The Politics of Unruly Ruptures


The early 21st century saw an unprecedented wave of episodes of contentious politics. Many were predictable protests about familiar issues of economic hardship and inequality, austerity policies, corruption and abuses of power, in settings where such struggles were the familiar pattern of social movements and state-citizen engagement. But others involved collectivities that lacked histories of such organisation, in contexts where mass political events were rare or proscribed, using strategies that were startling or dramatic, sometimes violent, in so doing presenting a direct challenge to the political status quo.

These unruly ruptures were not only unexpected, in some instances they developed into larger episodes of struggle that social movement theory and external observers did not or could not predict. These also tended to be moments in which power relations shifted, creating new opportunities for progressive and inclusive political change.

Opportunities for supporting such change were often missed, as these events were typically misread by external actors who were unfamiliar with the protesters and their concerns, alarmed by their methods, or framed by biased or detached media sources.

About this research

This project investigated the repertoires of action and protests around fuel spikes, addressing the gap in knowledge about informal and spontaneous forms of social and political action, the conditions under which they emerge, and what they tell us about people’s ideas about legitimate governance. We sought to discover the conditions under which these ‘unruly ruptures’ occur, to make sense of the grievances, and to understand why the groups lack alternative, more institutionalised forms of approach.

See also A4EA phase 2 research on Demanding Power

Project details

start date
1 April 2017
end date
31 December 2018


About this project

Recent work