Under what conditions do increasing food prices lead to urban unrest? Existing literature suggests a positive correlation between food prices and social unrest. Meanwhile, there is a large variation in the consequences of increasing food prices, indicating that this phenomenon has a heterogeneous effect across different contexts. The theoretical focus on grievances in the existing literature appears to be insufficient for explaining the variations in outcome. This study asks whether specific features in the domestic institutional setting can explain why food-price induced grievances sometimes lead to unrest and at other times do not. Specifically, the article argues that the manifestation of unrest when food prices increase is moderated by the degree to which the state represses societal organizations. Civil and political society have the potential to channel collective dissent around food-related grievances, as these organizations provide existing mobilization structures that people can draw on to engage in collective action. Further, they can translate an individual-level grievance into a group phenomenon by politicizing the cost of food through the formulation of grievance frames. If the state represses existing societal organizations that can help aggrieved individuals engage in collective action to voice discontent – or introduces barriers to initial mobilization – this will likely reduce the possibility of unrest when food prices go up. Using institutional data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project combined with the Social Conflict Analysis Database (SCAD), the findings suggest that repression of societal organizations decreases the likelihood of unrest when food prices rise.
Rudolfsen, Ida (2021) Food price increase and urban unrest: The role of societal organizations, Journal of Peace Research 58 (2): 215–230.