due to unexpected events, our group has decreased in size and so has our research question. Instead of asking ‘what defines the failure of a revolution’, we will be looking at ‘does the success or failure of a revolution relate to the success or failure of a cultural revolution’.


  • What defines the failure of a revolution (2mins)
  • What defines the failure of a cultural revolution (2mins)

Case Studies:

  • French Revolution –
    • Failure as a revolution (due to not bringing immediate change) 2.5mins
    • Success as a cultural revolution 2.5mins
  • Italian Unification –
    • How the revolutions succeeded in the Unification of Italy 2.5mins
    • How it failed culturally “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians”(Massimo d’Azeglio) 2.5 mins
  • Conclusion – 5mins
    • Revolution as a framework rather than a historical event
      • set out the methodology for assessing a revolution’s failure/success
    • How an interdisciplinary approach is essential in understanding the whole scope of a revolution



After deciding that i will be focusing on ‘what defines the failure of revolution’ through a literary lens, i’ve chosen two main examples to portray how in order to really understand the whole scope of the revolution as a framework rather than as an historical event that is isolated, then we have to discover what effects it had in other aspects of social life that are not political nor historical. The connection between literature and revolution can be found by analysing the ways in which plays and literary pieces across from different cultures influenced radical responses to established traditions by contesting, and provoking a re-conceptualization of prevailing values, existing traditions, world views and popular orthodoxy.

I’ve decided to look at:

  • Sophocles’ Antigone and how the modern conception of this tragic hero has changed throughout the years. The origins of this change belongs against the background of Enlightenment thought regarding the position of the individual in society and of the political circumstances in the years before and after the French Revolution.
  • ‘Ode to Naples’ by Shelly. His construction of ‘revolution’ as a volcanic process demonstrates the ruin while also demonstrating the reconstruction, thus showing revolution as a process that has failures as well as successes. (Could tie in well with Boyang’s failure to bring immediate change, as it demonstrates the chaos and destruction that a revolution brings, yet it also demonstrates it as a natural process that is bound to reconstruct naturally with time).

Meeting 5 (1/3/2017)


  • Having read through each other’s research, we began narrowing down our theme by choosing the material on which we have common ground.
  • Discussed a little about how to do our presentation:
    • Interact with each other (maybe discuss as we’re analyzing)
    • Have a revolution – Starting point of presentation. Discuss the chaos of the revolution and reasons as to why it failed before applying the same reasons to our study cases.
    • Slides/picture/audience participation (?)
  • Discussed the following quotation in relation to our topic:
    • “Do we not know, on the basis of historical facts, that revolution is not a solution, that revolutions eat their own children, turn out badly? The trouble with this question lies in its assumptions, in its emphasis on ‘knowledge’, ‘actual’, ‘historical’, ‘solution’, which reduces ‘revolution’ to an actual historical category. Yet if revolution is at once actual and virtual, a historical process and an idea, this recurring critique a la mode never tired of condemning the horrors of revolution, confuses two things: the way reolvution turn out historically and people’s revolutionary becoming. Revolution is always an event that is separated, distilled from the historical situation. However, through time, it becomes assimilated back into history, it is necessarily betrayed. Following this, pointing out that all revolution fail is a banal intervention, for the problem is not the future of the revolution, but, above all, how and why people become revolutionary”
    • Revolution/Revolutionaries – Revolutions make revolutionaries just as makes as revolutionaries make revolutions. Example: If when one is studying the Russian revolution, one only studies Stalin, then the whole scope of the revolution could never really be understood. Quote seen as reductionist, while our approach allows ‘revolution’ to be studied as an interdisciplinary event, allowing far more enriching analytical tools to look at this.
    • (connection between philosophy and politics, possible ‘transition’ during presentation).
  • (Apply our tools of analysis of these revolutions, on Trump’s era?).
  • Agreed to continue researching on the material that was chosen in the meeting.

Research – ‘failure to convey the message’

Philosophical Approach:

