Dylan John Riley

Research Interests: 
Political Sociology, Comparative Historical Sociology and Social Theory
490 Barrows

My work uses comparative and historical methods to challenge a set of key conceptual oppositions in classical sociological theory: authoritarianism and democracy, revolution and counter-revolution, and state and society. Marx, Weber and Durkheim all in different ways conceptualized societies as sharply contrasting wholes: feudal or capitalist, traditional or modern, segmented or interdependent. Yet a growing body of theory and research challenges this dualistic approach. For example recent scholarship questions the opposition between absolutism and constitutionalism; the contrast between capitalism and pre-capitalism; and the opposition between democratic and authoritarian societies. I extend this work by investigating how techniques of social organization and political control migrate across historical, geographical, and ideological boundaries thus undermining the sharp conceptual contrast between types of social structures. I have done this in three main substantive areas: the comparative analysis of regimes, the study of political movements, and state-society relations. My book, The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe: Italy, Spain, and Romania 1870-1945 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), argues that fascist regimes arose paradoxically on the basis of strong civil societies in the pre-fascist period. Reviewers have called this book “the most original and provocative new analysis of the preconditions of Fascism that has appeared in years”, and “brilliant and courageous”. A second book How Societies and States Count: A Comparative Genealogy of Censuses (with Rebecca Jean Emigh and Patricia Ahmed in preparation for Palgrave), argues, against state centered accounts of official information that censuses work best where there is intense interaction between state and society. In addition I have started a new project investigating the connection between the meaning and substance of democracy in interwar and post-war Europe. I have published articles in the American Journal of SociologyAmerican Sociological Review, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Comparative Sociology, Social Science History, The Socio-Economic Review and the New Left Review. I am a member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review.

Representative Publications: 

Work in Progress

  • Rethinking Liberal Democracy and the Fascist Legacy. Manuscript in progress.


  • 2010 The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe: Italy, Spain, and Romania 1870-1945. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • 2016 Antecedents of Censuses: From Medieval to Nation States. (with Rebecca Jean Emigh and Patricia Ahmed). Palgrave Press.

  • 2016 Changes in Censuses: From Imperialism to Welfare States. (with Rebecca Jean Emigh and Patricia Ahmed). Palgrave Press.