Archivo de la categoría: Violence/ Violencia

Violence as a social action that manifiests, makes or changes social identities

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.


-Alonso, L. E. (1999) Trabajo y ciudadanía: Estudios sobre la crisis de la sociedad salarial, Ed. Trotta, Madrid.

-Blum, R. (2008) Riots in European cities: lessons and Council of Europe response, Parlamentary Assembly, Consejo de Europa, 8 de Julio de, Doc. 11685

-Collins, R. (2000) Situational Stratification: a Micro-Macro Theory of Inequality, in Sociological Theory, Vol. 18, No. 1, 17-43.

-DESAUN (2005) Designing Household survey samples: Practical Guidelines, United Nations Publications

-Duprez, D. (2009) Urban Rioting as an Indicator of Crisis in the Integration Model for Ethnic Minority Youth in France, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 35, Issue 5, pages 753-770

-Entzinger, H. (2009) Different Systems, Similar Problems: The French Urban Riots from a Dutch Perspective Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 35, Issue 5, pages 815-834

-Fayyad, H. & others (1996) The KDD Process for Extracting Useful Knowledge from … COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM November 1996/Vol. 39, No. 11

-Karapin, R. (2002) Antiminority Riots in Unified Germany: cultural Conflicts and Mischanneled Political in Comparative Politics, Vol. 34, Nº 2, pp. 147-167

-Kastoryano R. Territories of Identities in France, SSRC, Published on: Jun 11, 2006

-Lieberson, Stanley and Silverman, Arnold R. (1965) The precipitants and Underlying Conditions of Race riots, American Sociological Review, Vol. 30, Nº 6, pp. 887-898

-Loch, Dietmar (2009) Immigrant Youth and Urban Riots: A Comparison of France and Germany, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 35, Issue 5, 791-814

-Olzak, Susan, Shanahan, Suzanne and Mc. Eneaney, Elisabeth (1996) Poverty, Segregation and Race Riots: 1960 to 1993 in American Sociological Review, Vol. 61, Nº 4, pp. 590-613

-Renn, Ortwin Jovanovic Aleksandar and Schröter, Regina (2011) “Social Unrest” in OECD/IFP Project on “Future Global shocks”, 14 January.

-Robinson, Bernard F. (1941) The Sociology of Race riots, in Phylon Review, Cark Atlanta University, Vol. 2, Nº. 2 (2Qtr.), pp. 162-171

-Sen, Amartya (2006) Identity and Violence. The illusion of Destiny, Norton, NY

-Tezanos, José F. (2001) La sociedad dividida. Biblioteca Nueva.

-Therborn, Goran (1995) European Modernity and Beyond: The Trajectory of European Societies, 1945-2000, SAGE

-Tonnevold, Camilla (2009) The internet in the Paris Riots of 2005, in Javnost-the public, Vol. 16, Nº.1, pp. 87-100

-Villalón, Juan Jose (2006), Identidades y Exclusión Social. Ed. FOESSA

(2009), El aumento de la vulnerabilidad social y la crisis expresiva de la identificación social, Zerbitzuan: Gizarte zerbitzuetarako aldizkaria, 45.

(2012) Inmigración e identificación social en Los nuevos problemas sociales. Duodécimo foro de Tendencias Sociales, Ed. Sistema, Madrid.

-Welch, Susan (1975) The impact of Urban riots on Urban expenditures in American Journal of Political Science, vol. 19, Nº 4, pp. 741-760

-Wieviorka, Michel (2003) Violence and the subject in Thesis Eleven, SAGE,  73:42;

(2009) Violence in France: crisis or towards post-republicanism in Huggan, Graham and Law, Ian Racism, Postcolonialism, Europe in Liverpool University Press.


About how we can study social unrest

About how we can study social unrest

Author: Juan_José Villalón_Ogáyar

There are only some proposals for the development of application-oriented tools to manage the risk of social unrest. One of the latest of these is being developed by the OCDE project “Future Global Shocks” (Renn, O. and others, 2011).

