Fighting For Food? Investigating Food Insecurity as a Source of Urban Unrest

PhD Thesis

Rudolfsen, Ida (2021) Fighting For Food? Investigating Food Insecurity as a Source of Urban Unrest. PhD thesis, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.

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​Under what conditions does food insecurity lead to urban unrest? This dissertation contributes to the burgeoning literature on this topic by introducing a multifaceted conceptualization of experienced food insecurity, and by developing a context-specific framework for food-related unrest. It investigates the effect of experienced food insecurity on citizens’ willingness to participate in unrest, and how a favourable structural context in the form of organizational networks moderates this relationship. By going beyond aggregate food insecurity proxies and direct effects, the dissertation makes theoretical and empirical contributions to existing knowledge. The thesis consists of an introductory chapter and four independent essays. Essay I reviews the literature on food insecurity and social upheaval, identifies main research gaps, and provides suggestions for future research. Focusing on urban Africa between 1990 to 2014, Essay II examines the moderating role of societal organizations on urban unrest when food prices increase. It finds that the manifestations of food-related unrest are contingent on the level of state repression of societal organizations. Essay III and IV use unique survey data of residents in Johannesburg, South Africa. Essay III applies a vignette experiment to investigate the assumption that food is an especially potent driver for people’s willingness to engage in unrest. The results indicate a higher willingness to engage in unrest when presented with a scenario of increasing living expenses, but this effect does not appear to be stronger for the price of food. Essay IV conceptualizes experienced food insecurity on the individual level, and finds that food insecurity increases unrest participation, where some types of organizational networks act as catalysts in this relationship. Taken together, the dissertation furthers our understanding of the relationship between food insecurity and social upheaval, suggesting that both food-related grievances and a favourable organizational context have significant influence on the likelihood of urban unrest.

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