How do violent protests affect social movement participants? Riots are common in civilian movements, but the effects of protester violence remain under-researched, in part due to an association of civilian protest with nonviolent methods and an association of violent protest with irrational chaos. Specifically, few studies have examined the experiences of rioters themselves. I use theoretical analysis and qualitative in-depth interviews with activists from the United States and South Africa to explore the subjective impact that moments of violent protest have on participants. Activist accounts indicate that many experience what I call “contentious effervescence,” a heightened state and sense of political empowerment amidst low-level violent actions, with long-term effects that raise consciousness and deepen and sustain activists’ resolve. I argue that examining the experiential and emotional effects of riots enhances our ability to understand contentious politics from below.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.