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Violent Protest,
Contentious Politics,
and the Neoliberal State

Preface

This volume is the fruit of an international conference, "Rioting and Violent


Protest in Comparative Perspective: Theoretical Considerations, Empirical
Puzzles," held at Panteion University in Athens in December 2009. The conference
marked the first anniversary of the social eruption that shook Greece following the
murder of 15-year-old high-school student, Alexandres Grigoropoulos, by a riot
policeman in the centre of Athens. The dramatic protests that followed resounded
not only in national politics in Greece, but throughout Europe, demonstrated by
several immediate solidarity protests in other countries, and by militant action
by students in France, Great Britain, Spain and elsewhere, in years to follow.
Considering that these events all occurred in democracies subjected to neoliberal
restructuring, it seemed that something new and significant was unfolding,
which raised important theoretical questions for protest scholars. A conference
to explore these questions was organized by the Contentious Politics Circle
[ ], an interdisciplinaiy network of scholars
based at the Panteion University of Social and Political Science, Athens (see http://
contentiouspoiiticscircle 1 .blogspot.com/).
This volume aspires to advance theoretical debate by comparing and
synthesizing analyses of contemporary violent protest actions. The chapters that
follow seek, first, to identify the precise social and political characteristics of the
recent eruptions and compare them with other historical occurrences as a basis for
theoretical advance. Their analyses highhght different domains of mobilization,
organization, participation, repression, and the dynamics among different
elements, which can be summarized by the following points.
First, a key dimension includes the socio-structural underpinnings of violent
protest, such as labour market precariousness (especially among European
youths), the development of a new immigrant underclass, and mounting strains
on traditional social and political solidarity networks. A related element concerns
deficiencies in the way established political forces (especially parties and trade
unions) have responded to these shifts, and to protesters' claims and tactics.
Second, our chapters trace how strategic-instrumental action interacts with
emotional and cognitive factors. They ask how can we assess the role of violence
in strategic efficacy, the interaction between the police and "disorderly crowds,"
and if we are witnessing a regression to the aggressive police tactics of the 1970s
and 1980s? Relatedly, is it possible to say that the recent eruptions bring about
contentious repertoire renewal and, if so, could that be modular?
Third, several chapters explore the different organizational phenomena at
work in violent protest: parties, unions, youth groups and collectives, student

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Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

associations and networks. Behind the scenes is the role that new technologies
play (websites, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, instant messaging), and how
these technologies blend with conventional media. How do they allow protesters
to transcend traditional means of social control?
Fourth, what can be said about how narrative and discursive dimensions shape
violent protest? How do participants frame their demands and construct their
narratives of blame, mobilization and personal participation? How do established
political forces interpret violent protest and use their natural advantages regarding
access to the mass media? Have the ontological narratives adopted been premised
on some genuine frame transformation or have they, despite appearances, relied
on traditional understandings?
Finally, through which causal mechanisms did our national cases diffuse to
help shape protest in other countries? Did significant shifts in scale occur such that
mainstream political discourse was 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?
These questions, of course, constitute a tall agenda, and it is an exaggeration
to claim that all have been answered in the chapters that follow. But, then again,
these topics are extremely important. Even more than the theoretical and empirical
contributions that this volume makes, we present these chaptersabove allto
whet appetites for further debate.
Hank Johnston, San Diego
Seraphim Seferiades, Athens

SECTION I
Theoretical Perspectives

Chapter 1

The Dynamics of Violent Protest:


Emotions, Repression and Disruptive Deficit
Seraphim Seferiades and H a n k Johnston

Distinctive among all other forms of contentious politics, violent protest evokes
contradictory responses. Apparently easy to initiate (as it bears comparatively
little logistic and organizational 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 macrohistorical trend towards
declining violent forms as states' coercive capacity has increased and 'negotiated'
alternatives have developed. Brawls, vindictive attacks and machine breaking
have been consistently giving way to petitions, peaceful demonstrations and
negotiations. Collective violence, however, persists and as of lately proliferates:
the French banlieue outburst of 2005, the Greek eruption of December 2008, the
huge, class-based 'red-shirt' movement in Thailand in May 2010 being recent
large-scale actions. But more specific to our argument, and as we write these words,
more circumscribed but unexpected - by many observers - student militancy in
Italy, France, the UK, Ireland and Spain confirms the significance of our topic.
What is its political significance; how do we conceptualize the varieties of this
underspecified phenomenon; and how are we to appraise its outcomes as protest
repertoires challenging existing forms of democracy? Why and how do people
used to living with their categorical boundaries shift rapidly into insuiTectionary
action and then (sometimes just as rapidly) shift back into relatively peaceful
relations? Is violent protest perhaps the way contentious politics is changing in
times of crisis?
Starting off from the observation that our overall thinking and analytical
tools - though useful - are ultimately insufficient to provide satisfactory answers,
this volume approaches violent collective action from a comparative-theoretical
perspective. The topic is, of course, normatively and politically charged. Most
accounts continue to perceive violent action through ideological lenses, approvingly
idealizing 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 contenders and their institutional
environment, involving both rational negotiation and strategic creativity. Aspiring
to understand the recent violent upsurge in its historical specificity and crossnational distinctiveness, we also seek to further conceptual and theoretical debate
- assessing, verifying or refuting extant approaches.

