SP374      Half Unit
Riots, Disorder and Urban Violence

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Tim Newburn (OLD 2.40a)


This course is available on the BSc in International Social and Public Policy, BSc in International Social and Public Policy and Economics, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Social Policy, BSc in Social Policy and Economics, BSc in Social Policy and Sociology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

This course is only available to third year undergraduate students


Some familiarity with sociology and/or criminology would be an advantage, but is not a formal prerequisite. Anyone unfamiliar with criminology can find a full introduction to the subject in: Newburn, T. (2017) Criminology, London: Routledge, 3rd Edition. An easier, quicker overview can be found in: Newburn, T. (2019) Criminology: A very short introduction,Oxford: OUP

Course content

This course focuses on urban or collective violence, or what more colloquially tend to be referred to as 'riots'. From Hong Kong and Santiago to the Gilets Jaunes in Paris and the uprisings in America after the death of George Floyd, this is a subject of great contemporary relevance. The course will consider the various approaches that have been taken to this subject - via history, psychology and sociology - and, focusing on particular examples, the course will examine some of the core issues in the field including: the causes and consequences of riots; psychological versus sociological explanations; the role of race/ethnicity; the impact of traditional and new social media on the nature and organisation of rioting; the role and changing nature of the policing of urban disorder;  and how riots might be understood both historically and comparatively.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of classes in the LT.

Course to be taught in LT next year.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write and submit one piece of formative coursework for assessment and feedback. The first will be an essay outline - in effect the outline of their summative essay, including a full introductory paragraph. 

Indicative reading

  • Katz, J. (2016) Culture within and culture about crime: The case of the ‘Rodney King riots’, Crime, Media, Culture
  • Moran, M. and Waddington, D. (2015) Recent riots in the UK and France: Causes and commonalities, Contention, 2, 2, 57-73
  • Newburn, T. (2015) The 2011 English riots in recent historical perspective, British Journal of Criminology, 55, 1, 375-392
  • Newburn, T. (2020) The causes and consequences of urban riot and unrest, Annual Review of Criminology, forthcoming
  • Reicher, S. D. (1984) The St Pauls’ riot: An explanation of the limits of crowd action in terms of a social identity model, European Journal of Social Psychology, 14, 1-21
  • Waddington, D. (1998) Waddington Versus Waddington: Public Order Theory on Trial, Theoretical Criminology, 2: 373-394

Additional reading:

  • Castells, M. (2015) The Egyptian Revolution, in Goodwin, J. and Jasper, J.M. (eds) The Social Movements Reader, Oxford: Blackwell
  • King, M. and Waddington, D. (2006) Flashpoints revisited: a critical application to the policing of anti-globalization protest, Policing and Society, 15, 3, 255-282
  • Marx, G. (1972) Issueless riots, in Short, J. and Wolfgang, M. (eds) Collective Violence, Chicago: Aldine
  • Newburn, T., Cooper, K., Deacon, R. and Diski, R. (2015) ‘Shopping for Free’? Looting, consumerism and the 2011 riots, British Journal of Criminology, 55 (5): 987-1004
  • Proctor, R., Crump, J., Karstedt, S., Voss, A. and Cantijoch, M. (2013) Reading the riots: what were the police doing on Twitter?, Policing and Society, 23, 4, 413-36
  • Stott, C.  and Drury, C. (2017) Contemporary understanding of riots: Classical crowd psychology, ideology and the social identity approach, Public Understanding of Science, 21, 1, 2-14


Coursework (100%, 3000 words).

The coursework (100%) will comprise a single summative essay. The focus will be on one selected urban riot or set of protests (this might change year to year). In effect, each student will be asked to undertake a small, desk-based piece of research on a selected aspect of the disorder. Thus, for example, taking the Los Angeles ‘Rodney King’ riots of 1992 as an example, students would be offered a choice of one of up to six or seven elements to focus upon: the history of race in Los Angeles; poverty & social exclusion in the city; housing and social control; police-minority relations; relations between different minority groups; media reporting of the riots; the legacy of the Los Angeles riots and so forth. Many of these tie in nicely with broader themes in social and public policy that the students will have focused on in other courses.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication