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Sample Dissertation on International Violence

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This sample dissertation is concerned with the causes of riots and collective social violence. If you're tasked with writing your own dissertation, Ultius has some great tips to help you out. The root causes are explored within context to the theoretical framework of social identity theory. The root causes were attributed to being caused by socioeconomic, ethnic and racial differences among individuals, especially immigrants and racial minorities. Also, the mass media and neglectful governments were partly to blame. We also propose a few viable solutions with regards to achieving better social cohesion through improved government interaction, the role of multinational corporations and the fostering of social tolerance. 

Endorsing Solidarity: root causes of international violence

As a serious social issue that has existed throughout history, rioting has been a popular topic among scholars and social scientists. The notion of collective and shared violence, particularly against law enforcement, has been integral in the culture of nations like France where the same problems happen regularly today. It is also an international phenomenon where many countries have had to deal with the collective violence of groups based on shared ideals. As a broad social phenomenon, it thus deserves to be critically analyzed from the perspective of international relations. Rioting often involves cultural factors such as:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Government policies towards immigrants

Thus, the role that governments play with respect to one another is critical in offering viable solutions to stopping them from happening. It is also worthy to note that because the notion of rioting is a complex social phenomenon involving many varied factors, it would be presumptuous to assume that riots have a singular root cause and solution. Instead, it is multi-dimensional in the sense that riots should be critically analyzed and addressed from the perspective of understanding broad trends and then applying them to individual case studies to see if they relate. This paper will explore the root causes of riots and offer viable solutions based on established theoretical frameworks that encompass the scope of international relations.

Collective Identity as a cause of riots

While riots and their causes differ across different nations, cultures and ethnicities, the shared values of violent groups tend to be polarized towards a collective identity and how that identity is being unjustly treated. This is the core of race relations in the United States. Given this, the social context of a group’s actions is also part of the broader international context of the nation they represent or originate from. This heavily involves the role of governments in terms of their policies and tendencies towards dealing with riots, either effectively or ineffectively.

Ultimately, collective group rioting is heavily rooted in clear social differences like:

  • Race and socioeconomic status
  • The role of the media
  • Police brutality
  • Cultural inclinations toward violent outbreak

Consequently, viable long and short term solutions will emerge from proactive government intervention in addressing social cohesion issues like:

Finally, multinational corporations are integral in preventing riots because workplaces are a pivotal environment to develop stronger cohesion among groups of people that share drastic socioeconomic and ethnic differences. 

International violence and riots

There has been much discourse among scholars regarding the nature of rioting. Indeed, incidents of marginalized groups resorting to collective violence has made a resurgence in recent decades and the destruction left in their wake has been nothing short of stunning (Swendson & Norman, 1998; Uba & Uggla, 2001; Hounslow and Brentford Times, 201).

Examples of recent riots

Some examples include:

  1. The 1992 Los Angeles Riots--By Matheson & Baade's (2004) account, the Los Angeles riots resulted in:
    • 53 deaths,
    • 10,000 arrests,
    • 2,300 injuries,
    • Over 1,000 buildings lost to fire,
    • The loss of thousands of jobs
    • An estimated cost to the city of $1 billion in damages.

Furthermore, if one figures in the damages to sales, real estate values, tourism, and image over 10 years the number is closer to $4.9 billion at a reasonable rate of recovery, and $8.7 billion assuming no recovery (Baade, 2004).

2. The 2001 Cincinnati Race Riots--The damage of the Cincinnati Race Riots totaled an estimate of $14 million (Anglen, Alltucker, Bonfield, & Horn, 2001).

3. 2005 Civil Unrest of France

    • Estimated to have cost over €200 million in damages
    • 9000 cars and dozens of buildings were burned
    • 2900 rioters were arrested as a result of this civil unrest (Matheson, 2004)

Others across Europe have cost thousands more and endangered many lives as a result. Undoubtedly, it is clear that collective violence comes at great costs in both the short and long term; consequently, greater efforts must be made to prevent them. 

Social integration

Scholars that adhered to the school of thought relating to social integration theory have expressed that inner workings of mutual trust, equality, and inter-connectedness in multicultural societies have been the core issues at hand. Scholars have strongly argued that placement of immigrants, or individuals of other marginalized groups, amongst an unfamiliar monistic society can cause serious complications not unlike the events noted earlier. (Bleich E, 2008; Zal, Laar, Stahl, Ellemers, Derks, 2011; Scheider, 2008; Mucchielli, 2009). In being away from home and without the proper means to interact effectively with the local culture, immigrants often struggle to find a sense of belonging or worth with respect to natives. This alienation from society is attributed to being the result of neglect from government institutions to provide pathways for societal involvement. Ultimately, the uneasiness of not belonging can lead to the agent choosing to positively identify with what were once undesirable groups and characteristics. It seems as though when man is excluded from most of society, extreme groups and actions often become more attractive. In turn, this leads to collective action from groups that share a common ground in terms of suffering and angst (Emma Thomas, Kenneth Mavor & Craig McGarty, 2011).

Preventative measures for riot situations

In addition, research has even suggested that modern day preventative measures can even be a form of further instigation. For instance, because groups engage in collective action because of their perceived disadvantages with respect to the rest of society, efforts that are specifically preventative towards a given group can easily be misconstrued as being discrimination (Quinn, 2011). Instead, such reactions only lead to further anatomization of the group members because their shared suffering is being openly recognized and they are being treated cohesively. It may even work towards fostering the eventual removal of racism and further solidarity against the violent group. This is especially true given the fact that individuals tend to act individually rather than collectively. Consequently, as attempted resolution by a government or group fails, it only serves to further foster alienation, dissent and violence (Collins, 2007). 