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

Collective Violence: An Unknown Familiar, Familiarly Unknown


Despite strides made in recent years (e.g., Braud 1993; Tilly 2003), analysis of
militant, on occasion violent, collective action remains a great unknown - both
generally speaking, within political sociology and, more specifically, within the
field of contentious politics. This strikes us as a conspicuous paradox. As McAdam
(1999/1982), among others, has pointedly argued, non-institutional protest was for
a long time considered to be pathological owing to what may be construed as
the pluralist prejudice: the axiomatic assumption that political systems (at least
in the West) possessed sufficient expressive channels, which protesters, to their
detriment, evaded quite simply because they were 'irrational': 'Why would any
group engaged in rational, self-interested political action ignore the advantages of
such an open, responsive, gentlemanly political system? [... Because mjovement
participants are simply not engaged in "rational, self-interested political action'"
(p. 6). Incoiporating insights from social theory and novel research findings (both
historical and contemporary), political process and contentious politics approaches
have problematized and eventually shattered the pluralist assumption: actors
engaging in contentious, non-institutional collective action are not irrational;
instead their departure from the proper channels reflects systemic channel
deficiency and is, if anything, eminently rational.
What of collective violence? The operative (and perhaps even unwitting)
assumption regarding collective violence is considerably more nuanced, hence
more difficult to pinpoint and formulate; yet it is no less consequential. Official
political institutions may be deficient as far as processing demands is concerned
(hence collective action may indeed be conceived as 'rational'), but as long as
contentious organizations (trade unions, leftist parties, professionalized social
movement organizations) are operative and functional, resorting to violence does
indeed represent a pathological aberration. The theoretical starting point of this
volume is considerably different. Irrespective of whether or not violent action is
instrumentally counterproductive, that is, 'strategically ineffective', we claim that
casually assuming it to be irrational prevents us from adequately comprehending,
let alone interpreting and explicating it. It also prevents us from parsing it so that its
rational and emotional elements can be identified for study. As a result, collective
violence, an unknown familiar, an entity with which we increasingly have to deal,
but whose distinct nature and varieties still escape us, is progressively becoming a
familiarly unknown, a semi-legitimate cognitive gap, a new 'black box' to which
we are increasingly become accustomed to acquiesce. What this volume sets out
to accomplish is to make a contribution toward reversing this inauspicious state
of affairs.
As always, the starting point needs to be conceptual.

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

The Paradox of Conventional Protest


In an incisive recent study of violence generally understood, Michel Wieviorka
(2009) crisply counterpoised violence to conflict. 'Conflict', he argued, involves
the - more or less - institutionalized relationship between contentious claimants
and the state (or, more broadly, the authorities). It refers to an unequal relationship
between [...] groups or ensembles that compete, within the same space, with the
aim or purpose [...] of modifying the relationship, or at least strengthening their
relative positions' (pp. 9-10).
Wieviorka does not deal with it explicitly, but it can safely be surmised that a
prerequisite of 'conflict' is its medium/long-term effectiveness qua relationship:
For 'conflict' to persist, claims need to be both adequately articulated (by the
claimants) and sufficiently responded to (by the authorities) - at least to an extent
and to a foreseeable future. Prolonged periods of conflictua! irrelevance, a state of
affairs where either claimant actors fail to adequately express grievances, or the
state proves perpetually unable (and/or unwilling) to be responsive - what may be
construed as a reform deficit ~ leads to 'conflict's' eventual collapse (if it had ever
emerged). This is where violence begins to set in. Epigrammatically put, 'violence
is an expression of the exhaustion of conflict' (p. 16).
This situation is not unknown to the early history of the European labour
movement. Institutionalized 'conflict' between labour and capital emerged only
in countries where sufficiently robust labour claimants were able to disruptively
extract concessions by elites, in turn willing (and capable) to effect political and
social reforms. Up until the outbreak of WWI, this was the case in Northwestern
Europe, a state of affairs starkly different from what existed in the European
periphery and semi-peripheiy (Eastern and Southern Europe), where labour
movements remained sparse, the elites reform-deficient, and the protest scene
intermittently convulsive (Seferiades 1998). As TaiTOw (1998: 95) has pointedly
illustrated, '[It] was in such states as czarist Russia that terrorism first developed
- largely because protesters lacked access to legitimate means of participation and
were forced to clandestinity, where their only means of expression [were] violent'
(see also della Porta 1995).
Because it may easily slip our attention (as we believe it usually does), a
key element that needs to be stretched in this connection is the extent to which
'conflict' (as non-violence) is premised on claimant disruptive propensity, that is,
the tendency of contentious actors to act transgressively (though not necessarily
resorting to violence) in order to further their goals. Even if states are reform-prone
(and, nowadays, many seem viciously counter-reformist, both socioeconomically
and politico-institutionally), 'conflict' is not possible unless protest is sufficiently
pungent to disrupt the workings of the system: to exert pressure on opponents,
bystanders and authorities. But in contemporary Western democracies, and on
a variety of pretexts, official protest organizations, including several SMOs,
trade unions and, above all, the parties of the Left, tend to approach contentious
disruption as a relic of the past. Hoping to secure the consensual resolution of pent-

