William H. Sewell Jr.

Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Political Science and History
PhD 1971 University of California, Berkeley

The University of Chicago
Department of Political Science
5828 S. University Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-0900 – Office
(773) 702-1689 – Fax

William Sewell has retired and no longer directs BA theses or accepts new graduate students.

Field Specialties

Modern French social and cultural history; labor history; social theory


My work has two distinct foci: (1) the history of early modern and modern Europe and (2) the relationship between history and social theory. My empirical historical research concerns French social, labor, political, and cultural history, particularly in the revolutions of 1789, 1830, and 1848. I am currently working on the relationship between eighteenth-century capitalism and the cultural origins of the French Revolution. Over the past fifteen years, much of my writing and teaching has centered on the development of a theoretical vocabulary that simultaneously speaks to history and the other social sciences. Most of this work is now published in Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

My courses are generally cross listed with Political Science; many of them focus on theoretical approaches or problems in interdisciplinary historical studies. Although the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France often figures somewhere in these courses, they usually include cases drawn from various regions of the world and from different historical periods. I have also recently taught more conventionally historical courses on the old regime and the French revolution and on the emergence of capitalism in early modern Europe.



Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Structure and Mobility: The Men and Women of Marseille, 1820–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: The Abbé Sieyes and "What Is the Third Estate?" Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994.

(joint author). Silence and Voice in Contentious Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Articles and Chapters (selected)

"Etat, Corps and Ordre: Some Notes on the Social Vocabulary of the French Old Regime." In Sozialgeschichte Heute: Festschrift für Hans Rosenburg zum 70 Geburtstag, edited by H. U. Wehler, 49–68. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1974.

"Social Change and the Rise of Working-Class Politics in Nineteenth-Century Marseille." Past and Present 65 (November 1974): 75–109.

"Ideologies and Social Revolutions: Reflections on the French Case." Journal of Modern History 57 (March 1985): 57–85.

"Uneven Development, the Autonomy of Politics, and the Dockworkers of Nineteenth-Century Marseille." American Historical Review 93 (1988): 604–37

"Le Citoyen, La Citoyenne: Activity, Passivity, and the French Revolutionary Concept of Citizenship." In The French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Political Culture, vol. 2, Political Culture of the French Revolution, edited by Colin Lucas, 105–25. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1988.

"A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency and Transformation." American Journal of Sociology 98 (1992): 1–29

"Toward a Post-Materialist Rhetoric for Labor History." In Rethinking Labor History: Essays on Discourse and Class Analysis, edited by Lenard R. Berlanstein, 15–38. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

"The Sans-Culotte Rhetoric of Subsistence." In The Terror in the French Revolution, edited by Keith M. Baker and Colin Lucas. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1994, 249–269.

"Three Temporalities: Toward an Eventful Sociology." In The Historic Turn in the Human Sciences, edited by Terrence J. McDonald, 245–80. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

"Political Events as Structural Transformations: Inventing Revolution at the Bastille." Theory and Society 25 (1996): 841–81.

"The Concept(s) of Culture." In Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture, edited by Victoria E. Bonnell and Lynn Hunt, 35–61. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.

(co-author). "Space in Contentious Politics." In Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics, edited by Mark Beissinger et al., 51–89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

"The French Revolution and the Emergence of the Nation Form." In Revolutionary Currents: Transatlantic Ideology and Nation-building, 1688–1821, edited by Michael Morrison and Melinda Zook, 91–125. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.