Towards a Normative Theory of Just Riots
In light of many mass uprisings over the last decade political theorists are increasingly questioning the illegitimacy of the riot. In this discussion, Jonathan Havercroft asks a more fundamental question: how did rioting become illegitimate? Using a genealogical approach, he traces the emergence of what he calls the riot taboo—the idea that riots, because they are violent protests, are illegitimate—from 16th century England to the present. He focuses on four discrete moments: 1. Early articulations of riot in English common law from 1500-1700; 2. The passage of the Riot Act in 1715 3. The development of the doctrine of unlawful assembly by English courts between 1815-1830; 4. The passage of the UK Public Order Act in 1986. This historical ontology demonstrates that the riot taboo is an historically contingent artifact of the liberal state that marginalized working class political voice while giving the middle class increased political power through the legal protection of the public sphere.

Jonathan Havercroft is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. He teaches in the areas of political theory and international relations. He is the editor of the journal Global Constitutionalism. Havercroft has recently completed a British Aacademy fellowship to undertake research that combines normative theorizing with an empirical analysis of recent riots. These riots include the 2011 riots in England in response to the police shooting of Mark Duggan, the anti-Police violence riots in the U.S in 2014 and 2015, the G20 riots in Germany in 2017, and recent ANTIFA riots in the U.S. confronting the Alt-Right since the election of President Trump. By comparing different types of recent riots, the study asks the following questions: How do we distinguish riots from other forms of collective political action such as demonstrations, civil disobedience, and armed rebellion? Can a riot ever be justified? If so what particular kinds of grievances might justify rioting? The first essay from this project, “Why is there no just riot theory?” won the Brian Barry Prize in Political Science from the British Academy.

Nadine El-Enany will be the discussant. Nadine is Reader in Law at Birkbeck School of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Law (@CentreRaceLaw). Nadine teaches and researches in the fields of migration and refugee law, European Union law, protest and criminal justice. Her current research projects, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, focus on questions of race and justice in death in custody cases, and the role of law in addressing health inequalities arising from environmental harm. Her book, (B)ordering Britain: law, race and empire (2020) won the Socio-Legal Studies Association 2021 Socio-Legal Theory and History prize. Priyamvada Gopal describes the book as ‘Essential reading for anyone interested in how imperial history shapes the present.’
Date: 12 October 2021, 12:30 (Tuesday, 1st week, Michaelmas 2021)
Venue: This event will take place via Zoom.
Speakers: Jonathan Havercroft (University of Southampton), Dr Nadine El-Enany (Birkbeck)
Organising department: Faculty of Law
Organiser: Bonavero Institute of Human Rights (University of Oxford)
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Part of: Bonavero Discussion Group
Booking required?: Required
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Audience: Public
Editor: Gayathree Kalliyat Thazhathuveetil