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

up grievances, nominally contentious organizations are increasingly espousing


(often in a dogmatic fashion) the modalities of an exclusively conventional protest
repertoire. In their chapter, Kotronaki and Seferiades cite the letter addressed to
the Prime Minister by the General Confederation of Labour at the time of the
December 2008 uprising in Greece, where the unionists pronounced 'the always
incontestably [...] peaceful conduct of the forces of labour', whilst the Communist
Party, abstaining from the insurrectionary mobilization, argued that 'the uprising
was the work of agents provocateurs manipulated by obscure powers'. They both
went on to organize sadly irrelevant, 'peaceful' marches peppered with the usual
litany of 'demands'.
In light of the preceding discussion, this disruptive deficit may lead to a
great paradox: in seeking conciliation through exclusively conventional protest,
institutionalized claimants end up inadvertently fomenting the kind of political
violence they most dread and despise. Indeed, this is all the more so, considering
that this disruptive deficit coincides with the reform deficit characterizing
contemporary neoliberal policies. In fact, the two gaps combine to produce a
conspicuous political vacuum liable to be filled by violence.
Drawing this conclusion may serve as a basis for a more fine-grained analysis
of the violent political phenomena that interest us in this volume. The disruptive
deficit leads to a state of affairs where large (and apparently growing) layers of
the population become estranged from both official politics as well as the politics
promoted by erstwhile contentious agents. Especially in times of crisis, this may
take the form of a profound 'loss of political meaning', whereby subjects begin to
drift without a clear point of anchorage in the institutional political arena. Always
remaining politicized (otherwise developments in the institutional arena would be
irrelevant) these are actors - some of them unlikely, as Diani demonstrates in his
chapter- become politically 'floating', feeling silenced, non-recognized, negated a void that tends to precipitate violent action.
But it would be erroneous to interet such action as inherently 'irrational'.
Nor is political alienation in any way synonymous to the familiar 'mass society'
imagery, portraying protesters as disconnected, unintegrated individuals. Protesters
throwing rocks at police stations may appear 'irrational' in terms of the workings
of the political system and the fastidious calculations of institutionalized SMOs
and leftist parties, but this is because the official rationality canon is so hopelessly
lacking. In that sense, violence may well reflect an arduous or even desperate (but
rational) quest for political meaning in circumstances where none appears to exist:
a situation where, to paraphrase Gramsci, old politics is dying but a new cannot be
bom. It seems to us that the vast majority of the chapters in this volume address
precisely this conjuncture.
This particular quest for meaning brings to mind Georges Sorel's doctrine of the
general strike (as expounded in his 1908 Refiexions sur la violence), where violence
is assigned the important fianction of 'constituting' an actor. Loss of meaning is
thereby compensated by the hyper-production of transcendental significations often
bearing a mythical quality. As Wieviorka (2009: 151) keenly observed, this 'allows

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

the subject to move into a different space, and tlierefore to get beyond the earlier
situation of emptiness, loss and lack'.
But in order to fully appreciate the particulars of this variety of violence,
one has to counteoise it to alternative, less than fully political forms, often
combining with it. Though this is still a rough sketch of concepts remaining to
be fully stabilized, we venture to suggest that politically alienated individuals or
groups may also turn cynical, callous or passive. Cynicism and callousness refer
to basically reactive violence without any recognizable quest for meaning - the
former seeking temporary (if meagre) material or symbolic gains within a grim
world (e.g., looting), the latter haphazardly setting out to destroy it without caring
much about the 'next day' (e.g., symbolically and instrumentally irrelevant arson).
Passivity, finally, may be construed as 'internalized violence' - violence directed
towards oneself: a truly pathological state of affairs where the collectivities or
individual subjects in question do little more than make painful amends to systemic
- neoliberal - violence. Violence directed against unprotected immigrants and
other typically anomic behaviours are obvious cases in point.
Claiming that politically consequential violence may represent a quest for
meaning owing to estrangement from official politics, however, leads our thinking to
two key themes in the study of collective action: emotions and the relational nature
of all protest. Although in later sections of this chapter we will have the chance
to further amplify our argument, we think it is important to stress three important
aspects that also frame our discussion as a whole.
The first concerns the ubiquitous nature of emotions in all militant protest. In so
arguing we concur with Goodwin, Jasper and Polletta (2001) who, over a decade
ago, complained about the failure of political process approaches to seriously deal
with (let alone theorize) emotions, even in cases where their importance was more
than palpable. As they pointedly put it, 'Mobilising structures, frames, collective
identity, political opportunities - much of the causal force attributed to these
concepts comes from the emotions involved in them' (p. 6). Political alienation,
indignation, outrage - the very stuff of violent protest - are, first and foremost,
emotional states. This, however, does not mean that they are also 'irrational' states.
This leads us to our second point.
Max Weber and Talcott Parsons, these social science giants, have also
burdened us with the stark dichotomy of reason versus emotions. Over the years,
the polarity has taken on a variety of forms ('affectually determined behaviour vs.
rational action', in the case of Weber (1978 [1922]); 'instrumental vs. expressive
action', in the case of Parsons (1968 [1937]); 'cognitive vs. emotional conduct'
in much else that followed), but the idea is fairly straightforward: emotions
are not part of rational action and vice versa. Along with Goodwin, Jasper and
Polletta, we disagree: not because we want to conflate, let alone liquidate, the
two dimensions, but because we think that the polarity qua polarity is misguided.
As the preceding analysis indicates, we treat the alleged opposition between
rationality and emotions as a possibility, a claim in need of logical substantiation
and empirical documentation, not as an assumption. In other words, although it