The impact of immigration

Scholars tend to agree that violence in the form of collective action stems from ethnic diversity through immigration and presents challenges to immigration policy. Gonzales & Portillos (2007) and Haddad & Balz (2006) argued that immigration is inherent to collective violence because of the peculiar forms of discrimination that migrants face while trying to make a living in a new nation among people that are usually quite different from them. Migrant workers typically:

  • Have tighter social circles
  • Share different cultural traditions
  • Speak a different primary language (Schneider, 2008)

This creates further tension because migrants usually surround themselves with other migrants in order to alleviate these concerns. As minorities become isolated amongst themselves working for cheaper labor, the stigma of ethnic communities become even more obvious for natives who perceive the migrants as being alien, isolated and potentially dangerous. This not only deters society from promoting social cohesion, but it also seems to emphasize social differentiation as an inherent part of society that is natural. Future generations of migrants consequently develop attitudes that enhance the ethnic divisions between them and natives. 

Increased tension in later generations as a root cause

Although first generation immigrants had the modest aspirations common to anyone simply trying to find work in a foreign land, the second generation are, in most cases, technically defined as full citizens. They are led to believe that they are entitled to equal rights and access to any common wealth they choose to frequent. However, the social stigma of being perceived as a migrant because of ethnic differences is still present, even when there are fewer real cultural differences. As a result, ethnic tensions are only further enforced by second and third generation immigrants because they have not fully assimilated into society, despite having acquired the birth status of being a true native (Haddad & Balz, 2006). This problem of ethnic unrest is especially applicable for youths. As minorities that have been natives in a given nation perceive equality yet are faced with clear disadvantages, schism is inevitable and becomes a root cause of riot situations. 

Government failings to riot prevention

Given these clear ethnic tensions that immigrants and minorities face, governments are under pressure to either neglect the potential threat of unrest or engage in practices that foster social cohesion, a process that has benefitted societies since ancient times. However, governments around the world have proven to be negligent in terms of accommodating minority groups in order to reduce tension. Nations like the United States, France and others have been clear examples where immigration laws and domestic policies have tucked serious issues under the rug or left states to deal with them on their own (Haddad & Balz, 2006; Brezenski, 2011). Moreover, extensive use of police brutality to quell riots have also been notable examples where governments have been downright counter-productive in their efforts to ease social tensions based on ethnic, racial and socioeconomic levels. 

Plan of Attack

 1. Framework in social identity theory

In order to critically re-asses the root causes of riots, the first step in this discussion will be to establish a theoretical framework for the discussion of the causes and dynamics of collective violence. Social identity theory will serve this purpose.  It is ideally suited to analyzing the formation and motivation of social groups. Through social identity theory, it will be shown that social groups are the fundamental units of social conflict, that the only significant individual member intentions are those that play out through the group.  Social identity theory will also provide a paradigm for analyzing the process of marginalization that creates oppressed social groups and how the individuals of those marginalized groups are driven to extreme behaviors. Case studies from some nations will be included to aid the understanding of how social identity theory is a complex notion encompassing many different spheres of society.

2. Defining collective violence

It is next necessary to demonstrate the prevalence of the collective violence problem.  

  • A definition of collective violence will be established.  
  • The general history and causes of collective violence will be discussed in the context of social identity theory.  
  • It will be understood that the nature of collective violence is dynamic and the circumstances of a particular incident always have specific variations.  
  • Several specific cases will then be discussed to establish an understanding of those specific variations.  
  • Particular attention will be paid to the international relations, implications of collective violence in general and the specific cases to be examined. 

3. Analysis of riot causes

After a detailed analysis of what causes riots, viable solutions will be offered that fall in line with the theoretical framework of social identity theory as it relates to international relations.

  • Both short and long term approaches will be explored. Immediate or short term tactics will explain how governments must react quickly while still making informed decisions regarding how to effectively and justly treat the violent perpetrators.
  • Specifically, the international context of how a government is perceived after responding to riots will be mentioned to exemplify the notion that fostering positive relations abroad requires non-biased responses that do not segregate and punish an entire racial or ethnic minority.
  • The specific measures for the need for police discretion, dealing with police brutality and efficacy will be mentioned.

As riot squads face scrutiny from politicians and the public, the way in which the government organizes and delegates tasks will be integral in mitigating riots that have started.

4. Examining preventative measures

Long term preventative measures will also be explained.  The following stages will be outlined:

  • First, the vital role that governments plays in fostering a socially cohesive community requires strict attention to legislation that may be unfair (or perceived to be unfair) to a specific minority group.  Mainly, it will be advocated that governments need to play a much more proactive role in engaging with social issues that could potentially posit threats to social peace via rioting and changes to policies regarding minority groups may be necessary in countries such as the United States.  
  • Another strategy will be offered that is based on governments’ inability to control the mass media; that is, as the media has historically been a catalyst for social disorder, a tighter grip on potentially destructive messages can be further mitigated.  Moreover, attention will also be placed on multinational corporations and their role in addressing diversity and socioeconomic differences among their workforce.
  • Strategies based on shared values, not shared suffering will be emphasized as a major catalyst to changing the way people think about and deal with social problems that traditionally lead to riots.  
  • Finally, a solution to cultural inclinations towards rioting will be addressed by arguing that properly teaching youths and encouraging social cohesion through better assimilation policies will be effective. 

Theoretical Framework of collective violence

Collective violence in populations is a result of certain individuals or groups being motivated to align against and act out against the bulk of society.  Social identity theory can help to better understand the reasons these individuals and groups feel marginalized and how they come together with a common purpose that results in collective violence.  Collective violence can be observed from both the individual and group perspectives through social identity theory.

