SP475      Half Unit
Riots, Disorder and Urban Violence

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Tim Newburn


This course is available on the 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 (Education), 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”. 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 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. The primary means of assessment will be via a research-based essay focusing on a single “riot”.


All teaching will be in accordance with the LSE Academic Code (https://info.lse.ac.uk/current-students/lse-academic-code) which specifies a "minimum of two hours taught contact time per week when the course is running in the Autumn Term (AT) and/or Winter Term (WT)". Social Policy courses are predominantly taught through a combination of in-person Lectures and In person classes/seminars. Further information will be provided by the Course Convenor in the first lecture of the course.

The course will be delivered in AT.

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
  • Newburn, T. (2021) The causes and consequences of urban riot and unrest, Annual Review of Criminology, 4, 57-71
  • 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 remainder (20%) will comprise a short presentation at an end of term mini academic conference.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 58.3
Merit 37.5
Pass 4.2
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2022/23: 31

Average class size 2022/23: 16

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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