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Social Unrest

image of Social Unrest

This report develops a framework of social unrest within a complex understanding of systemic risk.  The goal is to  try to identify triggers (events that lead to social unrest) and drivers (causal roots) for the emergence of social unrest and, based on this functional analysis, to design policy options on how to avoid, mitigate or handle unrest. The framework should enable a better understanding of the circumstances that may trigger social unrest, how intensely that unrest is likely to materialize and what interventions promise  to de-escalate the conflict or even prevent social unrest in the first place.   Since social unrest is more a process of escalation than a finite state of the world, the term has been conceptualized in a step-by-step escalation scheme.   Each step makes social unrest more severe. It is a gradual framework that identifies the different stages that make social unrest more and more probable. In order to identify relevant drivers and cluster of drivers, three case studies are investigated:  pandemics, cyber-related risk and financial crises. The main question is how did or could these events cause social unrests.  In a second step, an analytic model is used to capture the combined effects learned from the case study analysis. In a third step,the IRGC risk governance model for explaining the risk of social unrest or predicting the consequences of social unrest is applied. Finally , guidelines for normative governance with respect to social unrest are developed.

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Risk of social unrest

Risks can generally be understood as the potential for experiencing harm (Rowe, 1979; Renn and Zwick, 2008). More specifically it denotes the likelihood of a scenario leading to adverse effects caused by an activity, event or technology. The causal chain is not always one-directional. In ordinary terms, a risk agent (hazard) impacts on a risk object that is of value to individuals or society as a whole. The impacted risk object can then be the cause of further risks to other objects or even trigger a feed back to the source of the hazard. A good illustration of this two-way relationship can be found in technologies that pose risks to the environment. If this risk materializes and harms the environment it may pose new risks to others, for example persons who eat contaminated food. Finally, once the risk is acknowledged the technology causing that risk might be abandoned or changed. Moreover, the developer of that technology may face legal actions or other forms of social sanctions. In this way risks are part of an interaction between humans, technology and natural environment. Natural causes (such as earthquakes), technologies such as nuclear power plants but also human activities (such as clearing the rain forest) are good illustrations for this interaction (Beck, 1986; Luhmann, 1985).

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