Charles Tilly

Charles Tilly
Charles Tilly
Born 1929
Lombard, United States
Died 2008 (age 78)
Nationality American
Fields Social Science
Political Science
Institutions University of Delaware
Harvard University
University of Toronto
University of Michigan
The New School
Columbia University
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Alma mater Harvard University (PhD)
University of Oxford

Charles Tilly (May 27, 1929 – April 29, 2008[1]) was an American sociologist, political scientist, and historian who wrote on the relationship between politics and society. He was the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University.


Personal life and education

Tilly was born on May 20, 1929, in Lombard, Illinois (near Chicago). He graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in 1950 and completed Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology in 1958.

Charles Tilly died on April 29, 2008 from lymphoma. As he was fading in the hospital, he got one characteristic sentence out to early student Barry Wellman: "It's a complex situation."[2] In his obituary, Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger stated that Tilly "literally wrote the book on the contentious dynamics and the ethnographic foundations of political history".[1] Adam Ashforth, of Northwestern University, described Tilly as "the founding father of 21st-century sociology".[3]

Academic career

Charles Tilly taught at the University of Delaware, Harvard University, the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan, The New School, and Columbia University. At Columbia, he was the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science. Over the course of his career, Tilly wrote more than 600 articles and 51 books and monographs.[1]

He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Sociological Research Association and the Ordre des Palmes Academiques.[4]

Academic work

Tilly's academic work covered multiple topics in the social sciences and influenced scholarship in disciplines outside of sociology, including history and political science. He is considered a major figure in the development of historical sociology, the early use of quantitative methods in historical analysis, the methodology of event cataloguing, the turn towards relational and social-network modes of inquiry, the development of process- and mechanism-based analysis, as well as the study of: contentious politics, social movements, the history of labor, state formation, revolutions, democratization, inequality, and urban sociology.

State Formation

Examining political, social, and technological change in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present, Tilly attempted to explain the unprecedented success of the nation-state as the dominant polity on Earth.[5] According to his theory, military innovation in pre-modern Europe (especially gunpowder and mass armies) made war extremely expensive. As a result, only states with a sufficient amount of capital and a large population could afford paying for their security and ultimately survive in the hostile environment. Institutions of the modern state (such as taxes) were created to allow war-making.

Contentious Politics

In opposition to individualistic, dispositional analyses of contentious politics, Tilly's work emphasizes how dynamics of social protest are tied to their political, social and economic context. Where previous studies of collective violence had argued their atypical nature, Tilly amassed a battery of evidence to show that they typically arise from the organization of normally non-violent political contentions.

Tilly's work has had considerable influence on the study of social movements. Ironically, Charles Tilly was initially reluctant to tackle social movements. “I avoided writing about social movements for about twenty years because I felt that the term had become swollen and imprecise,” he said in a 2007 interview. “The phenomenon of the social movement looked to me like a historically specific form of politics parallel to the electoral campaign and the collective seizure of food, not a universal category of human action.”[6]

The notion of locating the birth of the social movement in a specific time and place occurred to Tilly while he was writing his pathbreaking work on the transformation of British popular politics, Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834.[7] In the process of collating and analyzing the 8,088 contentious gatherings (CGs) that form the basis of the book, Tilly noticed that one momentous change in how ordinary people made collective claims on public authorities turned out to be the invention of what we now call the social movement. “I couldn’t help seeing that in Britain, at least, social movements didn’t exist in the mid-18th century but had become a dominant form of popular politics by the 1830s. That started me writing about the history of social movements, first in Western Europe, then finally across the world as a whole.”[6]

Instead of defining all forms of social protest as social movements, Tilly uses a narrower definition. Conceptually, he argues that social movements share some elements with other forms of political contention such as coups, electoral campaigns, strikes, revolutions, and interest-group politics, but have their own distinct characteristics. He argues that the social movement developed in the West after 1750 and spread throughout the world through colonialism, trade and migration. Local populations are more likely to experiment with the social movement with democratization, and when successful, are more likely to incorporate it into their political struggles.

