Social Unrest: A Systemic Risk Perspective

Regina Schroeter, Alksandar Jovanovic, Ortwin Renn


Abstract: In this paper we develop  a framework of social unrest within a complex understanding of systemic risk. The term ‘systemic’ describes the extent to which any risk is embedded in the larger contexts of social and cultural aspects that shape our understanding of risk, influence our attention to causal relationships and trigger our activities for handling these risks. Social unrest can be grouped into this concept of systemic risks. It can be a cause of risk to others, it can be a consequence of experiencing risk (for example a terrorist threat) or the manifestation of such a risk (the actual terrorist attack) or it can be a promoter of a risk chain that is located in other functional systems of society (for example financial crisis).

Since social unrest is more a process of escalation than a finite state of the world we have conceptualized the term in from of a step-by-step escalation scheme. Each step makes social unrest more severe. We assume that that people who will engage themselves publicly on any subject have to be dissatisfied with their situation or perceive a problem that they would like to address. Even if people are dissatisfied nothing will happen unless that dissatisfaction is displayed in some kind of public arena. Unsatisfied people have to become active (e.g. organization of protests) . If public expression of dissatisfaction and the organization of protest does not help to improve the situation the probability for further social mobilization increases. Social mobilization goes beyond expressing dissatisfaction. It comprises all activities that require an organizational effort to concentrate forces, to develop and enact a strategy for gaining public attention and for putting pressure on those who are targeted to make changes. In the course of this process, activities may get more and more radical, in particular if these collective protest actions are ignored or even oppressed (examples may be wild strikes, regional boycotts or blockades). Then the continuum enters the next step: violent outbreak. This can ultimately lead to civil war.


social unrest; risk; systemic risk

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