Individual motivations

It is important to note that, even though collective violence is the result of group actions, the motivation of the individual must never be overlooked.  When discussing the motivations or actions of a group, one is actually discussing the motivations and actions of the individuals of which that group is composed (Webb, 2010).  The understanding is that all individuals in a group share the same values, because they identify with the group, even though this simplification overlooks the variety of circumstances that might account for an individual’s involvement with a given group.  Webb’s (2010) discussion of collective intentionality, however, does not allow considerations for the values of an individual before participating in a group action

“It is joint intentionality that accounts for the jointness or collectivity of their individual contributory actions” (p. 157).  

According to this view, any individual that participates in a collective action is accountable to the values of the group as a whole, since those group values are what justified the action.

Individual identity in social groups

The purpose of social identity theory is to observe the effects social groups have on the identity of individuals.  Normally individuals desire to be a part of the largest group available because this provides the most stability, or certainty, in its members (Hogg, 2009).  If there is a prevailing social group available but an individual cannot become associated with it, that individual would be led to doubt the value of his or her ideas and self.  Only through group alignment can most individuals find any sense of self-certainty or confidence about the future (Hogg, 2009).  If the prevailing social group marginalizes an individual as an unacceptable member for any reason, that individual would be driven to find another group.

Need for acceptance in groups

Having already been rejected for their values, an individual’s weakened certainty would incline him or her to consider an identity that is more likely to result in acceptance.  Because of this, a society with a greater diversity of identity groups available to choose from results in individuals with more chances to find a group that accepts their identities (Hogg, 2011).  Regardless of available choices, an individual with weakened certainty is more willing to consider other aspects of his or her personality, accessing one of the other multiple identities that most people have, to varying degrees, in an effort to find one that is accepted. This becomes a cycle of weakening certainty and rejection that can result in an individual settling on an identity far removed from his or her original identity, simply for the sake of being accepted into a group and is one of the contributing factors to violent behavior.

Satisfaction within groups

The less an individual has to change his or her identity to fit into a group, the less marginalized that individual feels.  Even in examples of extreme diversity, such as Ghana with its cultural and linguistic diversity of nearly 100 distinct groups, it is possible to avoid feelings of marginalization when there are fixed institutions that allow those groups to be heard (Tong, 2009).  This creates an all-inclusive social group, based on political identity, which provides relief to the marginalization of certain ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic groups. A strong political group is not perfect, however, because it is not satisfying to the full needs of an individual and a political group usually only identifies with certain periodic events like elections.  Thus other groups are needed to fully satisfy identity needs of individuals.  And the more an individual has to compromise to find a group, the greater his or her uncertainty and the more radical his or her objective will be.  This is based on the increased certainty and distinction of more radical groups that form their entire group identity about a shared extreme philosophy (Hogg, 2009).  

Core members vs. peripheral members contribution to collective violence

A group with extreme values makes a greater effort to stand by those values and express them to others.  This could be considered a macrocosm of Van Kleefl’s (2007) observation about the behavior of peripheral versus prototypical group representatives.  Van Kleefl’s (2007) study showed that peripheral members of a group were more aggressively competitive with other groups, presumably to overcompensate for their relative unimportance to the group they were defending, than prototypical members of that group who had no need to prove their group identity.  The is best exemplified through religious extremism and its relationship to warfare. If this theory is expanded to consider different social groups as the individuals, their proximity to the core group of their shared society places them as peripheral or prototypical members.  Radical groups, being further from the common values, would have a greater need to act competitively to present their values.

Radicals within groups

This theory accounts for the aggressive behavior of radical groups, even if their group identity does not necessarily mandate competitive behavior, both individually and as a whole.  If a member of a radical group is considered a peripheral member, that member would be inclined to act even more competitively than the group already does (Van Kleefl, 2007).  Because of this behavior, and because of Webb’s (2010) theory of joint intentionality, the most extreme member of a group dictates that group’s intentions toward other groups.  It is not uncommon to see a group disavowing the actions of a radical individual that claims association with that group because the group leadership knows they will all be considered as one when intentions for extreme behavior are considered.  The case of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States are an excellent example of extreme behavior dictating the intention of a greater group, in the eyes of observers, when the radical Islamic groups claimed responsibility for the attacks and there was a period of confusion during which other groups could not discern between radical Islamic groups and the much larger, nonviolent Islamic groups.  Intentionality was perceived to be shared.

Strength in numbers

In the case of actual shared intentionality, radical or excessively marginalized groups are more inclined to action when they have more members.  Smith (2007) observed that member intentions are more likely to be acted out when interacting with other agents of similar beliefs.  Individuals are naturally inclined to behave within the norms of the prevailing group, that is the law of their society, but this inclination is weakened when a group with stronger bonds has intentions contrary to the general values of a society.  This is another example of diversity preventing extreme group behaviors, because the existing groups would consist of fewer members and be less inclined to act on extreme intentions.

Diffusing radical tendencies toward violence

Those larger societies, usually national governments, have learned how to mitigate the more powerful collective intentions of social groups, such as by manufacturing the diversity that naturally disperses radical groups by providing individuals with a greater selection of groups closer to their individual identities.  Tong (2009) hypothesized that,

“institutions absorb conflict either by creating peaceful mechanisms or by preventing abuse in political systems.  This institutional carrying capacity, or the ability for institutions to channel conflict into peaceful avenues, is what best explains the occurrences of ethnic peace in nations at risk” (p. 17).  