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

is clear that we cannot rule out the possibility of a genuine discrepancy between
the two (not all that is emotionally laden is also 'rational' - e.g., what we might
label callous violent action), we are nonetheless inclined to argue that whatever
is politically significant in the violent political universe as well as more generally
in protest politics is both emotional and rational. Differently put, we claim that
rational action involves underlying commitments that are best rendered through
an emotional lens and vice versa - that emotionally charged acts are often
premised on cognitive-rational assessments of the sociopolitical environment.
Rational day-to-day social-movement activity, for example, is not possible unless
the emotional world of the membership is tapped and the obverse. As already
argued, ostensibly emotional acts such as meaning-questing
violence may be the
product of hopelessly blocked institutional expressive channels and disruptively
deficient 'protest'. In such circumstances, acting out 'against the odds', far from
being necessarily irrational, may well be eminently strategic. In this connection,
however, it is important to remind ourselves that violent protest (as well as protest
in general) is never undertaken in a relational vacuum. This is our third key point.
Rebutting the facile essentialism that is so prevalent in much of contemporary
social science, Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow and Charles Tilly (2001) have
argued for a relational approach in the study of social and political phenomena.
Sociopolitical entities (and the phenomena their action brings about) are not
eternally fixed, but are, rather, in a process of continuous 'becoming' - a function
of the relations in which they are embedded. McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly suggest
that, instead of focusing on 'individual minds as the basic, or even unique, sites
of social reality and action', we are well advised to seriously ponder the fact that
'social transactions have an efficacious reality that is irreducible to individual
mental events'. This means that, for purposes of explanation, we are well advised
to look beyond individual 'decisions and their rationales' (typical of rational choice
and phenomenological approaches) and focus 'on webs of interaction among
social sites' (p. 23). In applying this perspective to the study of collective violence,
Charles Tilly (2003) suggested that there exist three ways of thinking about (and
dealing with) collective violence. Pending a fuller account of his argument at the
end of this chapter, he claimed that we can approach it as exclusively rational
(the product of ideological thinking and/or cost-benefiit analysis - the practice of
'idea people'); as exclusively 'irrational' (a result of passions and impulses - the
practice of 'behaviour people'); or as relations ('relation people').
Our analysis so far indicates that we subscribe to the relational persuasion.
We think that violence does not so much reflect preset beliefs or the play of
autonomous motives, pro tempore urges or ossified opportunity structures, but
rather the interaction between contenders and authorities. In Tilly's (2003: 6)
words,
collective violence [...] amounts to a kind of conversation [...] Relation people
often make concessions to the influence of individual propensities but generally
insist that collective processes have irreducibly distinct properties. In this

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

view, restraining violence depends less on destroying bad ideas, eliminating


opportunities, or suppressing impulses than on transforming relations among
persons and groups, (emphasis added)
These observations orient our analysis of collective violence. First, we see the
variable play of different forms of violence - some of which may arguably be
construed as belonging to the 'quest for meaning' variety, some others as cynical
or even callous. On the one hand, protesters may plan and strategically employ
violence as a means to gain attention and publicly assert their cornmitment. On
the other, unintended escalation occurs as anger and frustration drive protesters'
behaviours in the streets. Most empirical occurrences of collective violence fall
somewhere between these two extremes, and may even colbine them sequentially.
Second, we see the two key actors that are almost always present together in
episodes of collective violence. On the one hand, there are the protesters. On the
other, there are the agents of social control - including its elite planners and the
troops in the streets. Sometimes, the police are absent at first, or it is possible that
they never arrive at the scene of violence. More often, however, they become
actors, as enforcers of a wave of state repression unleashed after a violent protest
or even before it, especially when - as nowadays is increasingly the case - they act
proactively. Because the police and military usually have overwhelming force at
their disposal, how our observation of calculated versus spontaneous action plays
out among them is crucial to the level of violence and its duration.

Violence and the Police


Protesting groups must consider the likelihood of repressive violence from the
forces of social control and how this may escalate into a pitched battle - in which
the odds are strongly against protesters and in favour of the police. Goldstone's
Chapter 10 in this volume nicely portrays the unequal array of resources that
Revolutionary Guards and Basij Militia members employed in confrontations
against pro-democracy protesters in Iran, 2009-10. In democratic societies,
analysts of police actions agree that similarly draconian responses by the police
were characteristic of the protest cycle of the 1960s and early 1970s, sometimes
characterized as a period of cscGlGted-forcc policing^ meaning that protesterpolice interactions usually resulted in a spiral of increasingly forceful, sometimes
brutal, repression. As social movements and protests have become more common,
so developed democracies have adopted a more tolerant stance towards extrainstitutional protest, which has had moderating effects on violence.
Since that time, however, a significant change has occurred in the way that
police departiBents and municipal agencies deal with protesters (McCarthy and
McPhail 1998; McPhail, Schweingruber and McCarthy 1998). Researchers have
noted a shift to less aggressive methods that began in the mid-1970s, when some
large police departments began to train their officers in non-violent crowd control.

