The Causes of Racial Disturbances: A Comparison of Alternative Explanations

Spilerman, Seymour

A range of hypotheses of varying specificity is examined in this paper in an attempt to account for the location of racial disorders during the 1960's. The initial sections consider what general assumptions must be met by any satisfactory explanation of the distribution of the disorders. Mathematical models are constructed which embody the most prevalent assumptions as to the determinants of community disorder-proneness, and their predictions are compared with empirical data. The specific assumptions considered are: (1) all cities have an identical probability of experiencing a disorder; (2) communities are heterogeneous in their underlying disorder propensities; (3) a process of reinforcement characterizes the occurrence of disorders; (4) contagion among communities contributes to the distribution of racial disturbances. Only the heterogeneity assumption is supported by the data. The concluding sections consider the explanatory abilities of several additional theories, each of which assumes the importance of particular community characteristics. All are rejected in favor of an explanation which argues that the racial disorders of the 1960's were responses to frustrations which are uniformly felt by Negroes, irrespective of their community situations.


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American Sociological Review

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October 8, 2013