One of the most basic ways for a ruling institution to relieve the pressures of marginalization is through political equality, namely citizenship.  There are many theories regarding the best way to do this, though not all are successful.  In short, flexibility and integration are the keys to success, particularly with regard to citizenship (Bleich, 2008).  Citizenship provides inclusion into the prevailing national social group and ensures participation in the collective intention to preserve the stability and peace of that group. This can be integral in curtailing violence, particularly in preventing domestic terrorist activity.

Need for further discussion

Ideals do not always play out in reality, however.  There are prevailing racial and cultural prejudices at work in the world regardless of the general acceptance of integrationist values.  Socioeconomic disparities cannot be overcome with simple legislation and individuals cannot be forced to accept values that they feel no need to adhere to, thanks to alternative groups that offer acceptance of less official values like cultural or ethnic prejudice.  Thus, there is still a need for this discussion of collective violence.

Evidence for cause

Riots are societal natural disasters.  The comparison is apt both for the damage caused by riots and the suddenness of their occurrence.  Rioting is not the only kind of collective violence, but it is the purest and most significant variety,

“Among the various forms of violence, riots deserve particular attention not only because they threaten the physical and psychological well-being of large masses of individuals, but also because their very nature may sabotage the formal and informal systems of intervention that reduce the risk of trauma” (Swendsen, 1998, p. 58).  

There are many reasons for collective violence and each of those potential factors warrant close study in the established paradigm of social identity theory to better understand their sources and possible solutions.  Marginalization of population groups occurs in the following manners:

  • Ethnically
  • Culturally
  • Socioeconomically

Though these categories represent only the most simplified causes of collective violence, each informs the specific incidents that will be examined and solutions for each will be addressed.  It will also be shown that simple tension, even of the most fundamental and pervasive variety, is not enough to induce collective violence, and the situation interaction sequences that are responsible for turning potential violence into actual rioting will be examined in each example situation.

The Nature and root cause of collective violence

By necessity, riots tend to happen in densely populated areas.  A natural issue in an urban area is access to basic resources; demand is high and supply, especially of things like food that have to come from outside the city, is limited.  Duprez (2009) observed that a primary cause of population tension in urban environment is inequality of access to:

  • Goods
  • Services
  • Jobs 

Social identity theory would dictate that such an environment would create a dangerously concentrated group with the shared identifier of poverty and deprivation and the collective intention of correcting this issue.  Extreme disparities of wealth and access to resources is a common cause of collective violence, but an ethnic component has been observed within these socioeconomic conflicts as well (Duprez, 2009).  If social identity theory is applied to this observation, it would suggest that the socioeconomically oppressed group is internally splintered along ethnic or cultural lines.  This could be a result of a lack of understanding about the causes of financial difficulties, or it could be an example of choosing the closest group with any discernible difference as an object for hostility.

Scapegoating ethnicities

Whatever the exact reason, there are many precedents for race-based riots.  Socioeconomic difficulties might be considered second fiddle to the more visceral conflict of ethnic diversity.  Individuals obviously realize they are suffering from poverty and deprivation, but they might be more inclined to blame a visible, close-proximity group than some abstract group higher up the socioeconomic chain.  Population groups in areas with heavy immigration have been observed to react defensively toward whatever ethnic group is newest to the area (Bergesen, 1998).  When this process of ethnic succession occurs rapidly, tensions run high as ever more newcomers confuse the lines of who ‘belongs’ versus who is an ‘invader’.

The trail of ethnic succession can be clearly seen throughout history and touches virtually every ethnic group:

  • The Irish suffered at the hands of collective violence when they stepped off the boats from Ireland in the 1840s
  • Immigrants from every corner of Europe experienced the same at the turn of the century
  • Blacks moving out of the South faced it in the early 20th century
  • Mexican immigrants throughout history
  • The most recent victims are Latino and Asian immigrants (Bergesen, 1998).  

Despite each group having to endure prejudice and violence, each group also joins in persecuting the next ethnic group to immigrate, perpetuating the cycle of violent ethnic succession.  Mawanda Shaban, a member of the Uganda Red Cross Society’s Youth Commission, observed the division caused by ethnic succession in terms of age as well,

“it is a fact that when you talk about violence, even when you talk about migration, you cannot separate it from the youth… the major challenge is definitely lack of integration within society” (Harroff-Tavel, 2010, p. 348).  

This particular perspective, in the context of social identity theory, would suggest that individuals seek ever more specialized groups within groups, even if the existing structure already provides a group with which to align against perceived opponents.

Journalism as a modern contributors to collective violence

There are modern factors that serve both sides of the collective violence issue.  Technology, particularly information technology, is a powerful tool in the formation and management of group identities.  Journalism in the 21st century is a virtually omnipresent component of group dynamics, especially when potential or actual cases of collective violence are concerned.  Greer (2010) derived the role of journalism in issues of collective violence to three points:

  • The capacity of technologically empowered citizen journalists to produce information that challenges the ‘official’ version of events
  • The inclination of professional and citizen journalists to actively seek out and use that information
  • The existence of an information-communications marketplace that sustains the commodification and mass consumption of adversarial, anti-establishment news. (p. 1041)

This suggests that journalism is largely antagonistic to peace, due to a hybrid of blatant contrariness and commodification of dissent.  

Civilian journalism

The inclusion of civilian journalism, rather than strictly professional, results in greater accountability if those civilian journalists are honest, but runs the risk of creating more conflict if civilian journalists only endeavor to rabble-rouse and corner tragedy.  In terms of social identity theory, civilian journalists are particularly influential because they are already part of the common social groups rather than some abstract voice with nationally syndicated byline.  The intent of a civilian journalist is assumed to be in keeping with the intent of his or her social group, and the powerful identity of a journalist, even a civilian journalist, makes his or her intent far more effective at establishing group intent.