  • Breakdown of the concept of Revolution
    • Everything and every society, has an actual existence, is stabilized in one way or another, while at the same time it contains within itself potentialities for change, linking it to the domain of the ‘virtual’. These potentialities are not unreal, rather, they are without being actual.
    • The ‘virtual’ is the indicator of the fact that every social relation can become different, can be re-actualized in other ways.
    • Therefore, things can change because the social world has a virtual dimension.
    • The virtual totality of a society’s unknown potentialities is always in excess of it actual, known aspect – basically, we don’t know what a society can do. At the same time however, an actual society is by definition always lacking in terms of its knowledge of the potential unknowns. The paradoxical relationship between the two series, one presenting an excess and the other a lack, is always a cause for disequilibrium, and it is in this disequilibrium that makes revolutions possible.
    • Revolution therefore, is what joins the singularities which correspond to the actual and virtual series, enabling the passage between them.
    • “Revolution is always an event that is separated, distilled from the historical situation. However, through time, it becomes assimilated back into history. Pointing out that all revolutions fail is a banal intervention, for the problem is not the future of revolution, but, above all, how and why people become revolutionary”
    • History is a theatre, in which dramatic repetition allows the actors to produce radically new events, in which the virtual idea returns to the actual.
  • Dramatization of revolution:
    • Just as each repetition of a play enacts a new interpretation each time it is replayed, each actual or historical act is a dramatization that expresses an idea in new ways.
    • Considering ‘revolution’ in terms of theatre:
      • Concept of revolution = Sophocles’ Antigone (original play)
      • Repetition of Concept = Adaptations of Antigone
      • Adaptations that failed in conveying the message/Adaptations that succeeded (Discuss their failure in terms of conveying the message)


The following points are the those that I had mentioned throughout our meetings, and which we got positive feedback back on – maybe we can find a way to incorporate it in (maybe during our ‘play’ we can include some points in subtly, or by pictures etc):

  • Revolution in its original and primary meaning was astronomical as it referred to movements of the sun and planets around the earth
    • The passing or duration of a usually recurring period of time (Revolution as a recurring event)
    • The idea of synchronizing planets (leaving history behind and returning to ‘nature’)
  • The use of seasonal imagery in a political and specifically revolutionary context became a familiar representational strategy of British political writing during the pamphlet wars of 1970’s.
    • Shelley’s ‘Ode to Naples’.


Regarding our ‘revolution’ play – I thought we could maybe make our own mini adaptation using Antigone’s storyline just as Brecht and Anouilh did, but adjust it to our own ‘revolution’. I’ve picked possible ‘sections’ of the play that we could change and make ours, I’ll bring you copies on Wednesday so we can discuss it and decide.

Further Research

Revolution has been central to the formation of the modern world. The word itself is understood as radical, fundamental and transformative overcoming of the past rather than progressive change. In respect of our previous discussion on the central question of our presentation ‘What defines the failure of a revolution?’, I argue that a revolution could be interpreted as a failure for not bringing immediate change.

There is no denying that the French Revolution was a success on a long term, because it actually triggered a massive chain of events which eventually led to the diffusion of its ideas and principles throughout Europe. The whole world received the message of liberty, equality and fraternity and the welfare of the common man became the paramount priority and required changes were made in their constitution by the different countries. (A more detailed research on the long-term impact of the French Revolution could be found in my previous post) However, for France, the French Revolution was a turning point which failed to turn because it failed to bring immediate changes or these changes lasted shortly.

  • Failed to achieve the original goal of the total abolition of the monarchy. Instead of creating a viable and lasting democratic constitution capable of governing and defending France, the French Revolution led to several rapid changes of regime (most of them were republican but short-lived), and finally culminated in military dictatorship of Napoleon and the restoration of the monarchy. Moreover, the change in regime created severe power vacuum which allowed radicals to seize power and sow chaos within France.
  • The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which the French Revolution was based upon have never been realised in France. After the overthrow of Louis XVI, the citizens of France were stripped of their everyday liberties. To ensure power did not fall back into the hands of the higher classes, all aristocrats and royals were targeted and slaughtered on guillotine. This extremist attitude led to suspicion of anyone and everyone and many innocent people were sent to the guillotine on false accusations of supporting the crown. Equality was once again not accomplished as those in power took over the properties and estates of the aristocracy and the poverty of the people continued. Although the Old Regime with its three-estate classification (clergy, nobility and peasants) was removed, but there was still a major class-structure and a sense of disgruntlement of unequal treatments. Contrary to the aims of revolutionaries and hopes of the lower class, the living conditions of the poor did not better with the ascension of a new government but worsened. The key goal of the revolution, to take wealth out of the hands of the aristocratic who had inherited it, and to use that wealth for the good of the poor, was not accomplished, because the Bourgeoisie took power from the aristocracy and the poor, approximately 80% of the French population, continued to be ignored. Moreover, instead of a spirit of unity between the citizens of France, there was an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust which turned Frenchmen against Frenchmen. Thus, the principle of fraternity was ignored as well. The French Revolution did not really directly achieve anything after it overthrew the king, no improvement in society, economy and politics.
  • Failed to bring stability but extreme violence, chaos and constant wars. The extreme bloodshed of the reign of Terror is typically a proof.