The perspective of Renn and others (2011) is very interesting because they understand that the social risk of collective unrest is produced in various different ways, such as due to a political and economic crisis (Athens, 2008) or a meteorological phenomenon (New Orleans in 2005). And there are other events that could bring into being the cause of social unrest such as a pandemic (H1N1 pandemic in 2009) or problems of cyber security. They understand that there are three actors in social unrest: the protesters, the official agencies and a population with a negative public opinion about something.

However, they forget the relevance of social identity as a mechanism for mobilization and they forget that people make decisions as members of social groups that manage a specific amount of resources. Also, as I am about to explain, they do not select the appropriate study object in order to find tools to prevent them. They accept the complexity and ambiguity of social unrest as axioms. Therefore, their analytical model could be improved in several ways. The first is to specify the study object and to reduce its analytical ambiguity and complexity. Second, to develop a theoretical proposal that incorporates all the latest understanding and knowledge of rioting. This will allow us to develop new models and tools to measure the likelihood of rioting.

It is necessary to separate social unrest into several categories with two main axes. These axes are: level of violence and level of organization of the population that takes part in social unrest (Figure 1). Then, it would divide social unrest into: demonstration (minimum violent and maximum organization); terrorism (maximum violence and organization); protest (minimum violence and organization); rioting(maximum violence and minimum organization).

Figure 1: Categories of social unrest

The relevance of these axes could be explained thus: First, the violence is a consequence of the level of integration of the people that take part in the action; second, the organization level is a consequence of the amount of economic and social resources that the social actor taking part in the action can mobilize. Thus, the most specific feature of rioting is: the social actor.

Therefore, in this proposal, the description of object is: a violent collective action that occurs in a locality, district or street. It is not prepared by trade unions, political parties, global movements or associations. The main actors are disorganized people from the neighborhood. Due to some exceptional incident, some of neighbors explode in indignation at the same time. Then, they break public material, buildings, kill someone or fight against police officers or other social groups.

The individual actor in rioting is a member of a local hierarchy, and could take part in global horizontal networks. He lives in a divided local society in a globalised world such as, for example, a Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) where internally, people are divided into rich and poor according to districts. Each one has to decide and to construct him or her self as a complex and flexible building that has to resist a lot of earthquakes and to adapt to a dynamic environment. A problem appears due to the fact that some people are not able to adapt and are situated at the bottom of and outside the heap. Then these people seek alternative routes. In modern societies there are some alternatives: associations, political parties, trade unions, religious organizations or churches. But, people need resources to build these things and they have to be integrated. Without resources and organization, there are other possibilities, for example: street violence and rioting. According to Wiviorka (2003), rioting can be a way to make new social groups because it sometimes works as an elementary expression of the objectived subject and its foundation. Local rioting works as a collective action to break away from an everyday life which is absurd and has no prospect on the horizon. From that moment on, people may discover another vision of themselves. The riot could be a point of transformation, a death and a rebirth at the same time.

But, who are passing into a state of death? They are the actor who is protesting. My hypothesis is that the riot is generated by a social actor formed by individuals joined together by their various belongings. During the riots, they can be identified as members of specific social groups who live together on the same streets. But the rioting actor is different to the outcome actor. The protester actor is formed over a long period of time beforehand, by structural conditions of life, in a common cultural background and a common reflection linked to the global world by information and communication technologies (ITC´s). And some of participants in the common reflection process take part in the rioting action. So, rioting is a collective action where some people take part through violent actions and others take part by sentiment, ideas, conversations, acceptance and by helping. Then, who could the social actor in rioting be? In general, it is known that rioting usually occurs in a society that develops local conflicts as a consequence of an internal structure of inequality. However, other factors are necessary to produce rioting. Accordingly, the social actor in rioting is a local group, poor, vulnerable, segregated by reason of some consensual trait relevant to local culture for discrimination, without the capacity to build their social selves, without representative political actors and with experience in rioting. And, as Renn and other (2011) stated, are dissatisfied with his situation.

In sum, the potential rioter group into a locality or borough tend to be the outcome of: a. structural factors as economic poverty, reduced political representation and huge social vulnerability; b. cultural conditions as cultural segregation of some minorities and social sectors as women, young or disable people and exclusion of them from economic and political institutions by consensual traits; c. and a common reflection of neigbours from dissatisfaction attitudes about the actual situation, non institutional truth and crashed social identities derived of structural (a) and cultural (b) conditions.