Development studies frames food and fuel riots as the crowd response to the stimulus of price changes, as indicators of impact of economic shocks or policy reforms. In this dashboard view of the world, the masses respond automatically to spikes in the price of gas or bread, sending signals to governments and the international community that inflation is out of control, and Something Must Be Done.
Food and fuel price protests evidently indicate a problem with pricing, but that is not all they say. They are more accurately read as commentaries on the politics that have left them in that position. People do not protest out of anger about prices: most people face daily struggles and juggles to feed, house, transport and care for their families, and most just cope, depleting their personal and social resources in the process. So food and fuel riots are not merely the angry response of hungry bodies. They are political statements, often highly effective and memorable, of shared outrage about elite corruption that breeds policies that enrich the powerful at the expense of the rest. Food and fuel rioters seek to assert the moral parameters of public policy, and to blame and shame political leaders that transgress them. This lecture will look at the political diagnoses articulated in recent food and fuel riot episodes, exploring how these moments share a commentary on the fused failures of economic and political governance across otherwise distinctively different settings. It is in these surprisingly broad areas of agreement between food and fuel rioters that a distinct and vocal popular politics has emerged, critical of collusion between political and economic elites and of actually-existing capitalism, yet without immediate political alternatives.
Naomi Hossain is a political sociologist and Research Professor at the Accountability Research Center at the School of International Service at American University. She researches the politics of inclusive development and how people get the public services they need, and has written about elite perceptions of poverty, food and fuel riots, disaster (including pandemic) politics, workers’ rights, women’s empowerment and the role of civil society in development, among other issues.
Raj Patel is an award-winning author, film-maker and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin.
Duncan Green is Senior Strategic Adviser at Oxfam GB, Professor in Practice in International Development at the London School of Economics, honorary Professor of International Development at Cardiff University and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies. He is author of How Change Happens (OUP, October 2016) and From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States can Change the World (Oxfam International, 2008, second edition 2012).
This talk is part of the Cutting Edge Issues in Development Thinking & Practice 2022 series, a high-profile lecture series run by the Department of International Development at LSE and organised by Dr Laura Mann and Professor in Practice Duncan Green.
The Department of International Development promotes interdisciplinary postgraduate teaching and research on processes of social, political and economic development and change.