Managing Social Unrest through Risk: Reintroducing the Debate

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 10:50 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Mikael LINNELL , Mid Sweden University, Ístersund, Sweden
Sweden has in no way been spared from riots similar to those that took place in Parisian suburbs in 2005 and in the UK during 2011. Two events well known to the Swedish public were the manifestations of civil unrest in Malmö during the winter 2008 and Stockholm 2013. Recently municipalities in Sweden have begun to include the notion of social unrest in their local risk- and vulnerability analyses. Hence, social unrest is placed at the same ontological level as for example natural and manmade disasters, pandemics and climate change. Put differently, social unrest is managed by being represented as a risk phenomenon which consequently legitimizes specific measures to reduce the potential threat of societal disorder. Within the horizon of Foucauldian theorizing risk is employed here as a technology allowing “calculations about probable futures in the present followed by interventions into the present in order to control that potential future” (Rose 2001:7). In documents pertaining to local risk- and vulnerability analyses social unrest is thus considered a phenomenon with an existence in itself, while at the same time specific groups are defined as being both at risk and being a risk to societal order. With this background there seems to be reason for returning to an old sociological debate on the status of social unrest. During the 1970s, Herbert Blumer (1971; 1978) engaged deeply in the nature and role of social unrest, arguing that social problems are fundamentally products of a process of collective definition rather than phenomena existing independently as objective social arrangements. In this paper I return to Blumer´s writings aiming to find out what he has to offer in a discussion on the present development. In addition I describe through a Foucauldian lens the process through which social unrest is made manageable using the technology of risk.