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Faculty of Economics

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Aidt, T. S. and Leon, G.

The Role of Structural Factors and Diffusion in Social Unrest: Evidence from the Swing Riots

British Journal of Political Science, accepted

(2020)

Abstract: Structural factors and contagion are the main drivers of social unrest, but which is more important? To address this question we consider the English Swing riots of 1830-31. The rural nature of the riots and the limited mobility of agricultural workers means that we can use clearly-observable spatial variation in a large number of structural factors to estimate their role in triggering the riots. We then quantify the importance of these factors relative to that of contagion. We find that factors related to the type of agriculture and the capacity for organization were significant in triggering riots, and that contagion on average magnified their impact by a factor of 2.65. Our historical data allow us to address a key question in the conflict literature, while improving our understanding of a period that was critical to the development of British democracy.

Keywords: Riots, structural factors, contagion, diffusion, conflict, Captain Swing

JEL Codes: D72, D74, O16

Author links: Toke Aidt  


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