EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS44. Rebels Without a Cause? - Youth Riots in Post-War Europe

Coordinators: Andrés Brink Pinto (, Femke Kaulingfreks (

So called ‘Youth riots’ are known from North-Western European urban centres from at least the 1940’s. We are referring to noisy, unruly and sometimes violent confrontations between police authorities and urban youth, confrontations that were regularly labelled as ‘youth riots’ or ‘teenage riots’ in media coverage and in subsequent political debate. Some examples are the ‘Rock’ n ’Roll-riots’ in 1956 − 57 and the ‘Mods Riots’ in 1964 − 66. The age of the participants is, however, not really the interesting question. The important thing is that they were categorized as ‘youths’ and/or ‘teenagers’ by observers and that the riots were framed as part of a wider ‘youth question’, relating to post-war production of knowledge of teenagers as a distinct category with specific psychological and social needs. This definition excludes riots that were framed within other socially significant categories, such as class or race. Thus, for this session we define the term ‘youth riot’ as: a contentious performance where the categorisation of the participants as adolescents was the main theme in contemporary debate.
One common trait in post-war ‘youth riots’, is that they often led to intense and confused debates in the media touching upon questions of subculture, changing morals and a widespread fear of anti-social behaviour connected to derailed youth. The events were as a rule described as ‘issueless riots’. The riots took place in democracies, in a time of rising economic wealth, where unemployment levels were generally low and nobody was starving. So what were these young people protesting against? Were they protesting against anything at all? What were ‘youth riots’ a symptom of?
It is easy to understand this confusion; since another common trait was that the participants often didn’t express any explicit demands. This makes ‘youth riots’ puzzling for modern scholars as well. The lack of clear social movement organizations, spokespersons and an outspoken set of claims means that they cannot be analysed in the same way as claim-making contentious performances.
We invite papers investigating the repertoire of specific youth riots as well as papers investigating the discursive and institutional responses to different youth riots. By comparing different events and cycles of youth riots between different national contexts as well as over time we believe that it will be possible to map out the contours and historical roots of a European urban repertoire of unruliness and critically discuss different policy responses.
Keywords: youth riots; youth politics; issueless riots; urban unrest; repertoires of contention