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Craig Calhoun, The Roots of Radicalism: Tradition, The Public Sphere and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Movements.

Department of Sociology, University of Alberta
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  • Political Science


© Canadian Journal of SoCiology/CahierS CanadienS de SoCiologie 37(3) 2012 334 Book Review/Compte Rendu Craig Calhoun, The Roots of Radicalism: Tradition, The Public Sphere and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Move- ments. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, 416 pp. $US 25.00 paper (9780226090863) Once in a while one finds a book that infiltrates your conversations. The Roots of Radicalism is such a book — one that wrestles with big questions in an accessible way. Calhoun has written the seven essays in this book over a long period, but brought them together with a con- temporary desire to understand the relevance of today’s populist move- ments — from the Tea Party and Occupy, to religious and prodemocracy movements in North Africa. With a strong central question of the role of tradition in social movements, the chapters hang together well around the theme of “resituating radicalism,” and hearken back to the topic of Calhoun’s first book, The Question of Class Struggle: Social Founda- tions of Popular Radicalism during the Industrial Revolution (1982). As the recently appointed Director of the London School of Econom- ics and past President of the Social Science Research Council, Calhoun is a powerful actor in the world of sociology and one who is clearly comfortable engaging with big questions. Concerned that left-leaning social movement scholars and sociologists more generally have inher- ited biases that make us unable to adequately understand populist or conservative movements, the author argues that it is useful to understand such movements as sites of “reactionary radicalism” (p. 84). Drawing on Bourdieu’s method for understanding the intersection of academic, eco- nomic, and political fields, Calhoun argues that because of the way liber- al and Marxist intellectual trajectories emphasize and value progress and change, movements that defend traditional practices remain unnecessar- ily mysterious. This inherited bias limits analysis of such movements, as it

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