This article uses a systematic catalogue of 414 riots in Liverpool, Glasgow, and Manchester to examine the changing practice of rioting from 1800 to 1939. Three empirical findings emerge: first, over this period, riots went from being an autonomous tactic to one which was largely subordinated to other protest logics; second, the way rioters chose their targets changed: instead of targeting individuals with whom rioters had concrete relationships, they started targeting people as tokens of some wider type; third, throughout this period rioting remained a localized practice that reflected local traditions and dynamics. On the basis of these findings, I revisit the orthodox history of social movements and suggest we refine this narrative to explicitly acknowledge continuity in the repertoire of contention, regional variation, the uneven reach of the state, and to properly distinguish between individual practices like demonstrations, composite forms like social movements, and the repertoire as a whole.

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