Group predisposition toward nonviolence

No single force is powerful enough to precipitate collective violence.  All these stressing influences come together to create tense situations, but even when oppressed social groups are pushed to publicly act out against their oppressors, violence is seldom the first resort.  Most people are disinclined to take that step purely because of ongoing effects, partly because the nature of an ongoing effect is that it can be adapted to.  There is indeed a threshold that is crossed:

Since most societies provide different normative disaffirmations regarding different types of violence, the inhibition threshold for using physical violence against persons is usually higher than the inhibition threshold for using symbolical violence or violence against objects.  Hence, I claim that the emergence of physical violence is even more unlikely and therefore particularly interesting. (Nassauer, 2011, p. 204)

Groups are more inclined to act out in nonviolent ways such as social activisim, for the most part, since it takes a particularly extreme behavioral shift to act violently toward another person, or for individuals to risk violence to themselves.  

Predicting collective violence in groups

Social identity theory can be used to determine the likelihood of a group to act with cohesive intent or fall apart in the face of certain interactional sequences, particularly those of opposition.  The strength of shared identity directly affects the likelihood of collective violence, as suggested by Smith (2007) who argued that a group’s intention are more likely to be acted out based on how many members share those intentions.  While socioeconomic or ethnic factors might create a high-stress environment, inclined toward violent outbreak and crime, a specific inciting incident--one with intense emotional impact, is required in each specific case to cause the actors to abandon their inhibitions (Nassauer, 2011).  Close examination of these interactional sequences on a case by case base can provide insights into what measures might help prevent tense situations from exploding into violence. This theoretical basis is cohesive with the specific example of a group defending itself against attacks on its members, physically or against their rights (Drury, 2003).  Such attacks, when occurring directly against the group, are an example of the kind of interactional sequences that incite collective violence in response to immediate outrages.

Examining examples of collective violence

Because riots are so complex in cause and because the inciting interactional sequence is so critical, it is best to consider specific cases before positing a solution.  Social identity theory has provided an adequate framework for describing how discontented social groups form and how extreme behaviors are justified by those groups.  The existence of interactional sequences as trigger events has been established, but the only way to specifically describe such events is to examine specific situations.  Particular focus will be given to ethnic conflicts and tension caused by immigration, to emphasize the international relations aspect of such outbreaks. Race riots in the United States, particularly those between the black and white population, are only distantly considered an international relations issue.  Rather than being caused by international tension, the possible solutions might be taken from entities more successful at integrating diverse ethnic and cultural groups.  Multinational businesses in particular have demonstrated proficiency with this issue and will be discussed further in the solutions section to follow.

Los Angeles

A popularly cited example of rioting in the United States is the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.  The central complaint of the issue was police brutality, specifically the treatment of Rodney King, which has only escalated as evidenced by the number of racially motivated police shootings documented in 2016.  King was in a car pulled over after a high speed pursuit and, instead of being subdued and arrested, was tasered and beaten by four police officers.  The encounter was videotaped from a nearby apartment by George Holiday.  This videotape and extensive media coverage of the hearings for the policemen drew the entire city into the situation.  The police officers were acquitted, a decision that incited protests at the courthouse and gatherings throughout the city, including LAPD headquarters.  Roughly three and a half hours after the announcement of the officers’ acquittal, the protests accelerated to a riot.  The police proved unable to subdue the riots and the collective violence continued for four days until the military arrived and the rioters dispersed.

Impact of the riots on the city of Los Angeles

The riots caused significant economic damage in light of highly ethnic matters:  

  • Over a billion dollars in damage was done to the city
  • 53 people were killed
  • 2,300 people were injured
  • 1,000 buildings were burned
  • The Los Angeles economy suffered an estimated setback of over $8 billion, from which it has not yet fully recovered (Petersilia, 1993).  

The lingering material cost is only a shadow of the persistent racial tension.  Petersilia (1993) considered it evident that the conditions of ethnic and socioeconomic division that spawned the riots continued to prevail.  The Rodney King incident was merely the interactional event that ignited the riots.  If it were the sole source of the collective violence outbreak, the rioters would have been simply black people versus police, or possibly versus the socioeconomic class protected by the police.  But other ethnic groups, most notably Latinos, also made use of the riots to vent their frustrations with society, proving the extent of the ethnic tension.  As one of the most fundamentally diverse cities in the United States, it would seem evident that Los Angeles should be more flawlessly integrated, but tensions from immigration and basic ethnic contrast persist as delineators of social acceptance.

The Cincinnati Riots of 2001

A more recent example of race riots in the United States began with protests against the CPD in response to a number of police shootings in which black males were killed.  Timothy Thomas, unarmed, was the 15th such black man to be killed by police and, a few short days after his death, thousands of black Cincinnati citizens marched on the District 1 headquarters of the CPD.  The first march on CPD headquarters and a smaller, subsequent protest were dispersed with bean bag guns and tear gas which only incited the population to further violence, escalating the situation to full-blown riots.  Over the next couple days the violence spread and the city succumbed to fear and disruption.  The Cincinnati mayor, however, managed to end the riots without military intervention.  

He instituted a curfew on the third night, an act that was accompanied by heavy rains (Waymer, 2009).  This course of evidence demonstrates in impact of racism in America since the only recourse the black social group had to protect themselves was collective violence.  The killing of an unarmed black man served as the trigger incident and the violence diffused throughout the city. In light of mentioning these events again within an ethnic context, one can see that they are truly a product of the clear disparities that distinguish natives from the perceived aliens.

The 2005 Civil Unrest in France

This event was an example of both ethnic and age discrimination.  Young French-Africans and French Maghrebians in Paris and other French cities were, at the time, treated as second-class citizens by the police.  It was common at the time for such youths to be:

  • Detained on sight
  • Questioned for no purpose
  • Held with no cause until their parents came to collect them (Schneider, 2008).  

