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  • The Insurgent Barricade
  • Linda Frey and Marsha Frey
The Insurgent Barricade. By Mark Traugott. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 454 pp. $39.95 (cloth).

In this impressive work, Mark Traugott, a professor of history and sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, builds on his previous studies, including Armies of the Poor: Determinants of Working-Class Participation in the Parisian Insurrection of June 1848 (1985/2002), The French Worker: Autobiographies from the Early Industrial Era (editor and translator, 1993), Repertoires and Cycles of Collective Action (editor, 1995), and Emile Durkheim on Institutional Analysis (editor and translator, 1994). He expands his mastery of the history of collective protest with this study of the barricade from 1588 (although he discusses "proto-barricades" with the use of chains dating back to the fourteenth century) to 1900. Trained as a sociologist, he works at the intersection of the two disciplines.

Although the historian may skim the methodological section and the sociologist the narrative, the use of the two methodologies raises some interesting questions. Even historians familiar with a specific insurrection will gain new insights when viewed through the prism of the barricade. The word "barricade" meant literally a group of barrels. These casks may have been the most well known, but the insurgents did not hesitate to use carts, wagons, coaches, paving stones (pavé, which came to be in some cases synonymous with "barricade"), books, chairs, tables, pianos, commodes, dead horses, and so on. He begins his work with an evocative recreation of the insurrection of 1832, best known as the climax of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. That beginning speaks to his clear style until he wanders into the sociological wilds with terms like "vectors." Orwell argued that writing should be like a pane of glass, and his indeed is until the jargon of sociology clouds it.

Traugott then turns to a discussion of the history and evolution of the barricade. He unearths some barricades during the revolution of 1789 and takes on a number of historians in a historiographical duel. Still, I suspect most historians would admit that there were such barricades, but they would also agree with his assessment that they "played at best an ancillary role" (p. 91). In this incident there is no discussion [End Page 224] of the key role of the defection of the military. The question may, however, be legitimately raised whether this focus unconsciously distorts the events. Not surprisingly, 1848 is the largest and probably the strongest section. He highlights 1848 because of the European-wide use of the barricade and because of its increasingly symbolic rather than strategic significance. The tale is not limited to France but rather wanders into other revolutionary woods. Oddly the revolution of 1870 and the succeeding Commune are virtually ignored. His focus, often celebratory, on the barricade itself often leads, as he admits, to a limited discussion of the larger revolution and its sometimes tragic consequences. This study of the evolution of the barricade raises the larger question of the repertoire of collective action and its diffusion and the functions of the barricade: "fraternization, socialization, solidarity building, and legitimation" (p. 241). Historians may have the lingering suspicion that some tools of the sociologists' trade belabor the obvious, such as the graphs that indicate that "barricade events have been concentrated into a small number of small peaks" (pp. xiv and 81). He has compiled a database of 155 "barricade events" from 1569 to 1898 that consume 69 pages, in contrast to 241 pages of text. Readers of whatever discipline will enjoy the well-produced illustrations, the excellent maps, and the interesting graphs and gain new insights into the insurrectionary impulse and the tradition of urban protest.

Linda Frey
University of Montana
Marsha Frey
Kansas State University


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pp. 224-225
Launched on MUSE
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