Theses Doctoral

Structural Avenues for Mobilization - The Case of British Abolition

Makovi, Kinga Reka

This thesis builds the micro foundations of the first modern social movement: the movement for the abolition of the slave trade in the early 19th century British context. I derive theories of action from the historical literature, and use work from historical sociology and movement theory to understand the decision to petition for abolition. Two major empirical undertakings are employed to adjudicate between different theories of action accounting for abolitionist petitioning.
First, zooming in on Manchester, I deploy the signatures of an abolitionist petition to find the social-structural drivers of abolitionist mobilization. Through a careful reconstruction of the city’s historic geography, I place over 10000 residents in physical space along with important buildings, such as churches, inns and taverns: focal points that provided the basis of associational life and early civil society, places where politics was done at the time. I delineate the limits of the impact of the Quaker congregation, and demonstrate that in fact these focal points induced the spatial-clustering of abolitionist petitioners. Furthermore, I reveal that economic interests are not among key drivers of abolitionist petitioning, as no clear occupational-gradient is found among petitioners. Besides the theoretical contributions, I use innovative ways to test which social relationships were crucial for petitioning.
Second, zooming out on the national petitioning campaign I use self-collected data on petitions form the Journals of the British Parliament to study the movement at the macro level. The analysis shows that contact with the London-based central movement-organization was key for the success of the first campaign, but it also reveals that the second campaign relied more on "horizontal" connections rather than hierarchical ones tying provincial towns to London. Second, I confirm that non-conformist religious organizations were pivotal for the inception, and scaling of the national campaign, but the Quaker church seem to exert more important and continuous influence compared to the Wesleyan Methodist organization. Last but not least, I show that industrialization plays a key, and increasingly important role in the campaign for abolition.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bearman, Peter Shawn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 1, 2017