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Photo of Chares Demetriou by Jessica Björck

Charalambos Demetriou

Associate Professor | Senior Lecturer

Photo of Chares Demetriou by Jessica Björck

Realism, Mechanism, Effect, and Comparative Contentious Politics


  • Chares Demetriou

Summary, in English

Charles Tilly was instrumental in launching the comparative study of contentious politics through key contributions delineating and defining the subject matter. But his input is epistemological as well as theoretical and substantive. What characterizes his epistemology is a realist mechanistic explanation rendering mechanisms tools of both explanation and comparison. Employing the realist perspective, this article examines Tilly’s focus on mechanisms and some of the ensuing challenges for comparative contentious politics. It argues that mechanisms can explain confidently the emergence of contention in given episodes and can enable the comparison of emergence across episodes but cannot generalize easily about them. This tension between the particular and the general characterizes also the task of conceptualization because the key concepts in this field of study refer to processes. What ameliorates this tension is to conceptually decouple the effect produced in mechanism operation from the modality of such operation and to assign epistemological weight to the effect. This move is discussed with reference to distinctions among mechanisms, to distinctions among concatenations of mechanisms, and to potentiality.


  • Sociology

Publishing year





American Behavioral Scientist

Document type

Journal article


SAGE Publications


  • Didactics


  • causality
  • Charles Tilly
  • emergence
  • explanation
  • social process




  • ISSN: 0002-7642