The connection between the French Revolution and ‘immediate change’ is quite confusing, but I think the above are the three most obvious evidence to suggest that the French Revolution was not an immediate success for not bringing immediate changes to the French people or those changes were indeed short-lived and thus did not change France overwhelmingly.

Hope these are useful and will keep researching.

Useful links:




Interim Thoughts on Revolution as a Framework

So regarding our previous discussion on developing revolution as a framework rather than a mere, isolated instance, I’m posting this to try and clarify the approach I’m currently thinking would work well.

Developing revolution as a framework for analysis is quite different from viewing of revolution as an isolated event. Why? If we begin to uncover historical, political and literary/dramatic (and other) commonalities between revolution across disciplines, then one may be able to predict what is likely to happen should a future revolution/drastic, systemic change occur.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that our work on ‘revolution’ uncovers the following commonality in ‘revolution’ across disciplines:

  • ‘Revolutions’ encourage instability, which may only be resolved through systemic purges, after the specific revolutionaries seize control of all elements of a system.

If we had extrapolated this as our framework, and were to have applied it to the Trump Administration before, or in the early days of his Presidency, then given the fact that Trump has advocated for such drastic changes in decision-making, we may have been able to predict that Trump’s ‘revolution’ at the top would engender the kind of chaos which led to Sally Yates & Michael Flynn being fired, before it happened. This would be quite different from simply saying Trump is inexperienced, therefore there will be chaos, which may in itself be a partisan remark. We would be examining specific decision making to conclude that a certain event is far more probably to happen based on past, human behaviour and thinking across disciplines.

By doing this, we’re not viewing ‘revolution’ as a discrete event, or a set of historical occurrences, but a pattern which emerges in several disciplines and across several different areas. The point would be made especially clear when comparing ‘revolution’ (understood as rapid, radical change) to progressive change.

Coupling this with the theme of ‘failure’ can allow us to elaborate upon which specific aspects of ‘revolution’ frequently ‘fail’, allowing us to develop our cross-disciplinary theory of ‘revolutionary failure’.

I’m sharing some notes from a reading, which seeks to develop a framework for evaluating foreign policy success. On the top are some of my own thoughts regarding how a change in decision-making links in with a ‘foreign-policy’ revolution.


Photo 21-02-2017, 19 26 51



Meeting 4 (13/02/2017)


  • Recapped our previous discussion regarding the direction of our project. Shared our thoughts with Dr. Lawrence, and received her advice on how to approach linking our various thematic approaches together.
  • We agreed on a central question for our presentation. Entitled: ‘What Defines the Failure of a Revolution?’
  • In acknowledging that the question itself is contestable, we agreed upon a three-pronged approach, building upon our previous work (see image attached).
  • Agreed on the need to share more of our research, in order to gain a clearer sense of one another’s thinking, so as to draw clearer links between our respective approaches. Seek out commonalities in our definitions.
  • Agreed on the need to focus more on the central question, and branch out from here.
  • Discussed dramatization of failure/revolution. Greek drama aspect to revolutions? Play out like a revolution? Dramatic analysis of a revolution?
  • Consider how to present. How much should we incorporate into the presentation? Slideshow? Handouts? Need to ensure we go into enough detail to produce an argument & a coherent case.
  • Ok to bring in note cards, in so long as this assists the flow of the presentation.
  • Feedback: Requested some feedback from Dr. Lawrence as to how our group is progressing so far. She advised on the need to trim down & not overthink – try and organize ideas better, and select the most relevant. Not enough time to be able to share every single idea.
  • Remember to prepare for Q&A.
  • Be sure to practice transitions to avoid wasting time.
  • Show interdisciplinary thinking rather than telling




7/02/17 Conversation

Our discussion today regarding the current direction of our project. Reflecting on whether we ought to adapt our approach to build upon our case studies, thereby playing to our strengths. By doing so, we can instead focus on doing research specifically relevant to the presentation, rather than spending extra time on content.


