This paper is part of the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies’ Working Paper Series on threats to the global economy. The publication focuses in the Geopolitics & Security threat class: social unrest. At the time of publication, this paper was a work-in-progress.
Social unrest represents a range of different expressions of popular dissent, ranging from peaceful protest to armed insurrection. In non-democracies, social unrest can escalate into full-scale rebellion to overthrow the regime. In democracies, social unrest is tempered by the process of routine plebiscites, to ensure that the government rules through popular consent – social unrest becomes the mechanism of the disenfranchised or those who perceive strong social injustice that cannot or will not be addressed by the political structure.
Inequality and deprivation are powerful drivers of social unrest. Causes can be characterized into structural, proximate, and triggers. Case studies demonstrate how these causes have driven social unrest in historical precedents. The potential hot-spots of future social unrest are reviewed across Europe and United States. An intensity scale is proposed for measuring the severity of civil disorder as a means of developing scenarios for stress testing.