Tilly argues that social movements combine:

1. A sustained, organized public effort making collective claims on target audiences: let us call it a campaign;
2. Employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: creation of special purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering; call the variable ensemble of performances the social-movement repertoire. and
3. Participants' concerted public representations of worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment (WUNC) on the part of themselves and/or their constituencies: call them WUNC displays.[8]

A campaign always links at least three parties: a group of claimants, some object(s) of claims, and a public of some kind. Social movement repertoires are the context-specific, standard operating procedures of social movements, such as: public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, special-purpose associations and coalitions, demonstrations, petition drives, and pamphleteering. As for WUNC displays, Tilly writes, “The term WUNC sounds odd, but it represents something quite familiar.”[9] Social movements’ displays of worthiness may include sober demeanor and the presence of clergy and mothers with children; unity is signaled by matching banners, singing and chanting; numbers are broadcast via signatures on petitions and filling streets; and commitment is advertised by braving bad weather, ostentatious sacrifice, and/or visible participation by the old and handicapped. WUNC matters because it conveys crucial political messages to a social movement’s targets and the relevant public.

Tilly distinguishes between three sorts of claims advanced by social movements:

1. Identity claims declare that “we”—the claimants—constitute a unified force to be reckoned with. Such claims commonly include a name for “us,” such as “Cherokees,” “Diamond Cutters,” or “Citizens United against X.”
2. Standing claims assert ties and similarities to other political actors, for example as excluded minorities, established traders, properly constituted citizens' groups, or loyal supporters of the regime.
3. Program claims involve stated support for or opposition to actual or proposed actions by the objects of movement claims. The relative salience of identity, standing, and program claims varies significantly among social movements, among claimants within movements, and among phases of movements.[10]

Tilly locates the origin of social movement repertoires in the national regime within which they operate. Defining regimes as the degree of governmental capacity and democracy within a given polity, Tilly argues that contentious repertoires are shaped by regimes in three ways: regimes control claim-making repertoires—determining zones of prescribed, tolerated, and forbidden repertoires; regimes constitute potential claimants and potential objects of claims; and regimes produce streams of issues, events, and governmental actions around which social movements rise and fall.[11]

Tilly also argues that there exists a complex relationship between social movements and democratization. Democratization promotes the formation of social movements, but by no means do all social movements advocate or promote democracy. The distinction is crucial. Tilly cautioned against the illusion that social movements themselves promote democracy by analytically separating movement claims from movement consequences. A pro-democracy movement may lead to anti-democratic consequences, he argued; an example would be anarchists ultimately promoting the fragmentation of democracy-seeking coalitions. Conversely, an anti-democracy movement may promote democratic outcomes by stimulating democratic counter-action by other citizens or self-serving countermeasures by public officials; an example would be unsuccessful anti-immigrant movements.[citation needed]

However, democratization always promotes the formation of social movements because each of its elements contributes to social movement activity. Democratization’s formation of more regular and categorical relations between governments and subjects renders the making of rights-based claims feasible, visible, and attractive. The broadening of rights and obligations within public politics promotes participation in campaigns, social movement performances, and WUNC displays. The equalization of rights and obligations within public politics strengthens cross-category coalitions and the assertion of new identities. And increases in binding consultation of subjects with regard to government policy hold out the prospect of movements acquiring some say in governmental decision making.[citation needed]

In sum, social movements thrive on the secure rights of assembly, association, and collective voice granted by democracy.

Urban Sociology

In the 1960s and 1970s, Tilly also studied migration to cities, and was an influential theorist about urban phenomena and treating communities as social networks. In 1968 Tilly presented his report on European collective violence to U.S. 1968 Kerner Commission, a body formed under the Johnson administration to assess urban unrest amidst the Civil Rights movement. As informed by his studies of contentious politics in 19th century Europe, and the present violence in the U.S., his interest in cities and communities became closely linked with his passion for the study of both social movements and collective violence.[12]


Tilly received several awards including the Common Wealth Award in sociology in 1982, the Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences in 1994, the Eastern Sociological Society's Merit Award for Distinguished Scholarship in 1996, the American Sociological Association's Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award in 2005, the International Political Science Association's Karl Deutsch Award in Comparative Politics in 2006, the Phi Beta Kappa Sidney Hook Memorial Award in 2006 and the Social Science Research Council's Albert O. Hirschman Award in 2008. He also received honorary doctorates from Erasmus University of Rotterdam in 1983, the Institut d'Etudes Politiques of University of Paris in 1993, the University of Toronto in 1995, the University of Strasbourg in 1996, the University of Geneva in 1999, the University of Crete in 2002, the University of Quebec at Montreal in 2004 and the University of Michigan in 2007.[13] In 2001, Columbia’s sociology graduate students named Tilly the Professor of the Year.

