With the ability to appear in various forms in numerous situations, revolution cannot be defined in a concise statement. It can profoundly shift the status quo in aspects of society such as politics, economics, scientific study, or social interaction, but it can also affect humanity on a much smaller scale. Consider the realm of industry. The first industrial revolution from the late 1700s to the early 1800s profoundly disturbed organizational structures to the point of a total shift in lifestyle. However, industry can revolutionize itself without causing a shocking alteration in humanity. As Lewis Lapham writes in Crowd Control, “The constantly revolutionizing technologies have been spinning the huge bourgeois wheel at the speed of light,” (Lapham 24), showing that more modest revolutions in the release of a new iPhone or the newest version of Windows software can be revolutionary, even if the novelty of revolution is lost in the consistency of it. There is no specific magnitude that qualifies a revolution. As long as the organization, thoughts, psyche, lifestyle, culture, policies, education, productivity, etc. of a society are fundamentally altered, a revolution has been accomplished. The aspect of a society being involved, however, is essential.
In Lapham’s description of how ever-changing technologies affect society, he makes a point of describing the revolutionizing technologies in the context of the bourgeois. One’s personal purchase of a new technology isn’t revolutionary in and of itself. Rather, the innovation provides a fundamental shift in the way that one interacts with others, and this unique method of interaction produces the fruits of revolution through a shift in the social facets listed before. There must be a distinction made between personal development and revolutionary occurrences. On a personal level, no fundamental changes can be made to an individual. Even though somebody can experience a monumental shift in their life, one cannot experience a personal revolution because a truly fundamental change would shift their entire identity of self. An individual simply progresses in their understanding of the world. A fundamental change can only be made in the way that they use that developed understanding to interact with others. The inherent sociality of revolution means that it can occur in almost infinite forms, but it must also be sufficiently accessible. A fundamental alteration of a society requires available subjectivity, and this fluid element is what makes defining revolution so controversial. Not only is the fundamentality of social alteration questioned, but what truly constitutes a society is questioned as well. This leaves the determination of revolution up to the subjects of whatever is affecting society. Classifying an occurrence as revolutionary isn’t up to an onlooker to the event. Rather, the group constituting the society affected must define for itself what has revolutionized their community.
Lapham, Lewis. “Crowd Control.” Lapham’s Quarterly, vol. 7, ser. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 17–25. 2.