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"Why is there no just riot theory?" - Public lecture by Prof. Jonathan Havercroft

Jul 03, 2018 | 06:00 PM c.t. - 08:00 PM

Western political thought has a long tradition of arguing about when and under what circumstances warfare is justifiable. The realist tradition argues that warfare is a necessary instrument of statecraft; the just war theory tradition argues that warfare can be justified if it prevents or ends aggression by other states. Comparatively few have defended a position of complete pacifism – i.e. that warfare is never justifiable. Despite this extensive normative analysis of political violence at the interstate level, when we consider the sub-state level there is virtually no tradition that examines political violence by individuals or groups from a normative perspective. This essay asks why is there no just riot theory? Given the prevalence of riots throughout human history, the lack of normative theorizing on riots when compared to warfare is striking. The tentative hypothesis that this essay will advance is that riots are a form of spontaneous anti-state violence and that the (especially western) tradition of political theory is heavily vested in defending organized state violence. When we lay that contrast out starkly, however, the lack of a just riot theory may say more about the poverty of political theory and its dubious allegiance to state power, than the illegitimacy of riots and rioters. The essay will proceed in five parts. Part one will define a riot as mass spontaneous anti-state violence. The subsequent four sections will explore each of these features of a riot to see what potential objections there might be to the act of the riot as such. The sixth section will then advance two inter-related claims: first that the lack of a just riot theory is more a sign of the poverty of political theory than a question of the legitimacy of riots, and that the just war theory tradition offers some guidance for the types of criteria a just riot theory should contain.

Jonathan Havercroft is an Associate Professor in International Political Theory at the University of Southampton. His research lies at the intersections of international relations and political theory. He has published work on the historical development and transformation of state sovereignty, 17th century and 20th century political philosophy, space weaponization and security, global dimensions of indigenous politics and hermeneutics. He is the author of Captives of Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and he has published peer reviewed articles in Political Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Constellations, Review of International Studies, Journal of International Political Theory, Polity, Social Sciences Quarterly and the Journal of Political Science Education. His current research focuses on pacification and anti-state violence. He is co-editor of the journal Global Constitutionalism.

The lecture is part of the lecture series “Legal Critique as Social Theory” (Rechtskritik als Gesellschaftstheorie).

Time & Location

Jul 03, 2018 | 06:00 PM c.t. - 08:00 PM

Otto-Suhr-Institute for Political Science
Ihnestr 21/ A

Further Information

Contact: friederike.kuntz[at]fu-berlin.de