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Public Policy|Southampton

Just and Unjust Riots: A Normative Analysis of Militant Protest

Project Members

Project Lead: Professor Jonathan Havercroft, Professor of International Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton



Despite excellent work in political theory on the normativity of violence and a vast literature on the causes and consequences of riots, there is very little scholarship that asks when and under what conditions might rioting be justified? Just and Unjust Riots addresses this gap by analysing recent high-profile riots in Europe and North America. Political leaders and media commentators often condemn riots because they are a criminal form of political protest.


However, recent riots in Hong Kong in 2019, at the G20 meeting in Germany in 2017, in the U.S. in 2020, and in England in 2011 against perceived social injustices raise the question: can rioting can be a legitimate political tactic?


The project argues that political rioting might be justified under a limited set of conditions: when a politically marginalized group is resisting an unjust form of oppression and means of ending this oppression through ordinary political processes is systematically blocked by a hegemonic elite. To explain what these conditions are, Eleven criteria are developed for assessing the legitimacy of political rioting, applying these criteria to recent historical examples of rioting in Europe and North America that raise difficult normative dilemmas.


The project then considers three common forms of violence within rioting: property destruction, looting, and interpersonal violence, and considers under what circumstances each of these forms of violence might be permissible.


Anticipated policy impacts

There are hopes the project can reshape the conversation in the UK around public assembly rights and laws that restrict public protest and disorder.



Outputs of the project can be found via links below and include:


Just and Unjust Riots - The Policy Pod PodcastThe British Academy Brian Barry Prize Essay Why Is There No Just Riot Theory?Book Chapter in "No Justice, No Police?"
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