies of Popular Politics
We have compiled timelines of social movements activities between 1750 and 1840. Again, the British case provides the “baseline” and we continue to compile data from other national contexts and for the period post-1840.

London Abolitionist Society
The Confirmed Importance of Religion
Exploratory statistical analysis of the social network data on the London Abolitionist Society have strengthened the argument for the organizational importance of religion for the formation of the network that mobilized actors for the abolition of the Slave Trade. We calculated centrality measures, the group of estimates used in social network analysis to determine what actors are at the core of social groups, and found that the London Abolitionist Society was initially made up of a core group of Quakers who subsequently recruited individuals of different religious affiliations to the movement. Furthermore, this analysis proves that the Quaker core continued to be the driving force for a long time after the inception of the organization even if non-Quaker allies were used as the official “face” of the organization.

New Empirical Evidence for a Transnational Approach
Historians and social scientists continue to study abolitionism within a national context, at best using a comparative approach to assess the differences between the movement's development in Britain and in France. Preliminary analyses indicate that transnational engagement was not incidental, it was programmatic and purposeful. Our analysis of network data suggest that the London, Paris, and Philadelphia societies established regular patterns of communication from their very inception.

Societe des Amis des Noires
Participation and Social Identities
Current research proposes that social identities are a key driving force of participation in specific social movements. Initial statistical analyses of the network data of the French abolitionist society, however, reveal that--in contrast to the predominant Quaker core in Britain--participants cannot be subsumed under a single identity. These findings speak to identity theories of social movement mobilization and suggest that identities are as much created in the context of participation as they are pre-existing properties of individuals or groups.

Conceptual Advances
The work performed thus far has resulted in significant conceptual advances that both set the direction of our research and expand our understanding of the relevant dimensions of social movements and popular politics in the European past.

Innovative Methods to Measure Culture
The coding protocol we developed, based on natural semantics, refines extant approaches to the study of culture. Although researchers are interested in approaching culture as practical knowledge, how to do this remains elusive. Practices are difficult to define and conceptualize. The methodology developed and applied in our project are a productive step in the right direction: we propose a way of processing text that is sensitive both to syntactical structure and semantics, and thus facilitates both qualitative and quantitative analyses.

Identifying New Dimensions of Popular Politics
Our conceptual approach also implies a radical and fruitful rethinking of how ordinary people engage in politics and the extent this is related to the emergence of European modernity. Our departure from existing research is manifested in three conceptual elements. First, rather than assuming--along with the substantialism of much of social movement research--that social movements were clearly identifiable corporate groups or entities, we focus on the internal interactional world of each collectivity to identify how awareness of existence as an entity capable of engaging in the political processes emerged. Second, our commitment to elucidating the connections between activists transnationally recovers the rich processes of interchange, transfer, and diffusion between of ideas between national contexts that is lost when researchers focus exclusively on national movements. Third, instead of receiving categories of description and analysis such as “masses,” “people,” or “community,” we reconstruct their genealogy to identify the cultural work they performed during the democratization of popular politics in Europe.

Knowledge Transfer and Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Workshops, Conferences and Speaker Series
The PI co-organized and co-chaired with Maartje Janse (History, Leiden University) a roundtable on Global Abolitionisms at the Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association in Baltimore, November 2015. Participants included Angela Alonso (Sociology, Sao Paulo University), Seymour Drescher (History, University of Pittsburgh), Kevin Grant (History, Hamilton College), Jonathan Sassi (History, City University of New York), and John Oldfield (History, University of Hull). The presentations are in preparation for publication in the Journal of Global Slavery.

Moreover, the PI organized in May 2016 an intensive workshop on global social movements with the participation of Richard Huzzey (History, Hull University), Maartje Janse (History, Leiden University) and Angela Alonso (Sociology, Sao Paulo University).

The PI presented initial findings of the research at the Sociology Seminar of the University of Bern in 2016.

The PI, in collaboration with Damon Maryl and Sebastian Rojas, has organized two Comparative Sociology Speaker Series, one during the spring of 2016 and one ongoing. The series bring renowned comparative sociologists to speak at the Getafe campus of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and are followed by a dinner to which both students and faculty are invited. These seminars have evolved into an important site of both knowledge transfer and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Published and in Print
Heyer, Anne “Die Entwicklung der innerparteilichen Demokratie in den frühen Parteiorganisationen des deutschen Kaiserreiches, Großbritanniens und den Niederlanden (1860er-1870er Jahre)” (The Development of Intra-Party Democracy in Early Party Organizations of the German Empire, Great Britain, and the Netherlands in the 1860s and 1870s), invited submission to the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte’s forthcoming special issue on democracy.

Stamatov, Peter. “Beyond and Against Capitalism: Abolitionism and the Moral Dimension of Humanitarian Practice,” International Social Science Journal, 65, 2014, 25-35. [the date is misleading because it came out in 2016 and the project is acknowledged]

Stamatov, Peter. Review of Maurice Jackson and Susan Kozel (Eds.) Quakers and Their Allies in the Abolitionist Cause, 1754–1808, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 69, 2018, 198-199. doi:10.1017/S0022046917001221

Publications in Progress
“The Technologies of Global Abolitionism,” journal article co-authored by PI and Richard Huzzey.

Contested Profits of Empire: Exploited Indians, Tradable Africans, and Political Britons, partially completed book manuscript by PI, under contract with Cambridge University Press

“An Agentic Theory of Advocacy Network Formation,” theoretical paper by team members summarizing the conceptual insights derived work on the project data and providing a general theoretical framework of the project

“Abolitionist Networks as a Problem-Solving Coalition,” article by team members offering data-backed innovative solution to the puzzle of the transnational genesis of the movement against the slave trade and slavery

“British, French, and Spanish Pathways of Popular Political Mobilization,” article by team members comparing and contrasting the cultural and political trajectories of social movements in the three context while also pointing out the subtle diffusion of practices among them.