Photo 07-02-2017, 14 52 24    Photo 07-02-2017, 14 52 30Photo 07-02-2017, 14 52 40Photo 07-02-2017, 14 52 48Photo 07-02-2017, 14 53 08

Meeting 3

During our third meeting we tried to further narrow down our project:

  • As we’ve already chosen the revolutions we’ll be focusing on – French revolution and Iranian revolution – we’re now going to attempt to link the two revolutions and relate them to the concept of failure.
  • For both revolutions, common themes/concepts should be found in order to determine their link to ‘failure’.
  • We’ve also discussed ‘Revolution’ as a concept:
    • Revolution in its original and primary meaning was astronomical as it referred to movements of the sun and planets around the earth:
      • The passing/duration of a usually recurring period of time – thus revolution as a recurring event
      • The idea of synchronizing planets – thus revolution as leaving history behind and going back to nature
    • During the 1970’s, British political writing was characterized by its use of seasonal imagery in a political and specifically revolutionary context:
      • The idea of revolution as seasons – language used to describe different stages of a revolution
      • Volcanic imagery also used – ‘howling’ and ‘leaping’ spread of revolution across Europe (following French Revolution). Volcanic processes figure political processes.
    • We’ve also discussed how to present our project:
      • Begin with a staged play (2minutes max) that will lead to us analyzing the concepts behind a revolution’s failure
    • Our next meeting is in two weeks, and by then we’ll hope to have the following:
      • What defines failure in revolution
      • Why did the Iranian and French revolution ‘fail’
      • Themes behind each revolution’s failure

Research – The French Revolution

Despite obvious, physical damages and high death tolls, especially in the reign on Terror, the French Revolution is largely regarded as the starting point of the era of modern revolutions because of the way it has had domestic and international impact and continued to have repercussions and influences on society and thought right up to the present day. Instead of considering the French Revolution as a complete failure because it failed to achieve its goal of replacing the repressive Ancien Régime with a constitutional one based on democratic and republican principles but leading to far-worse despotism of Napoleon, the French Revolution was indeed a steppingstone towards eventual success — the birth of modernity. Two major developments of the French Revolution which have exerted immense influence on not only France but also the whole world. The first development is the assertion of universal human rights, while the second is the emergence of the modern state.

As an important landmark in the history of France, the Revolution resulted in a number of substantial changes to French society. Even though the Revolution did not establish a stable democratic politics — in the modern Western sense — for the French people, the French Revolution did give the French people their first taste of democracy by replacing the belief in the divine right of kings with the conviction that people are the origin of all sovereignty. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the vital role in that the Revolution played in establishing the precedents of such democratic institutions as suffrage and representative government. Also, the Revolution had great impact on nationalistic thought by supporting a form of modern society based on the principle of self-determination. The Revolution later set a precedent that only those states were legitimate in which a people of common culture ruled for themselves a common territory. Foreign rule, or rule by an alien elite, as in the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, was unnatural. Only nation-states were natural political entities; only they were legitimate. Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the principle of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ was spread over the French society, however briefly it lasted. Although the principle was initially not applied to Jews, blacks and women, and often suspended by different Assemblies to fulfil their own interests in authority; however, the French people did realise that they are born and remain equal in rights. Moreover, the peasants of rural France had made some progress. The old feudal rights of the lords had been abolished in 1789, and much of the church land that had been seized by the government and sold to investors eventually ended up in the hands of the peasants.  The system of taxation had also been revised so the burden did not fall so heavily on the peasants and other members of the Third Estate. In terms of the governmental structure of France, a more centralised constitutional and representative government which ruled over a united country with no diversity in the implementation of laws and no discrimination in the imposition of taxes was established by the Revolution.


The French Revolution was also a world-historical event. The first enduring impact of the Revolution on the world was its re-definition of the word ‘revolution’. Before 1789, ‘revolution’ implied a return to the prior state of affairs in cyclical patterns. Only following the Revolution did the term take on its modern meaning — any unexpected, fundamental and innovative departure in a country’s society and politics. Indeed, this meaning remains today. Second, the Frecnh revolution set an exemplar for all modern revolutions, from the Russian revolutions of 1917 to the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011. The French revolution formulated modern revolutionary tradition — the struggle for democracy and human rights — sparked a series of revolutions which rallied behind the principle of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ and nationalism. The liberal and equal ideas endorsed by the French Revolution were so malleable and universal that they were no longer valid for the French but for all humankind, which still inspires the ongoing struggle for human rights in very different times and places across the world. Third, the revolution changed the way in which we think about, speak of and therefore conduct our politics. On the one hand, today’s world-system political ideologies, such as republicanism, liberalism and conservatism were generated by the first revolutionary assemblies; on the other hand, the roots of modern institutional concepts, such as the left and right, can be traced back to the seating arrangement of the National Convention of the Revolution.


Overall, while major historical interpretations of the French Revolution differ greatly, nearly all agree that it had an extraordinary influence on the making of the modern world. Instead of lambasting it as a failure for not achieving its goal and resulting violence and bloodshed, more weight should be put on its profound long-term impact — the birth of modernity and the establishment of modern revolutionary tradition — on not only France but the world.

Useful links