Rioting and violent protest in comparative perspective: Theoretical Considerations, Empirical Puzzles
22 novembre 2009 par Michel
One Year after the Greek Uprising of 2008
An International Conference
Panteion University, 9-11 december 2009
Distinctive among all other forms of contentious politics, violent protest or — in derogatory terms— rioting evokes contradictory responses. Relatively easy to initiate (as it bears comparatively little logistic and organisational cost), violence is simultaneously the most visible and sensational variety of collective action as well as the most difficult to sustain. This is hardly a paradox. The literature detects a macro-historical trend towards declining violent forms pari passu with the aggrandisement of state coercive capacity and the emergence of ‘negotiated’ alternatives: brawls, vindictive attacks and rick burnings have been consistently giving way to petitions, peaceful demonstrations and negotiations.
Collective violence, however, persists and as of lately proliferates. The American and British urban riots of the 1990s and early 2000s, the French banlieue outburst of 2005, the Greek youth rebellion of December 2008 are all cases in point.
One full year after the Greek eruption of December 2008, this international conference — hosting leading scholars in the field from Europe and the US — approaches rioting from a comparative-theoretical perspective: posing theoretically informed questions and seeking theoretically consequential answers. The topic is, of course, normatively and politically charged. Most accounts continue to perceive violent collective action through ideological lenses, approvingly idealising it or, more often, castigating it as notorious psychopathological dysfunction.
Yet the most perspicacious research to date indicates that it is best understood as a function of the interaction between protesters and the coercive apparatus. Violence does not so much reflect materialisation of preset beliefs (ideas) or the play of autonomous motives, impulses or opportunity structures (behaviour) as the interaction of contenders and their institutional environment: relational interchanges involving both rational negotiation and strategic creativity.
Aspiring to understand the recent violent upsurge in its historical specificity and cross-national distinctiveness (in Greece, France, Britain and, time permitting, the U.S.), we aim at comparing and synthesising results from protest event analysis in different settings whilst also furthering theoretical debate —assessing, verifying or refuting extant theoretical approaches. Along those lines, the conference aspires to highlight a number of interrelated dimensions.
Identity/Main characteristics: What were the precise social and political characteristics of the recent eruptions and how do they compare with other historical occurrences? Following Tilly’s two-dimensional mapping of violent phenomena (along the extent of damage and the degree of c-oordination), what types do our cases belong to and which factors help explain variation? Is it possible to enhance this typology by incorporating additional dimensions such as the salience of political demands (and orientation) or the nature of pertinent categorical boundaries?
Contentious Repertoires and Outcomes: Is it possible to say that the new riots bring about ‘contentious repertoire renewal’ and, if so, could that be modular? In what ways does strategic-instrumental action interact with expressive imperatives and which factors help explain variation within and between cases? How to assess the efficacy and effectiveness of different repertoires and how does violence relates to disruption and convention?
Framing Processes and Programmatic Discourse: How have the riots been dealt with by established political forces (parties, trade unions, other civil society groups) and how violent protesters have themselves framed their demands? Have the ontological narratives adopted been premised on some genuine frame transformation or have they (despite appearances) relied on traditional understandings? Has there been any work in the making and how does it relate to available programmatic political discourse?
Organisations: What were the organisational prerequisites and which were the results of the eruptions? Are there any pronounced organisational phenomena at work -appropriation, renewal, etc) and how do they illuminate extant theoretical debates such as, e.g., the contradistinction between hierarchical structures and de-centralisation or the relevance of different levels of organisational activation (at the level of formal institutions, the point of contact with opponents, and as connective structures linking violent protesters with specific social milieux)? What has been the role of new technologies (internet, blogs, SMS messaging) and how did it blend with the overarching influence of more conventional media such the Press and television?
Transnational Diffusion: How did our national cases interact with the interna-tional environment and through which mechanisms was the influence diffused and/or transformed? Have there been any visible scale shifts and how have they influenced mainstream political discourse in the countries affected? Has violent protest had any tangible results, and how are we to assess it? Does violent action tell us something about the challenges and opportunities inherent in transnational collective action?
Source : Contentious politics circle