“Religious Scripts of Statecraft and Political Participation in Europe between the Fourth and Nineteenth Century,” overview article by PI and Nino Cricco, investigating the crystallization and diffusion of religious models of political practices from the Middle Ages on.

The Emergence of the Mass Party, book manuscript by Heyer on the first party organizations and their roots in popular protest movements in the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

“Discovering the Masses as a Political Force: The Role of the Anti-Corn Law League in British and Dutch Popular Movements”, article by Heyer on the changing perception of mass politics on the example of the Anti-Corn Law League.
"Despite a substantial body of research, the rich history and legacy of popular politics in the European past remains unexplored. The field has been dominated by structural approaches that privilege class as the primary category of analysis and by a general fixation on the present of protest activities. Both of these approaches fail to meaningfully connect present day social movements to their historical roots. Further still, the field largely conceptualize popular political activities as national movements rather than acknowledging their transnational character.

Our project has brought forward the study of historical social movements by collecting new data allowing us to observe and analyze developments that have not been registered by existing approaches, thus creating richer and innovative perspectives in the study of social movements. Most notably, our data will help us elucidate the connections between activists and ideas transnationally, recovering the processes of interchange, transfer and diffusion between national contexts and, ultimately, recovering the history of inherently transnational activism.

We have developed a new methodology of semantic coding that facilitates the systematic study of practices. Practices, crucial to understand processes of popular political engagement, remain difficult to define and conceptualize. This is in part paradoxical because there has been a sustained interest in studying practices and culture as practical knowledge as opposed to as the assemblage of ideas in people’s heads. What we have done with the coding procedure is offer a way to extract from texts information and data on what people do (as opposed to what people think). Our procedure is superior to existing approaches (e.g. Tilly, Franzosi, and the “political claims” approach) because it tries to reconstruct carefully the entire interactional universe of practices by situating these practices in the social web created by relevant actors and interactants.

In addition, we try to uncover and verify the deeper meaning structure of these practices. Existing approaches (e.g. Tilly, Franzosi) are inherently formalistic and take the contemporaries' designation of a practice (e.g. in newspaper reports) as the unit of analysis. In other words, they take just the surface syntactic structure (e.g. the verbs used) to denote the distinct units of meaning. We believe it is important to preserve the original language of documentary evidence and in this effort we implemented a deeper semantic decomposition of the surface structures of the language by coding the language used as representing a deeper analytical typology of practices. We develop, thus, a more robust and analytically grounded coding of the meaningful units of practice-as-culture.

Another contribution we have been working on is an emerging theoretical framework on popular politics and social movement that we have tentatively called ""agentic theory of advocacy networks."" It presents progress in the fields of social movement studies and in the fields of network analysis.

Addressing social movement studies, it proposes a forceful re-conceptualization of the ontology of the social formations and corporate actors that enact popular politics. Our theoretical framework (1) posits a networked structure of connectedness as the fundamental ontological reality of such formations and (2) examines the interactional complexes through which such connectedness is created by actors.

Addressing network analysis, our theory describes and explains the processes of tie creation and maintenance instead of assuming social networks as ontological givens. This is an important contribution because theoretical conceptualizations of network formation and network change are far and few between. In fact, the only existing paradigm for tracing network change relies on mathematical manipulation of data that comes with a host of assumptions about the meaning individuals impart on their actions within networks. We propose a different theoretical paradigm for understanding network formation, change, and even dissolution that is sensitive to the meanings created in the interactions that form and maintain social networks.

One of the objectives of this project is to understand one of the hallmarks of European modernity: the transformations through which ordinary people were able to become active political agents in a long-term process of democratization of popular politics. In other words, our project seeks to get at the core of European democratic heritage. This focus has been brought to unexpected prominence by two intertwined processes that came to light after the project started: an erosion of democracy and democratic norms globally and the misuse of mass participation for the achievement of anti-democratic goals. Our research has unexpected relevance to these processes. Overall, there was until recently among analysts and writers a general complacency about the inevitable ascendance of liberal democracy, especially after the fall of the Soviet bloc. Now we are in a situation where Russian leadership and its allies in Europe and beyond are actively undermining the ideals of liberal democracy. While our research is not explicitly political or normative, one implication of the histories of popular political participation we have uncovered is the fact that previously disenfranchised groups of people and their representative (religious minorities, middle classes barred from direct participation in parliamentary politics, women, champions of the liberation of enslaved individuals) engaged in long, hard yet ultimately successful battles in order to not just represent their interests but also, in the process, change of the rules of the political games so that they can express their views in the political arena. With the surge of anti-democracy and demagogic populism, these achievements are threatened. We trust that our research will contribute to to increase public awareness of an European heritage that needs to be nurtured and salvaged.

By the end of our project, we expect to have made available to the research community a series of databases. These will enable scholars to make further comparisons between cases and national contexts, and to continue to recover the rich legacy of popular politics in Europe. The publications outlined in other parts of this report will be crucial in setting the research agenda these databases will become instrumental in consolidating. Finally, we also expect to produce a number of interactive web-based data visualization tools and platforms that can be used for both teaching and dissemination. In addition, the PI will present the findings of the project at the Eight Chinese Political Sociology Workshop organized by the University of Chicago Center in Beijing in July, 2018.