It was natural that this treatment would cause the youths to avoid the police at all costs, and in the case of the inciting incident for the 2005 French riots, a handful of young men took refuge in a highly dangerous power station.  A recording of one of the officers’ conversation with dispatch on the scene culminated in the officer determining,

“if they entered the EDF site, their skin is worth nothing now” (Schneider, 2008, p. 136). 

Such cold disregard for young life was not the only option, a call to the power company could have made the extraction safe and easy, but instead the police simply walked away and two boys were fatally electrocuted, a third severely injured but survived.

Escalation due to indifference

When the police refused to show any remorse or sense of responsibility toward this incident, the population became outraged. Again it became evident to the marginalized social group of immigrant French residents, who were denied many of the rights and goodwill of conventional French citizens, that extreme action would be needed to effect a change.  The needless death of two young men was a sufficient catalyzing agent to spark collective violence.  Rioting continued for nearly a month before a state of emergency was declared, which persisted for another month before order was restored (Schneider, 2008).  These events called into question the French citizenship policy and proved that young people were no more willing to tolerate injustice than adults.

The 2005 Cronulla Riots

This demonstrates the dangers of media influence in already tense situations.  A series of violent attacks against Australian locals in New South Wales by ‘young men of ‘Middle Eastern Appearance’ resulted in originally peaceful but ultimately alcohol fueled violent outbursts against anyone of Middle Eastern appearance (Poynting, 2006, p. 85).  The media exercised its influence upon the intentions of social groups.  Combined with the aggressive journalism was a general misunderstanding of the offending social group.  Instead of targeting any legitimate descriptor, it was simply determined that anyone of Middle Eastern appearance was an enemy.  These riots in particular, which still resonate through Australia today, demonstrate the power of the press to create the kind of stressful atmosphere in which a virtually random inciting incident, like the assault of the volunteer life-savers, can serve as the trigger to an unjustified race war.

The need to learn from past events to avoid future violence

The ingredients for outbreaks of collective violence are easy to see, in a general sense.  But it is not always obvious how far a social group will allow itself to be pushed or when exactly the triggering incident will occur.  As a study in international relations, it is important to learn from the choices made throughout the world.  These examples demonstrate the kinds of interactional environments that create marginalized groups as well as help understand the history a particular immigrant population might have regarding collective violence.

Viable Short and Long-term Solutions

Solving the rioting problem through the lens of international relations is a daunting task that requires adherence to many complex dimensions of how society, businesses and governments work. While riots are largely a domestic issue, we have clearly seen that international relations do play an integral role in terms of how the riots are dealt with and what is the root cause of them. Unfortunately, the sheer complexity of riots make it difficult for one to merely appropriate a one-size-fits-all solution. Because they have to be analyzed on a case by case basis, the solution also needs to be in much the same way. However, many core practices by governments, businesses and third parties can be used to alleviate the issue for the long haul. Both short and long term solutions will be presented. 

Methods for Immediate Action

While it is advantageous to stop rioting before it happens through preventive measures, this is not always a luxury and governments need to have the right tools and skill sets in order to combat an immediate crisis. This is known as conflict resolution and conflict management. The means by which governments approach this can drastically affect whether the dispute will end peacefully or only create further dissent and violence across the globe. Molly Melin (2011) argued that state relationships play an integral role in how conflict management occurs in the short term.

Immediate response

The general consensus is that acting quickly is the first step in prompt resolution. Quickly resolving riots requires:

  • A keen understanding of the people
  • Knowing the goals and intentions of the people
  • An effective approach the goal of social cohesion

Indeed, Melin (2011) argued that agencies and governments that act swiftly tend to increase the success rate of resolution, versus waiting longer and letting it play out:

“The longer a conflict goes on, the less likely management is to occur” (p. 710).

As a largely overlooked aspect of social phenomenons like riots, we have seen that many governments fail to move quickly and intervene. Being able to act quickly and deploy resources is essential because it shows an active incentive on behalf of the government to resolve issues. This is incredibly important because when riots are televised internationally, other political leaders are looking closely to see what the governing body is doing, and how they are treating the minority that is speaking out. As the world looks on governing nations to avoid bloodshed and employing racial profiling, any sort of injustice is glorified intensely. As a result, it is important that the government not only acts quickly, but also takes into account the parties involved in order to remain as neutral and non-discriminatory as possible. 

Balance in response to violence

While it may be contradictory in a sense to advocate for quick resolutions while making informed positions, there is surely a balance between acting quickly while still making informed decisions that will not seem biased or too forward. For example, it is largely important to “Examine and keenly analyze the goals of the parties” involved (Melin, 2011, p. 692). This falls in line with social identity theory because it is important to characterize the emotional affect of the group and realize what are the core tensions at hand. Theodore Lewis (2011) argues that:

  • Understanding a groups’ emotional commitment is instrumental in determining their social identity.
  • Mitigating a riot requires the government to have the tools and resources necessary to understand the rioters identities and tensions from a very first-hand perspective.
  • The government must understand the cross-cultural context of how ethnic and racial factors play.

To exemplify, riots in Los Angeles were rooted in the racial tensions of Mexican-Americans that were displacing Americans in common manual labor jobs. An effective root cause analysis would have been to induce that the problems are:

  • International in scope
  • Economically related
  • Subject to the criticism of nativist responses

While the United States government had to address the needs of American citizens first, it would have been much more probative to understand the barriers of social cohesion as it related to the Mexican government. Furthermore, given that Mexican populations in the southwest are afraid of police intervention due to criminalization, the government should seek to better understand this alienation and address it on a national, not state, level (Gonzales & Portillos, 2007). A cohesive effort between the United States and Mexican governments would have shown that broader social concerns are being discussed and the resolution measures include the values and needs of the minority that is being violent or oppressed. 

