riots research


Raheel Dhattiwala and Don Weenink

Riots are purposeful acts of collective violence.  Purposeful because people participate in the violence with clear motives that often emerge from civil disobedience. For scholars studying riots and the motivations that trigger an episode of violence, it is often equally important to understand the processes and patterns leading up the continuation or discontinuation of a riot. It is through the study of both such macro and micro mechanisms that one can distinguish between insurgencies or civil disobedience against the state and violence wherein political leaders act in complicity with rioters against minority groups (think of the anti-Black violence in the American South after 1877 and the anti-minority pogroms in independent India).

What these explanations also reveal is that riots are rarely spontaneous. Le Bon’s view of crowds being “automatons” with “low levels of brain activity” has long been rejected for explanations that acknowledge the cognition of actors participating in riots. Their cognition and interactions, which are critically based on social, emotional, and spatial situational factors, eventually direct us towards understanding the processes of violence. Because riots are peculiar for their dynamic progression, an analysis of the sequences and repetitions of behaviors as the riot activity evolves becomes crucial.

Some questions that we propose to explore using a range of data sources, including newspapers, videos, and judicial files: By analyzing sequences of behaviors, can we gain insight into the emotional complexities of crowd behavior and, in turn, the progression of a riot?  In what ways would spatial configurations affect decision-making processes of actors in the face of varying risk structures?