The Ritual of May Day in Western Europe: Past, Present and Future, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Ritual of May Day in Western Europe

Past, Present and Future, 1st Edition

By Abby Peterson, Herbert Reiter


286 pages

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pub: 2016-06-08
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Eric Hobsbawm claimed that the international May Day, which dates back to a proclamation in 1889 by the Second International, 'is perhaps the most ambitious of labour rituals'. The first international May Day demonstrations in 1890 were widely celebrated across Europe and became the one day each year when organized labour could present its goals to the public, an eight-hour workday being the first concrete demand, shortly followed by those for improved working conditions, universal suffrage, peace among nations, and international solidarity. The May Day ritual celebration was the self-assertion and self-definition of the new labour class through class organization. Thus, it was trade unions and social democratic and socialist parties throughout Europe which took the initiative and have sustained May Day as a labour ritual to this day. Part I of this theoretically-informed volume explores how May Day demonstrations have evolved and taken different trajectories in different political contexts. Part II focuses on May Day rituals today. By comparing demonstration level data of over 2000 questionnaires from six countries, including Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, the reader is able to gain a thorough understanding of how participants are bestowing meaning on May Day rituals. By concluding with reflections on the future of the May Day ritual in Western Europe, this ground-breaking book provides a detailed analysis of its evolution as a protest event.

Table of Contents

Foreword: the myth of May Day, (Rick Fantasia)

Introduction: Western European May Day rituals: past, present and future, (Abby Peterson and Herbert Reiter;

1. The origins of May Day: history and memory, (Herbert Reiter)

2. The First of May in Germany and Italy, (Herbert Reiter)

3. The May Day tradition in Finland and Sweden, (Christer Thörnqvist, Tapio Bergholm and Margaretha Mellberg)

4. May Day in Spain - socialist and anarchist traditions, (Eduardo Romanos and José Luis Ledesma)

5. May Day in Britain, (Chris Wrigley)

6. The context of contemporary May Day demonstrations in six European countries, (Abby Peterson)

7. Who takes part in May Day marches?, (Magnus Wennerhag)

8. Why do people demonstrate on May Day?, (Mattias Wahlström)

9. The future of May Day, (Abby Peterson and Herbert Reiter)

Appendix: methods for studying May Day demonstrators: sampling, estimating non-response bias and pooling data with general population surveys, (Mattias Wahlström and Magnus Wennerhag)


About the Authors

Abby Peterson, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Herbert Reiter, European University Institute, Florence, Italy.

About the Series

The Mobilization Series on Social Movements, Protest, and Culture

The Mobilization Series on Social Movements, Protest, and Culture

Published in conjunction with Mobilization: An International Quarterly, the premier research journal in the field, this series publishes a broad range of research in social movements, protest and contentious politics. This is a growing field of social science research that spans sociology and political science as well as anthropology, geography, communications and social psychology. Enjoying a broad remit, the series welcomes books on the following topics: social movement networks; social movements in the global South; social movements, protest, and culture; personalist politics, such as living environmentalism, guerrilla gardens, anticonsumerist communities, and anarchist-punk collectives; and emergent repertoires of contention.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General