Riots and the militant constituency of the Provisional IRA
: a case study of riots as a tactic during the Troubles (1969-1998)

  • Alba Arenales Lope

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Building on social movement studies research and literature on civil war and insurgencies, this thesis aims to explore and understand riots in their strategical dimension through an examination of the use of riots by the militant constituency in support of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) during the ‘troubles’ (1969-1998). The thesis is divided into four sections. In the first section, I begin by critically discussing the existing research on riots in sociology and political science arguing that the assumed spontaneity of riots should be questioned and proposing the conceptualisation of riots as a confrontational tactic. Then, I develop a theoretical framework focusing on the mobilising capacity of emotions and the role of social networks and bonds, in igniting conducting and channelling mobilisation and the process of mobilisation to collective action. To conclude this section, I present my research design, based on an historical critical case analysed across three dimensions: riots as a unit of analysis, the individual as a unit of analysis, and the interaction between the constituency and the PIRA as a unit of analysis. The main methods of data collection have been in-depth narrative semi-structured interviews, along with a focused frame analysis of republican newspapers (AP/RN). The second section of my thesis is an empirical analysis. Focusing on riots themselves as a unit of analysis, I examine the organisational practices present, which allows me to challenge the characterisation of riots as essentially spontaneous. In the third section, individual motivations to riot, the process of engagement and disengagement from rioting in the lives of rioters, and the role of social networks and bonds in rioting are empirically analysed. In the last empirical chapter, the interaction between the PIRA and the constituency is analysed, here I contend that legitimacy is crucial to understanding the emergence of riots during the period studied. In the last chapter the main findings are discussed. The main contribution of this thesis is in the presentation of riots as utilised by the constituency of the PIRA during ‘the troubles’ based on a multi-disciplinary and interactional analysis providing compelling evidence that riots, rather than being inherently spontaneous can be used as a tactic, while applying social movement theories on mobilisation and contentious politics and civil war theoretical frameworks to analyse the interaction between the PIRA and its constituency.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 December 2028.

Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJonathan G. Heaney (Supervisor) & Katy Hayward (Supervisor)


  • Riots
  • conflict
  • social movements
  • emotions
  • constituency
  • PIRA

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