My understanding of Revolution is mostly shaped by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. His allegory describes the long, difficult, and even violent process of revolution. Here are the characteristics of revolution I have understood based on his text:
- When a large group of people upend their old ways of acting and thinking, it is considered to be revolutionary. Revolution need not necessarily be based on completely new structures but can be brought about when the same information is looked at in a different way which completely changes our understanding of it. For example, Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” can be considered to be a revolutionary text not because he introduces new or radical ideas in it but frames ideas and information that are already known to people in a way that is revolutionary. He changed the way people understood non-violent activism and civil disobedience and also introduced a new rhetoric of talking about race.
- Conflict between new ideas and old always takes place in a revolution, and it takes time for people to accept the new reality. Based on this new understanding of reality, society is reshaped based on new principles, and new institutions emerge. The French Revolution is an example of a political revolution where this played out: the institution of monarchy was overthrown and replaced for a few years until Napoleon crowned himself the monarch again.
- In a revolution, there is an upheaval of old structures and old patterns of thought are re-arranged into new ones. The difficulty in getting people to let go of old beliefs and accept new one hinders revolution both in the Humanities and in the Sciences. This can be explained through the scientific revolution which we studied in the second unit of the course, when people refused to accept Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. The Copernican theory was rejected and met with a lot of criticism. His theory “required a transformation in man’s view of God and the bases of his morality.” It therefore challenged extremely deep-rooted ideas that people possessed at the time and would change the way they described their relation to the rest of the universe. It took years for his theory to finally be accepted. This shows us that revolutions take time and they are slow, even painful.
- Revolutions require a new factor or development to spark change. This factor may be external or internal. There needs to be a source of new information that provides the impetus for change, or something that propels it forward and makes it take place. The Industrial Revolution is an example of such a revolution, where modern inventions like the railroad, gas lighting, and the cotton gin changed production and manufacturing and with that, changed the organization of relations of production and consumption in society.
My ideas about revolution in this class have culminated in my final research paper, where I write about a production of Shakespeare’s Richard II that I watched during the study trip to London that we went on as part of the Humanities Program. The play was unique as its cast was composed exclusively of women of color, and I use both performance theory and postcolonial theory to explain how the production challenges imperial hegemony and imperial hierarchies of power. I believe that revolutions are a slow process that are brought about through the actions of small groups of people. Revolution does not always have to mean a huge change or upheaval. The performance of a Shakespeare play in London by a cast of women of color is revolutionary as these women are claiming an imperial icon as their own and their very presence on stage in London reflects the change in the power structures of the world since colonialism while also reminding us that unfair colonial power hierarchies still exist and need to be fought against.