University of North Texas
Is food security a source of urban unrest, and if so, under what conditions? Rudolfsen addresses these questions in novel and sophisticated ways, employing cross-national data from Africa as well as in-depth surveys from South Africa. She begins by observing that food insecurity is widespread but conflict is relatively rare. Social organizations critically mediate between food insecurity and unrest as they mobilize supporters and frame issues in terms that resonate with followers. Her dissertation consists of four essays. The first provides a comprehensive literature review, accounting for a variety of mechanisms by which food insecurity may induce conflict. The second provides a cross-national analysis across Africa. Rudolfsen demonstrates that increasing food prices leads to urban unrest, but the degree to which states repress societal organizations moderates this effect. The next two chapters examine micro-level data drawn from surveys in South Africa. One study finds that increases in food prices lead to individual participation in social conflict, but the price of other commodities such as fuel and electricity yield broadly similar results. This leads the reader to question if food prices are indeed unique or if inflation in general lies at the heart of social grievances. The final chapter returns to the mediating role of social organizations and finds that individuals are more likely to engage in protests over food prices if they are a member of a civic organization such as a party or a union. Scholars interested in the political economy of social conflict will find this short book to be invaluable. It highlights a timely and important problem and advances our knowledge about the link between food insecurity and conflict considerably.