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November 12 , 2009

The Plebeian Experience

A Discontinuous History of Political Freedom


How do "people" (or "plebs") excluded from political institutions achieve political agency? Revisiting a series of marginal events, Martin Breaugh identifies fleeting yet decisive instances of emancipation in which the people took it upon themselves to become political subjects. Emerging during the Roman plebs's first secession in 494 B.C.E., the "plebeian" experience consists of an "underground" or unexplored configuration of political strategies to obtain political freedom, a political practice that rejects domination and, by means of concerted action, establishes an alternative form of power.

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Breaugh's study concludes in the nineteenth century and integrates ideas from sociology, philosophy, history, and political science. Organized around diverse case studies, his text is designed for class use and showcases the exchange between history and ideas that modifies the understanding and use of theoretical concepts over time. The plebeian experience also describes a recurring phenomenon scholars can use to clarify struggles for emancipation throughout history, expanding research into the political agency of the many and other cutting-edge concerns.

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