SP475      Half Unit
Riots, Disorder and Urban Violence

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Tim Newburn (OLD 240a)


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MSc in Criminal Justice Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Development), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (LSE and Fudan), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Migration), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Non-Governmental Organisations) and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Research). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All Social Policy Courses are ‘Controlled Access’. Please see the link below for further details on the allocation process.



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.

Course content

This course focuses on urban or collective violence, or what more colloquially tend to be referred to as 'riots'. 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 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 seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write and submit two pieces of formative coursework for assessment and peer feedback. The first will be an essay outline - in effect an outline of a answer to a potential examination question, including a full introductory paragraph. The second will be an outline of their intended case study. Both pieces of formative coursework will be shared via Moodle and all students will be encouraged to offer constructive feedback to each other as well, of course, as receiving feedback from the course director. Peer feedback will be utilised as a means of encouraging a degree of group work and collective endeavour among course participants.

Indicative reading

  • Baldassare, M. (1995) The Los Angeles Riots: Lessons for the Urban Future, Boulder: CO
  • Bergenson, A. and Herman, M. (1998) Immigration, race and riot: The 1992 Los Angeles uprising, American Sociological Review, 63, 1, 39-54
  • Body-Gendrot, S. and Savitch, H.V. (2012) Urban violence in the United States and France: comparing Los Angeles (1992) and Paris (2005), in John, P., Mossberger, K. and Clarke, S.E. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Urban Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Katz, M.B. (2008) Why don’t American cities burn very often? Journal of Urban History, 34, 2, 185-208
  • Moran, M. and Waddington, D. (2016) Riots: An International Comparison, Palgrave: Macmillan
  • Newburn, T. (2015) The 2011 English riots in recent historical perspective, British Journal of Criminology, 55, 1, 375-392
  • Reicher, S. (1996) The Crowd century: Reconciling practical success with theoretical failure, British Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 535-53
  • Tilly, C. (2003) The Politics of Collective Violence, New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Thompson, E. P. (1971). The moral economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century, Past & Present, 50, 76-136
  • Wacquant, L. (2007) Urban Outcasts: A comparative sociology of urban marginality, Cambridge: Polity Press

Further reading:

  • Abu-Lughod, J.L. (2007) Race, Space and Riots in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, New York: Oxford University Press
  • Body-Gendrot, S. (2013) Urban violence in France and England: comparing Paris (2005) and London (2011), Policing and Society, 23, 1, 6-25
  • della Porta, D. (1995) Social Movements, Political Violence and the State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Gilje, P.A. 1996) Rioting in America, Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • Mason, P. (2013) Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere, London: Verso
  • 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
  • Reicher, S. (1996) ‘The Battle of Westminster’: developing the social identity model of crowd behaviour in order to explain the initiation and development of collective conflict, European Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 115-134
  • Scarman, Lord Justice (1982) The Brixton Disorders, Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Waddington, D., Jones, K. and Critcher, C. (1989) Flashpoints: Studies in Public Disorder, London: Routledge
  • Waddington, D. and King, M. (2005) The disorderly crowd: From classical psychological reductionism to socio-contextual theory – The impact on public order policing strategies, Howard Journal, 44, 5, 490-503


Coursework (80%) and presentation (20%).

The coursework (80%) will comprise a single summative essay offering an analytical case study of a modern riot and the presentation (20%) will comprise a poster presentation at an end of term mini academic conference.

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: 28

Average class size 2019/20: 15

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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