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

Waddington and King's chapter in this volume traces the effects of non-violent
police strategies in several volatile situations in the UK and France. Also, the
process of obtaining permits for marches and demonstrations, which became more
formalized about the same time, tended to moderate the potential for violence on
both sides of the police-protester divide. Protesters provided plans, routes, times,
and even made concessions about the control of 'unruly behaviour' in exchange
for police guarantees regarding routing, traffic management and public safety.
This approach of protest policing, labelled the negotiated management model,
seemed to be a trend not only in the US but also in some Western European states
(della Porta and Reiter 1998). Researchers have noted that one of the principles
of this model was that violent groups had to be separated somehow from the rest
of the demonstration - and 'self-policed' if possible - to ensure the safety of the
peaceful ones and easy containment of the radicals (see Waddington and King's
Chapter 9). As argued, however, to the extent that the negotiated model contributed
to the accumulation of a disruptive deficit (by forcing upon claimants an exclusively
conventional repertoire), it may have well contributed, however inadvertently, to the
political void eventually conducive to violent outbreaks - not only by 'sworn radicals'
(increasingly cast aside and demonized), but also more generally.
Moreover, it is questionable whether the model really works. As 'civilized'
as its principles sound, events on the ground are much more fluid and often crash
against the bounds of negotiated plans. As much as movement adherents can be
caught up in the excitement and passion of a protest (when strategic calculations
may well be placed in abeyance), so too can the police lose sight of the negotiated
management model in the heat of the moment. Earl and Soule (2006) have studied
violent protests from a police perspective, and identify two factors that seem to
strongly predict police violence. First, at the street level, police officers are highly
concerned with loss of control over the situation. Large numbers of protesters
increase the odds of this, as does the presence of counter-demonstrators, which,
in turn increases the pressure on the police to control the circumstances. Second,
when there are impending threats to personal safety of police officers, violence
is more likely in a protest event. Thus, when radical groups are present or when
confrontational tactics are likely, it is common that the police are there in force.
Should the throwing of stones, bricks, or Molotov cocktails occur. Earl and Soule
observe that police violence is likely.
In the protest studies field, most analyses of police repression assume that the
forces of social control, whether they are the police, military, or semi-official or
private militias (in non-democratic regimes), act at the behest of political elites to
protect their power. This is indeed so. And, as in the past, police violence is often
proactive, seeking to raise the cost of participation in disruptive protest before any
occurs (Seferiades 2005). Earl and Soule's study (2006) is important, however,
because it acknowledges that there are also situational, on-the-ground factors in
police violence that originate among the police themselves. Moreover, members
of police forces and the military are subject to the same emotional responses that
we discussed earlier regarding protesters. Fear and anger may act reflexively to

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

11

spur police to violence when they perceive threats. Long-term emotions such as
hatred and resentment also are factors because the esprit de corps of rank-andfile soldiers and policemen is often premised on an intense animosity against
specific strata of the population such as the youth and students. For example, the
brutal police repression of a peaceful student rally in Mexico City, October 1968,
which led to the death of over 40 students and injuries to hundreds, partly was a
reflection of class animosity against middle-class students. The brutality of the
Tlatelolco massacre, as it was called, was such that many observers mark it as
the beginning of the end of Mexican authoritarianism; yet its poignant and farreaching effects may have resulted largely from the emotional responses of the
young grenadieros who took part in the repression - observers reported a shooting
frenzy that night (Poniatowska 1971) - rather than from the miscalculations of the
political elite. The same class resentment no doubt fuelled some of the brutality
directed against Iran's pro-democracy (and middle-class) students by the Basij
Militia and Revolutionary Guards, who typically come from the lower classes (see
Goldstone's Chapter 8).
Finally, there is a social-psychological element that is closely linked to police
repression and too frequently in evidence when negotiated-management protesting
becomes more militant and impassioned. We have in mind police behaviour that
might loosely fall under the category of Philip Zimbardo's 'Lucifer Effect' (2007)
and that - cast in terms of police action - takes the form of a sadistic embrace of
inflicting injury once confrontation is initiated. Certainly, this is not a universal
reaction among police and military, but it is fair to say that it can be a strong
tendency under the right circumstances. Although it may occur on both sides of the
conflict -police and protesters - it has special significance among those who are
heavily a m e d and have licence to inflict injury. Finally, these primitive reactions
are compounded by military and police socialization-emphasizing themes that can
easily lead to violent reactions: honour, machismo, pride, aggressiveness, physical
prowess and sacrifice for 'comrades in arms'. The extent to which these values
take hold is, of course, variable among the police and military. Conscripts into the
army may be kids who just want to go home or may ferociously embrace these
values as part of their identity. Special forces and paramilitary units that receive
more training and develop an esprit de corps may be especially aggressive. Polish
ZOMO troops, a crack paramilitary unit, were known for their brutality during
marital law 1981-83, but the Polish People's Army was often known for their
hesitancy and even defections.
Our point is that, despite the superiority of police resources, police violence, once
initiated, often can turn into violent rage - strong words, but not inaccurate when
pitched battles erupt. We have all seen it at times - for example, in news footage and/
or suiTeptitious cell phone pictures of police repression in Myanmar, Iran, Thailand,
China (and Tibet); namely, savage beatings of protesters, well beyond what is
necessary for crowd control or dispersing the protest. Similar images occur too in
the developed democracies once protester-police violence breaks out, for example.

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

G-10 protests in London in 2009 or the intense student-police clashes in Greece in


December 2008 (see Chapter 12 by Kotronaki and Seferiades).

Emotions and Collective Violence


Elaborating our earlier mention of scholarly attention to the emotions of protests,
from this literature we can identify several emotions that will be most relevant in
the violent episodes analyzed in this volume. Hatred as a motivation to harm and
inflict retribution comes immediately to mind, especially in regard to outbursts of
savage ethnic conflicts that have been all too common in recent decades. Goodwin
et al. (2004: 418) identify hatred as a social, affective emotion that, like love,
respect and trust, tends to persist over time. Akin to resentment, another injusticebased affect, hatred simmers - by which we mean that it is not accompanied by
intensely experienced physiological changes as is the case with more reflexive
emotions, such as anger (or rage), fear and joy. Indeed, one might characterize
hatred as anger spread out over the long term and, as such, sapped of some of its
intense physical manifestations that persist beneath the surface of social relations
even when they do not appear in collective action for long periods of time. Needless
to mention, hatred is also the stuff o f - eminently 'rational' - responses to the twin
deficits we conceptualized at the outset of this chapter: the reformist (by the state)
and the disruptive (by nominally contentious organizations).
Be that as it may, the additional point we wish to stress is that hatred can be
activated quickly, by precipitating events that reveal intolerable levels of injustice,
by suddenly imposed grievances and/or by excessively coercive conduct on the
part of the police. As some of our chapters analyzing riots in the Paris suburbs
by disenfranchised immigrant youths show, hatred can be ignited into collective
violence by small events that begin an interactive chain that suspends normative
definitions of civic quiescence.
Delia Porta's (1995) study of radical groups shows that hatred can be
encouraged by ideological discourse, compounded by intense interaction under
pressure of repression. Under these circumstances, and free of its ethnic dimension,
hatred is a close cousin to resentment insofar as class inequality and/or social
injustice can fester as long-term negative predispositions with a strong emotional
content. Moreover, class-based negative affect is often compounded by state
repression. Delia Porta (1995) observes that police beatings, imprisonment and
routine brutality against Italian and German radical groups fomented their hatred
of the repressive 'fascist' state, which was used to justify acts of revolutionary
anti-state violence. Under such conditions, long-term hatred quickly becomes
volatile, passion-fuelled (though, in the circumstances, 'rational') rage, especially
when taken into the streets and submitted to pressures of police confrontation
and counter-movement groups. The three chapters analysing the Greek December
2008 (by Kotronaki and Seferiades, Kanellopoulos, and Lountos) nicely capture
the simmering emotions that were easily turned to violence.

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

13

Though long-term sentiments, however, hatred and resentment come and


go in daily experience. They do not permeate all aspects of social life, but are
situationally activated in the context of protest. Compounding their effect and, we
suggest, fuelling the propensity to violence, are what Jasper (1998) calls reactive
emotions, those few involuntary and rapid responses that arise given appropriate
external stimuli. Paul Ekman (1973) identified six universal facial expressions
that can serve as quick measures of six fundamental reflexive emotions - anger,
fear, joy, surise, sadness and disgust. It makes sense that all are relevant in
various ways to different kinds of social movement (Goodwin et al. 2004: 416),
but, regarding the intensification of collective violence, anger surely occupies first
place. Especially when spurred by police coercion, anger can strongly shape the
flow of protest and lead to violent outbursts.
Among the other reflexive emotions, fear, of course, disperses crowds. As
such, it is relevant in a negative sense to the police-protester interactions that
often underlie collective violence. In other cases of violence (especially cynicism
and callousness), joy may play a role. As already noted, however, emotions are
not to be counterpoised to rationality. In the words of Goodwin et al. (ibid.), 'We
need to be wary of linking reflex emotions to irrationality. They can make us more
alert and focused on the problem at hand, and therefore more rather than less
rational.' Other scholars, too, have challenged the link between irrationality and
reflex emotions (Barbalet 1998), but the other side of the coin - which should not
escape our attention - is that strong physiological reactions may focus attention
and heighten awareness in ways that are not conducive to rational behaviour in a
complex society. Rebutting the view that emotions are eo ipso irrational does not
imply that they are necessarily strategically propitious.

Strategic Violence
Over 30 years ago, Piven and Cloward (1977) suggested the contours of a strategic
perspective on disruptive collective action that is further specified regarding
violent tactics in Frances Fox Piven's Chapter 2 in this volume. The theme of
strategic violence is also echoed in Kotranaki and Seferiades's Chapter 12 and
Simiti's Chapter 10. Piven and Cloward's original argument was based on the
analysis of four eases of poor peoples' mobilization in the US, and is well known
for its challenge to the - at that time - emerging emphasis on organizations and
resources to explain successful outcomes. Although their study was not specifically
focused on movement violence, Piven and Cloward found that disruptive tactics
could favourably influence the attainment of a social movement's change goals precisely what is nowadays missing in the form of the disruptive deficit we have
noticed. Their analysis identifies the importance of vanguard groups that push hard
and long for change-oriented goals, reminiscent of anarchist radicalizing influence
in numerous global justice protests.

