chapter  10
The Volatility of Urban Riots
Pages 14

The aim of this chapter is to underline the crucial differences between riots and social movements by analyzing three different aspects of riots: (1) their dynamic of discontinuity, volatility, and alternation; (2) their temporal and spatial limitations as challenges to social order; and (3) the contested political identities of rioters. I will emphasize that riots differ from and should not be equated with social movements. Rather than analyzing riots as unified events, riots should be disaggregated into multiple, variable, smaller events, in which the protagonists, the repertoires, and the reasons for participating may not only differ but may also be contradictory. Moreover, riots express and are bound by the socioeconomic and spatial immobility of their participants in contrast to social movements, which have the ability to shift their mobilization to a broader spatial and political scale. Finally, claims making and political identities in riots challenge perceptions about politics that are based on strict dualities, such as political/non-political. However, taking into account these differences, the two concepts should not be juxtaposed or perceived as mutually exclusive, since riots may take place within a social movement’s cycle of protest (e.g., the Watts riots of 1965 occurred within the broader context of the civil rights movement1) and social movements may emerge from riot events (e.g., the 1984 riots in Lawrence, Massachusetts and the formation of the Alliance for Peace2).