Social Order and the Genesis of Rebellion: Mutiny in the Royal Navy, 1740-1820

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: Booth 69
Oral Presentation
Michael HECHTER , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Steven PFAFF , University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Charles CAUSEY , University of Washington, Seattle, WA
The possibility of rebellion is a check – sometimes the only check – on authoritarian rule.   Although mutinies in which crews seized control of their vessels are rare events, they occurred throughout the age of sail.  To explain the occurrence of this form of high-risk collective action, this paper provides a theory which holds that shipboard grievances -- related to material deprivation, poor governance, and the inadequate provision of health and welfare -- are the principal causes of mutiny.  Yet such grievances can only lead to rebellion when obstacles to collective action can be overcome. Whereas seamen usually could count on an ample supply of informal organization, their ability to engage in collective action was increased by factors that facilitated coordination and provided a critical mass of ringleaders.  Using a unique database drawn from extensive archival information about Royal Navy voyages from 1740 to 1820, this study employs the case-control method and random-forest classification to show why shipboard social order shifts, sometimes tipping crew members toward the high risks of mutiny.  The findings have implications for the role of grievances in generating rebellion and the attainment of legitimate social order.