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

A contemporaneous and influential study of tactics was Gamson's (1990


[1975]) analysis of numerous 'challenging groups' in the US. He found that,
among other factors such as influential allies and resources, the use of disruptive
and militant tactics seemed instrumental in achieving movement goals. Taking
these two studies together, and recognizing that there are many kinds of militant
tactic of which violence is only one, it is useful to consider the inference that, if
disruption is effective, then the most disruptive tactics - property damage and
attacks on persons - strategically used, may be even more so. Gamson's logic
was that disruption (hence, presumably, also violence) is effective because it
gets the attention of policy makers. But his study spanned over a century's data
on challenging groups and their outcomes, and it is worth posing the additional
question whether the effects of violent tactics would be much the same today as
they were 50 or 100 years ago.
One thing that has changed is how the mass media today are key players in
transmitting the spectacle of challenge and response, and how the bar seems to
be continually rising for what is considered a dramatic and poignant challenge.
Social movements can 'make news by making noise' argued Thrall (2006: 417).
Observing the trends some 30 years ago, however, Gitlin (1980: 182) noted
that, although simple sit-ins or picket lines made the newspapers in 1965, 'it
took teargas and bloodied heads to make headlines in 1968'. This was during
the student anti-war protest cycle in the US, and a curve plotting the threshold
of media attention became quite steep during those years. McCarthy, McPhail
and Smith (1996) examined a wide variety of media coverage and showed that
large numbers, creativity and radical actions in combination - including property
damage - are predictors of newspaper coverage.
The other side of the coin regarding violent tactics is that they mn the risk of
alienating public opinion, especially when demonized by media coverage. Members
of bystander public and uncommitted groups comprise a movement's pool of
potential allies, and a movement must be selective in its use of violence so as not to
scare away future adherents. Moreover, because movements are complex networks
of groups, organizations and individuals, there may be a few actors sharing the
same movement umbrella who advocate radical actions while the majority may
be tactically moderate. Protest and campaign organizers must balance the needs
of various groups that make up a movement with the long-temi goals, first, of
maintaining membership, and second, of achieving policy change. Soule and Earl's
US study shows a steady decline in property damage and violence in protests after
1967, when 33 per cent of protests were violent and 21 per cent caused property
damage (Soule and Earl 2005: 353). By 1986, fewer than 10 per cent of protests
were violent and 2 per cent caused property damage. Nowadays, of course, this is
changing - and several chapters in the volume indicate why and how.
Especially
'radical-flank
the anarchist
overall result

strategic thinkers in large movements may take advantage of the


effect'. By leaving more militant and/or violence-prone groups Black Bloc, for example - to pursue their radical tactics, the
for the movement may be 'greater responsiveness to the claims

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

15

of moderates' (Haines 1988: 171). From the perspective of policy makers, these
are, after all, people that you can talk to, not 'wild-eyed radicals'. Just this kind
of consideration occurred in the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, in which
anarchists' unsanctioned end-run around more numerous and tactically moderate
groups that formed the campaign coalition helped attract media attention and
public awareness of the campaign's overall themes (Smith 2002). Although
violence at this and other global justice protests did not by itself budge the WTO
ministers or IMF officials, by punctuating protesters' commitment and broadening
diffusion of globalization's impacts it may have forced policy makers to be more
sensitive and responsive to protesters' demands, especially loan forgiveness in
the poorest countries. Thus, the strategic use of violence by social movements
seems to revolve around two decision matrices: (1) its Sorelian 'actor constitution'
(as argued) and attention-getting benefits regarding policy makers, uncommitted
publics and the media, versus its alienating effects; and (2) internal relations and
negotiations within a movement regarding the first decision matrix, including the
ability of a movement to converse with its more radical wing - or its willingness
to do so, considering the positive benefits of militant tactics.

A Relational Perspective
In his influential treatment of collective violence we have already cited, Charles
Tilly (2003) rejects the possibility of an overarching causal model. He states overstates, really - that in explaining collective violence there are three kinds of
theorists: idea people, who lay stress on strategy, ideology and costs; behaviour
people, who stress emotions, passion and primordial impulses (to this Johnston's
Chapter 4 adds cognitive orientations characteristic of life-cycle development);
and relation people, with whom he claims membership. In his view, collective
violence in its various manifestations can be understood by examining the relations
among the social actors, as we have been doing in this chapter (in addition to some
ideational and behavioural detours), to identify a 'fairly small number of causal
mechanisms and processes that recur throughout the whole range of collective
violence - with different initial conditions, combinations, and sequences' (Tilly
2003: xi).
This represents a shift to a mid-level analytical focus of identifying the
'conditions, combinations, and sequences producing systematic variation from
time to time and setting to setting' (ibid.). This approach to collective violence
grows out of the dynamics of contention programme (McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly
2001), which similarly seeks general and 'robust' causal processes that apply
beyond protest mobilization to other forms of contentious politics. In both works,
a broad range of rich and varied historical and contemporary examples is the basis
of inductively arriving at a surprisingly long list of generalizable 'mechanisms and
processes'.

