What Is the J-Curve Theory?
The J-Curve theory states that revolutions are almost inevitable when long periods of social and economic development are countered by sharp reversals and depreciation. James Chowning Davies, an American sociologist and professor of political science, came up with the J-Curve in 1962.
Davies references the Dorr Rebellion, the Russian Revolution and the Egyptian Revolution to support the theory. He claims that revolutions occur as a result of a sudden reversal after a period of (mainly economic) development.
The J-Curve is simply any diagram that shows an initial curved fall and then a steep rise above the starting point.
The J-Curve model can also show stability (y-axis) against openness (x-axis) to depict the political status of a nation. The J becomes steeper because it’s easier for a leader to create stability in a failed state than to develop liable institutions in a civil society. The curve also exceeds its original level and progresses higher because successful states will become more stable than autocracies.
The Dorr Rebellion
The Dorr Rebellion of 1842 occurred after a period of prosperity in Rhode Island was followed by an impactful economic slump. The workers and those majorly effected were led by Thomas Wilson Dorr in a rebellion against the government. Their revolution failed.
The Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolution of 1917 happened after several decades of major industrial development political freedom. Then in the early 20th century, this was followed by a severe reversal in economic fortunes and political marginalisation. There was a rapidly increasing gap between the expectation of continued economic growth and political liberation, and the unfortunate reality of economic regression and political suppression. This led Russian workers to participate in a collective revolution that succeeded in overthrowing Tsarist autocracy.
How Does a Revolution Begin?
“Revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. People then subjectively fear that ground gained with great effort will be quite lost; their mood becomes revolutionary.”James Chowning Davies
According to Davies, consistent development leads to the psychological expectation that development will continue. However, when there is a sharp decline, society sees an intolerable gap between their expectations and their reality. This then leads to riots and collective rebellion in an attempt to restore the previous pattern of improvement.
Relative Deprivation Theory
Relative deprivation is defined as the lack of resources to sustain the lifestyle that an individual/group is accustomed to or widely encouraged by the society they belong to. This is shown in the image above (figure 2) as the “gap between what one has and what one wants/expects”.
However, the feeling of deprivation is subjective. According to relative deprivation theory, objective social circumstances are translated into subjective feelings of deprivation. It’s actually the mood and state of mind of a community that matters, and not necessarily their wealth. Egoistic deprivation is the feeling of personal deprivation compared to other individuals.
When fortunes reverse, people will subjectively fear that they’ll lose everything they’ve earned. This fuels revolutionary frustration. So, poor people who are satisfied won’t revolt but rich people who are dissatisfied might revolt.
Revolutions don’t usually occur in societies that are rife with poverty because people are preoccupied focusing on survival. People are individually concerned with their own personal circumstances so the mental condition for collective political actions isn’t really there.
Ted R. Gurr, author of Why Men Rebel (1970), claimed that a major gap between people’s expectations and their capabilities creates conditions that can lead to social disruption. Gurr argued that the J-Curve is only one example of a circumstance that creates the gap.
Several intellectuals established that both short-term economic deprivation and long-term tensions were crucial factors in revolutions. Long-term tensions can be social and economic inequalities (among other things). Fraternalistic deprivation (the feeling of group deprivation compared to other groups) can amplify social unrest to contribute to the likelihood of a political uprising against privileged groups.