Partial bibliography

See also Tilly's home page: [1]
  • The Vendée: A Sociological Analysis of the Counter- revolution of 1793. (1964)
  • "Clio and Minerva." Pp. 433–66 in Theoretical Sociology, edited by John McKinney and Edward Tiryakian. (1970)
  • "Collective Violence in European Perspective." Pp. 4–45 in Violence in America, edited by Hugh Graham and Tedd Gurr. (1969)
  • "Do Communities Act?" Sociological Inquiry 43: 209–40. (1973)
  • An Urban World. (ed.) (1974).
  • The Formation of National States in Western Europe (ed.) (1975)
  • From Mobilization to Revolution (1978)
  • As Sociology Meets History (1981)
  • Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons (1984)
  • The Contentious French (1986)
  • Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990 (1990)
  • Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1992 (1992)
  • European Revolutions, 1492–1992 (1993)
  • Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, A.D. 1000 to 1800 (1994)
  • Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834 (1995)
  • Roads from Past to Future (1997)
  • Work Under Capitalism (with Chris Tilly, 1998)
  • Durable Inequality (1998)
  • Transforming Post-Communist Political Economies (1998)
  • Dynamics of Contention (with Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow) (2001)
  • The Politics of Collective Violence (2003)
  • Contention & Democracy in Europe, 1650–2000 (2004)
  • Social Movements, 1768–2004 (2004)
  • From Contentions to Democracy (2005)
  • Identities, Boundaries, and Social Ties (2005)
  • Trust and Rule (2005)
  • Why? (2006)
  • Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis (2006)
  • Contentious Politics (with Sidney Tarrow) (2006)
  • Regimes and Repertoires (2006)
  • Democracy (2007)
  • Credit and Blame (2008)
  • Contentious Performances (2008)
  • Social Movements, 1768–2008, 2nd edition (with Lesley Wood, 2009)


  1. ^ a b c Bollinger, Lee C. (2008-04-29). "President Bollinger's Statement on the Passing of Professor Charles Tilly". Columbia University. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  2. ^ Barry Wellman, "Chuck Tilly, the urbanist."
  3. ^ Martin, Douglas (2008-05-02). "Charles Tilly, 78, Writer and a Social Scientist, Is Dead". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  4. ^ ISERP Press Release. 2008, April 29. "Charles Tilly Remembered".
  5. ^ Tilly, Charles (1990). Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990. Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell. ISBN 1557863687. 
  6. ^ a b Charles Tilly Interview, BlauExchange, retrieved on August 11, 2008
  7. ^ Tilly, Charles (2004). Social Movements, 1768–2004. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Paradigm Publishers. p. 53. ISBN 1594510431. 
  8. ^ Tilly, Charles (2004). Social Movements, 1768–2004. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Paradigm Publishers. p. 54. ISBN 1594510431. 
  9. ^ Tilly, Charles (2004). Social Movements, 1768–2004. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Paradigm Publishers. p. 184. ISBN 1594510431. 
  10. ^ Tilly, Charles. Regimes and Repertoires. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-80350-0. 
  11. ^ Barry Wellman, "Chuck Tilly, the urbanist,"; Tilly, Charles. 1969. "Collective Violence in European Perspective." Pp. 4–45 in Violence in America, edited by Hugh Graham and Tedd Gurr. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office; Tilly, Charles. 1988. "Misreading, then Rereading, Nineteenth-Century Social Change." Pp. 332–58 in Social Structures: A Network Approach, edited by Barry Wellman and SD Berkowitz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ ISERP Press Release. 2008, April 29. "Charles Tilly Remembered".

External links

Peace sign.svg Social movements portal

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Charles Tilly — (Chicago, 27 de mayo de 1929 Nueva York, 29 de abril de 2008) fue un sociólogo norteamericano con una clara orientación por los estudios históricos. Cursó sus estudios en la universidad Harvard y en Oxford. Su carrera académica se ha desarrollado …   Wikipedia Español

  • Charles Tilly — (né en 1929, mort le 29 avril 2008) est un sociologue américain dont les travaux portent avant tout sur les relations entre la politique, l économie et la société. Il est notamment à l origine du concept de répertoire d action collective , qui… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Charles Tilly — (* 20. Mai 1929 in Lombard, Illinois; † 29. April 2008 in New York) war ein US amerikanischer Historiker, Politologe und Soziologe. Nach einem Studium an der Harvard University promovierte er 1958 (Ph.D.). Anschließend lehrte er an den… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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