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

Tilly casts a wide net in his consideration of collective violence, including


forms as varied as cowboy brawls, gang violence, interethnic aggression and
genocide, insurgencies, and revolutions. Moreover, as a way to accomplish this,
he introduces several terms that transcend these familiar forms of violence. No
longer do we speak of riots, property destruction, insurrections, terrorism, hostile
outbursts; but rather opportunism, scattered attacks, broken negotiations, and
coordinated destruction, among others. The rationale for a new typology is that the
old terms carry conceptual biases that can inhibit the identification of generalizable
processes that work across all types of violence. Tilly's new categories vary on two
dimensions: (1) the degree of coordination among violent social actors; and (2) the
degree of 'salience of violence to the act', which roughly refers to the degree to
which violence defines the action. Generally, more coordination among peetrators
means more destruction, injury and death, as in civil wars and revolutions. This
volume's focus places in abeyance certain forms of collective violence in Tilly's
typology such as brawls (street fights and sporting event free-for-alls) and - at
the other end of the spectrum - coordinated destruction (civil wars, insun-ections,
organized terrorism and genocide). Most of our chapters are analyses of collective
violence as an outgrowth of social movement and/or protest campaign mobilization,
a more narrow focus than Tilly's. We are interested in familiar intermediate forms
that are direct products and/or manifestations of protest (such as what Kotronaki
and Seferiades call 'insurrectionary collective action', or what Diani in his chapter
attempts to conceptualize as a whole). Here, two of Tilly's categories appear to be
particularly relevant.
First, scattered attacks describe a common fonn that occurs as a by-product of
and/or in conjunction with small-scale non-violent action (regime opposition, or
policy protests) such as when groups participating in a march strike out violently
to make their claims or register discontent. The Black Bloc violence at anti-IMF
and anti-WTO protests is a case in point. The key is that it was always part of their
strategy to do so (high salience of violence for the action) and that the violence is
carried out by one group, not a coordinated effort among many participating actors
in the protests (low coordination). Property destruction, such as when Earth First
militants torch a sales lot of SUVs is another example. Such scattered attacks are
usually strategic actions, and therefore planned and instrumentally rational. Within
the environmental movement network considered in its entirety, interaction between
a group or groups strategically using violence and non-violent groups is restricted.
Second, broken negotiations, in our reading, refer to the common situation in
which non-violent protests become violent in their entirety, such as when the luxuty
hotels in Bangkok or Athens are attacked as a reflection of the situational nonresponsiveness on the part of authorities and the - more structural - accumulation
of the reform and disruptive deficits. Here, violence is an organic product of claim
making and the perception that authorities (and the political system as a whole including institutionalized 'contentious actors') are not responsive, and not the
tactic of a specific group. The banlieue riots analyzed by della Porta and Gbikpi in
Chapter 7 fall into this category, with the implication that authorities and community

The Dynamics of Violent Protest

17

leaders had been in contact about the grievances endemic in the immigrant suburbs.
In these instances, the 'negotiation' presumes that non-violent demonstrations
cany the kernel of potential settlement, and during demonstrations there is give
and take between authorities and protesters. This can take the form of meetings
among movement leaders and political elites, which is another site for breakdown
of negotiations. When this occurs, paradoxically, violence erupts in a way that
involves even greater coordination (interaction) among the segmented actors. In this
connection, there may be a felicitous parallel with Tilly's theoretical schema and our
view that, to an important extent, contemporary collective violence is the product
of the combined accumulation of the reform and disruptive deficits - the former
reflecting impasses of the capitalist state, the latter the conspicuous political cooption of erstwhile militant contentious SMOs and political parties.

Conclusions
Tilly's relational approach to collective violence, a quest to identify processes and
mechanisms that are generalizable across different episodes of collective violence,
lays great stress on social perception and emergent processes of social definition.
As we close this chapter, this is not the place to undertake a broad critique of the
process-based approach characteristic of the dynamics of contention perspective,
but we do believe that future research in the relational perspective might be
more productive at higher levels of generalization such as the robust processes
of brokerage and polarization. Brokerage refers to the linking of two (or more)
social actors, often by a third who mediates the relations and perhaps does so with
others as well (Tilly 2005: 221). Brokerage is an important process - inherently
interactional - that often broadens conflict beyond isolated and/or local instances
by coordinating it. This can amplify the collective violence beyond an initial
outburst, a shift from scattered attacks to coordinated destruction.
Polarization is a 'widening of political and social space between claimants in
a contentious episode' (Tilly 2005: 222). This typically involves the movement of
uncommitted bystanders and/or moderates to one of the two extremes. Polarization
is a complex process of social definition of interests, of identity, and emerging
definitions of appropriate courses of action, but above all it is a process of social
construction. As such, its workings and effects can be seen after the fact, say,
examining the social history of the Rwandan genocide, or Bosnia, or the rise of
guerrilla movements in Mexico after the 1968 student massacre. Or, its workings
can be traced and refined as they unfold through closer attention to action, namely,
through engaged participant-observation research.
There are other processes that seem relevant to collective violence: 'actor
constitution' for one (McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001), an iterative and
interactional category of identity construction forged in the fire of contention for
both protesters and opponents. Such general processes, we suggest, are important
sites for future research to focus and refine through observation how the processes

Violent Protest, Contentious Politics, and the Neoliberal

State

work in the heat of conflict. Their importance is compounded because they also
are sites where emotions may enter into the causal equation. Tilly's descriptions
are surprisingly devoid of emotional inputs, but surely, in the polarization process,
anger, rage, shame and hatred may all play roles. It is fair to say that emotion
research in the social movements field is embedded in a process perspective insofar
as the preponderance of it usually describes how emotions figure into mobilization
for action and identity construction (for example, Bernstein 1997; Gould 2009).
A theme that we have developed in this chapter is that violent episodes are a
dramatic dance between multiple social actors: radicals and moderates within a
movement and the police, municipal authorities, and ruling elites. The usefulness
of the relational approach is that it captures this complex dance, and recognizes
that similar processes can guide the actions of both challengers and institutional
actors. The various processes and mechanisms that shape conflict can apply to
actors on all sides. So, too, do the emotions, which is why it is so crucial that
social scientists ponder what kind of methods and theories can adequately account
for both the relational and emotional elements of collective violence. As authors,
we have separately studied both the escalation of collective violence in the heat
of protests (in Greece) and the impassioned emotions of nationalist mobilization
(in Eastern Europe). Especially in police-protester confrontations, and especially
when we-they definitions activate the deep passions of identity, escalation of
protest into collective violence cannot be understood without emotions as a causal
factor. While we would resist returning to the bad old days of the frustrationaggression hypothesis, the J-curve, and relative deprivation theories, we hold that
a full understanding of collective violence must consider how to incorporate into
the equation not only frustration and aggression, but also shame, resentment, rage,
pride and passion, among others.