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.