What is an urban riot today?

What is an urban riot today?

Author: Juan_Jose Villalon_Ogayar

A local urban riot is a violent social action often characterized by disorganized groups of neighbours lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people in urban agglomerations.

According to these sociological studies, these actions occur as the outcome of historical processes that imply underlying structural and cultural aspects together with precipitant actions (Liebersom & Silverman, 1967). As for underlying conditions, the most relevant, for some researchers, have been level of inequality, social stratification, power relationship and political integration models (Loch, 2009; Duprez, 2009; Welch, 1975). But, others add cultural aspects that are similar or more relevant like the values and means of basic social identification (Kastoryano, 2006; Sen, 2006; Olzak, Shanahan & McEneaey, 1996), as well as the effect of rioting on the social identity of  individual who takes part in it and the capacity of the latter to transform his subjectivity (Wieviorka, 2003; 48). Also, latest research work explains that riots are the result of historical processes that produce social actors in a local situation (Karapin, 2002) where the main dimensions are: common structural experience (disaffiliation, institutional reproduction of inequality), culture (formed by specific collective identities that are not recognized and a dominant discourse of exclusion); and power relationship (without actors to represent and defend minorities) (Wieviorka, 2009; 167-168). Furthermore, they occur in the history of a determined place. These are dynamic facts associated to several trends as it is figured in an imprecise pyramid (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Pyramid of underlying conditions of rioting

Thus, as a set of socio-historical facts, rioting could be understood as a mark of the current social actors. From this perspective, riots could be seen as a social action that is result of a dynamic and dialectic influence between the analytical dimensions of a social system in a geographic space with a specific population and in a time that moves forward as explained by Therborn (1995). More specifically, the most of these factors could be inserted into a diagram showing the formation of a social class as a social actor as Tezanos (2001; pg. 99) considered.

However, as local actions, urban neighbourhood riots could be understood as the visible impression of local actors. These actors are very important because in recent years cities have developed a new central role into the world scheme of organization affected by economic globalization and the local territorialisation of social conflicts (Alonso, 1999; pg. 138). In this sense, the theory of situational stratification proposed by Collins (2000) is an interesting point of view. Collins explained that everyone today lives daily situational experiences of hierarchies and structured networks in highly specific, localized regions or social spaces like private, family, work or public places. But, the individual does not carry these experiences over into the majority of his or her social contacts. Thus, the macro-links of our networks are no longer relevant. People live out an experience of situational equality, of motivated indifference, not of solidarity or hostility (Collins, 2000; 39-40). But, when people are infra-positioned, what happens?

To sum up, recent pieces of research help us to consider that: 1) Rioting is a violent social action that occurs in a historical context; 2) In the current social system, local rioting makes a lot of sense because it manifests the distinctive social actors of the new society who tend to develop local conflicts; 3) These social actors have their origin in the influence of a structural substrate and inter-subjective reflections that are constrained by a culture and produce the social experiences of people; 4) These social actors are individuals who unite yet have differing belongings which during the riot can identify them as members of a specific social sector (not very organized and emerging from the structure and culture which can be categorized and found in networks without their own resources) because they take part as members of this consensual trait that has some meaning and certain specific categories developed in a local and particular area during a historical time; 5) The latest results of this kind of research show that riots and all the factors involved can be transposed into people’s living conditions and opinions. By studying these data, the researcher would be able to find the answers to the questions who, how or why.

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