Political Theory

Why is there no just riot theory?

Jonathan Havercroft University of Southampton
Given the prevalence of riots throughout human history, the lack of normative theorizing about riots when compared to other forms of political violence is striking. I hypothesize this lacuna is due to the riot’s extra-institutionality. Riots are extra-public because crowds riot rather than institutionalized groups such as parties or social movements. Riots are extra-state because they violate the state’s monopoly on violence. Riots are extra-legal because they are a form of unlawful assembly. Riots are extra-Parliamentary because they operate outside of the normal legislative process. When political theorists have scrutinized each of these four institutions, they also have identified reasons to resist each of them. By considering the justifiable reasons for resisting each of these foundational institutions I propose some provisional criteria for a justifiable riot and argue that political theorists should pay attention to the normative dimension of riots.