International perspective

The efficacy of such a solution is rooted in the notion that social cohesion is understood and analyzed from an international perspective. Melin (2011) argued that governments that can avoid bias in their immediate responses can be much more effective. For instance, because

“biased third parties are quick to offer management services and to employ economic and diplomatic techniques,” they lack the true understanding of the group’s social identity in approaching conflict resolution (Melin, 2011, p. 711).

In taking a much more analytical and thoughtful approach that fosters international coordination, it generates a greater sense of accountability among the parties involved. Furthermore, the social cohesion of governments working together has the capacity to trickle down to the rioters because the same group they are associated with has either condoned their violence or supported their adherence towards civil resolution. Ultimately, solving short term issues such as riots can be much more effective if governments act quickly, engage in discourse with the minority based government and engage in proactively gaining an understanding of what the root cause of the schism was. 

The issue of excessive police force and violence

A much more involved and proactive government would surely solve the most troubling problem regarding riots: police brutality and their inability to stop them effectively. As we read earlier, governments such as Greece and others have been accustomed to using seriously harsh methods to contain violence (Haddad & Balz, 2006). However, with a proactive government that asserts federal authority and backing to fight violence with vigor, the riots can be stopped before escalating further. Indeed, by quickly and efficiently using the government’s backing to quell resistors, rioters will be much more likely to cease. Because most riot squads, like those in Greece, fail on the basis of a

“discredited [and] inefficient police force,” a federally backed force with clear goals and intentions would be much more likely to succeed (Close, 2009, p. 134).

Also, rather than encouraging passivity of the police force, governments and politicians should voice their open support to stopping riots (Close, 2009). This would not only induce better training and reduce police fears, but it would also ensure the police force that the government would take more accountability over the results, not just the individuals. 

Long-term Preventative Measures

Combating rioting on a long term basis requires the complex interplay of

  • Governments
  • Multinational businesses
  • Future generations

The government has its place in fostering legislative policies that are progressive in terms of defining what potential issues are and then addressing them before they happen. Increased police training has recently been cited as a solution for violence particularly in the case Cleveland which was required to retrain its police force. The government has to take a much more proactive role in being a ‘playmaker’ rather than sidelining themselves; consequently, the government can foster resolution rather than letting individual states and the mass media pervert issues that are international in scope and complexity. Multinational businesses play an integral role in long term riot prevention because many issues are rooted in economic dimensions that include politics, finance immigration and workplace tensions. Lastly, the longevity of peaceful discourse rather than rioting requires that future generations engage in much more cohesive interactions where their social identities are not segregated based on shared oppression, discrimination or schism. 


They federal government should play an interactive role in displacing the media and states from rioting issues because these smaller institutions may lack the resources or incentive to foster positive resolution. For instance, the government in the United States has been the paradigm of delayed action and negligence with regards to responding effectively. When conjuring immigration policies, the government should see this as a potential threat to social cohesion where immigrants can feel alienated and subject to oppression and one of the challenges in creating immigration policy. Thomas Brezenski (2011) strongly suggested that the federal government’s inability to realize the implications of their immigration laws have been a precursor to social tensions in the United States. To exemplify, illegal immigration laws are a direct example of how legislative foresight could stop future rioting. In discussing laws that socially alienate and target illegal immigrants, Brezenski (2011) argued that:

“Proponents of these laws make the argument that the federal government’s illegal immigration efforts have been woefully inadequate, and the states have no choice but to step into what up until now had been exclusive federal territory” (p. 26).

A government’s ability to intervene and make clear, non-biased policies would have also helped in troubling areas like France, which has a track record of indifference (Haddad & Balz, 2006). Clearly, the federal government would have much more leverage, domestically and internationally, to create favorable legislation in order to prevent rioting from happening because of it. Again, the key emphasis is that interaction among the relevant governments is open and inclusive so that each party’s values and needs are carefully analyzed prior to making disruptive legislation. In displacing the state and taking a broader approach, governments can work together in order to foster policies that are preventative by design, not by reaction. 

Regulating the media

Government intervention is also pivotal because they can displace and alleviate the destructive nature of the mass media in terms of social cohesion. France has been a strong case study relating to how the government’s inaction can lead to more tension. Ossman and Terrio (2006) cited that

“public fears fanned by the media and politicians linked egregious and unrepresentative acts of physical violence such as gang rapes, honour killings, revenge murders, orgratuitous attacks to what had become identified as ‘immigrant’ projects” (p. 8).

The media’s role has been pivotal in enticing negative relations and fostering further violence by generalizing the delinquents as being a group that is wholly responsible, rather than just the perpetrators themselves. However, if the government would have taken proactive steps towards controlling the media’s message by way of stronger social outreach, the media would have to succumb to a federal initiative. Another example where the media’s message could have been at least diluted to cause less schism is the Haitian AIDS stigma where a blood ban was being actively discussed.

Multinational business

Given the international scope and prominence of multinational businesses prevention of violence becomes one of the corporate social responsibilities. Stopping riots before they happen can come through fostering stronger social cohesion in workplaces, especially where tensions can become climatic. As discussed, ethnic diversity is a major precursor to rioting within all spheres of society. However, this is especially true when it comes to workplace environments. Moreover, scholars like Mary McEnrue (1993) have argued that taking coordinated steps to address workplace diversity on international levels can avert crises before they occur (p. 20). The first step is understanding measurement and analysis of how diverse a workplace is and what are the values and needs of the minority groups. Consequently, the most successful companies that avoid riots and issues are those that employ special coordination groups that interact closely with human resources and top management (McEnrue, 1993, p. 24). This surely helps address the socioeconomic precursors of riots because the negative perceptions of different ethnic groups as being segregated is topped by a sense of unity and cohesion. 

