Using the theory of Relative Deprivation, critically discuss the causes of an urban riot.
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Using the theory of Relative Deprivation, critically discuss the causes of an urban riot. The theory of relative deprivation has been widely used as the mechanism for explaining the involvement of people in social phenomena such as urban riots. Relative deprivation happens when need achievement falls short of a reasonable standard (Deutsch et al, 2006:850). In other words, through depriving people of their rights a buildup of frustration and tension occurs which entices the onset of aggressive behavior (Walker and Smith, 2002:1). The theory is therefore useful in determining why people riot as a result of social deprivation. The whole concept of Relative deprivation (RD) was originally envisaged to explain a whole series of relationships between various individuals' feelings of satisfaction and their corresponding positions within the armed forces (Walker and Smith, 2002:2). However, in recent times the theory has developed and advanced in such a way that it is now applicable to a wide variation of scenarios. According to Diana Kendall, people who are satisfied with their present conditions are less likely to seek social change (Kendall, 2008:555). Social change generally arises as a response to the perception that people are being denied what they deserve (Kendall, 2008:555).
Relative deprivation can be divided into three distinctive patterns: decrimental deprivation, aspirational deprivation and progressive deprivation. All three are similar in terms of the fact that they all illustrate a discrepancy between value expectations and value capabilities. According to Gurr and Robert, decrimental deprivation occurs when value expectations remain constant whilst the institutional capacity to meet the values declines (Gurr and Robert, 1971:47). On the other hand, aspirational deprivation is the opposite movement and involves an increase in value expectations at the expense of institutional capabilities, which remain constant (Gurr and Robert 1971:51). This sort of deprivation is generally associated with societies that are undergoing rapid social and economic alterations. Progressive deprivation is also known as the J-curve model and is used to describe a situation in which rising expectations are matched by rising capabilities for a short period of time. However, over time a gap starts to develop between the value expectations and capabilities (Gurr and Robert, 1971:53). Relative deprivation intensity varies depending on a variety of factors including the perceived scale of the discrepancy between expectations and capabilities and according to Michael Kimmel 'the number of alternative outlets for aggressive behaviour besides political violence' and even 'the number of satisfactions that might depress the level of frustration' (Kimmel, 1990:78).
Relative deprivation can be applied to understand the reasoning behind many different social movements and conflicts ranging from analysing early European communities during the industrial revolution who were prone to rioting in response to the growing threat of urban and industrial expansion whilst modern day Britain has been plagued by rising street crime and collective violence which has primarily been attributed to increasing political marginality coupled with an accentuated sense of relative deprivation which in turn has been blamed on excessive mass media portrayal of popular culture that has only succeeded in lowering morale amongst many unemployed and disadvantaged people therefore heightening their feelings of relative deprivation (McLaughlin et al, 2003:148). The theory of relative deprivation has been used to explain many of the violent conflicts that have erupted throughout the world in recent times. According to the theory riots and conflict generally arise as a response to the perception that people are being denied what they feel they deserve. According to Diana Kendall, people who are satisfied with their present conditions are less likely to seek social change (Kendall, 2008:555), this idea emphasizes the fact that social change is rooted in the idea that people's reactions to objective circumstances depend on their subjective comparisons (Walker and Smith, 1:2002).
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