Diffusing racial tension in the workplace

As mentioned, riots have been heavily attributed to racial and ethnic tensions among groups. This is heavily rooted in the sphere of socioeconomics and international relations because international companies have to deal with a diverse workforce that may not have shared values. However, preventing riots for the long-haul will require a serious focus on:

While the workplace is only one of many environments that can be a catalyst for rioting, the attitudes and behaviors that workers gain through their employer undoubtedly carry over into their personal lives. Consequently, as companies foster the notion of collective efficacy, or

“the shared belief of team members in the team’s capacity to accomplish a task,”

workers will experience much less oppression and discrimination in the workplace, and eventually society in general (Lewis, 2011, p. 973). By having big corporations target diversity issues as a core tenet of their practices, group solidarity would serve as a strong example of a true melting pot where behavior like rioting is not condoned because it denotes individualistic and selfish behavior. While rioting as a whole would not be eradicated, it would surely be mitigated. Such long term drastic measures to reduce workplace socioeconomic tensions encompasses a broad scope yet heavily endorses a company’s incentive to be proactive, accountable and productive, while reducing rioting. 

The importance of future generations for preventing violence

Finally, a strong long term strategy for preventing rioting is to develop an ethos of social cohesion among the social groups where rioting is a cultural inherency. By educating youths and future generations to avoid such behaviors, their children will adopt similar attitudes that will work towards adopting a new culture that condones such behavior. As a result, a strong approach would look to target youths in order to educate them about the negative implications of rioting. This domestic approach would surely transcend national borders because other cultures use rioting more than others. To exemplify, Marion Harroff-Tavel argued that youths are the most vital demographic to target in terms of mitigating violence: 

Not only is violence not the preserve of the young – they are often perpetrators but they are also often the victims – but integration of young people, women and different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups into the community is a very effective way of preventing violence. (Harroff-Tavel, 2010, p. 348).

The enactment of social cohesion must come at the hands of institutions and individuals that have exposure to youths and who can influence them directly.

Encouraging change over time to combat violent tendencies

In comparison to troubled nations like France, this approach has been shown to work in Germany where Turkish youths were the emphasis of social policies where youths were encouraged to have a political voice rather than succumbing to violence (Loch, 2009, p. 810). Therefore, such efforts would reduce the enticement that youths may have to engage in rioting as a whole. Especially on a cross-cultural context, a standard decorum of dealing with social angst would include civil means, not violence. Moreover, nations that develop a strong culture of tolerance and peace would effectively change the models that they have previously carried throughout history. New notions of cultural and national solidarity in France would surely require a

“radical departure from the current and historical French immigration and assimilation policies” (Haddad & Balz, 2006, p. 30).

However, with an involved government that stresses social unity and cohesion as a national goal, people would change the way they think over time. This change would result in much different attitudes towards the efficacy of rioting, especially when other alternative measures exist that are civil. From a social identity theory standpoint, better governmental practices not to alienate people would reduce the shared emotional suffering they have, and thus undermine the perception of their membership in an oppressed group (Thomas, 2011). 


As we have seen, riots have been extremely costly for nations and individuals as groups engaging in collective action have caused extensive and expensive damage while endangering thousands of lives. Other scholars have noted that civil unrest heavily stems from ethnic tensions that carry over into the second and third generation of immigrants. This places an astounding amount of pressure on governments to engage in behaviors that encourage social cohesion; however, not only do many governments neglect the needs of immigrants and minorities, but many only further antagonize them by solidifying their identity as an oppressed group of society. 

Social identity as a key factor in understanding collective violence

In addressing the root causes and viable solutions for rioting, we addressed that social identity theory is an appropriate theoretical framework. This theory posited that marginalization and conflict in society stems from shared feelings of oppression where individuals are more likely to align with their own group, even if that means resorting to violence. Social identity theory also expressed that a broader group identity is heavily influential in defining the actions, attitudes and behaviors of the individuals. Ultimately, because individuals have to alter their identities much less to fit into their own social group, they are more inclined to follow suit when the group engages in actions that may go against their own personal beliefs. This theory was used to rationalize the root causes of social violence through rioting. 

Root causes of riots revisited

The root causes of rioting were attributed to not only ethnic differences, but also socioeconomic disparities. Because some groups have much less access to resources in order to prosper in society, it causes schism as one group feels disadvantaged. This is especially true for youths, the same youths who often times are the victims and perpetrators of riots. These disparities are also glorified and worsened by the overwhelming influence that the mass media has. Numerous examples of the media’s undue influence with regard to violence were cited. Finally, police brutality was cited as being largely responsible for worsening conditions as a whole.

Summary of solutions

The solutions were then presented twofold: short and long term. The main solution posited that governments needed to take a much more proactive role in working towards social cohesion. State relationships are integral in managing immediate conflicts when it comes to short term resolution. Consequently, governments should look to understand rioters as a group identity that is sharing a common struggle. Moreover, rather than being passive in their undertaking, governments should act swiftly, while still making informed decisions, in order to foster a sense of accountability.  In terms of peaceful discourse, a much more national approach would also require discourse with the representative nation in order to promote an ethos of:

  • Understanding
  • Seriousness
  • Longevity

More government interaction would also alleviate the issue of police brutality and antagonization because more emphasis would be given to training, stronger authority and an alignment of goals between politicians and riot police.



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