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August 10, 2011

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Ryan

This is one of the best analyses I've read on the topic so far. Thanks.

Will Davies

Thanks, Ryan. That's good to hear.

Dick Pountain

Your concept of criminal consumer is spot on. Politics is quite dead to these kids - they're a generation who define themselves by brands, and have now discovered they can steal the desired goods. It's a profound crisis of law of property, but not without warnings: the digital rights debate has for several years hinted that property was being eroded as fast as politics. The future looks ominously authoritarian.

Geof

Doug, it is not property rights that have been eroded, but the commons that have been looted as law designed for corporate entities has colonized everyday life. Critics of maximalist "intellectual property" have long predicted that the result would be a loss of respect for law in general. It is proponents who have redefined a privilege as a property right and ordinary activities a generation ago as "theft" today.

That said, the immediate relevance to the riots must surely be small (though the resulting entrenchment of empires like Murdoch's - whose "property rights" fuel the creation of branded identities - may not be). The cultural enclosures are only a miniature enactment of the financial looting of the commons. In all cases, like the widespread pauperism spawned by the 18th century enclosures, the result has been the devastation of communities.

Geof

Dick, not Doug. My apologies.

Tony Breslin

Brilliantly insightful analysis - thank you for providing this. The absence of any sociological imagination in the responses of most commentators, pundits and politicians is striking but unsurprising; your notion of the criminal consumer certainly chimes. As a one time Chair of the Association for the Teaching of the Social Sciences, I'd encourage every teacher and student of sociology at any level to read your piece and ponder!

Annemcx

There are insights in here few people are acknowledging, but they give us a chance of breaking the Gordian knot and the doom loop we're in right now.

People need to wake up and move on from what are very limiting dominant narratives at the moment. They're geared to stall, simply because no-one can agree what to do, which is only making things worse.

Simply outstanding article.

Will Davies

Christ, Melanie Phillips is like a maniacal Duracell bunny.

Tony and Anne: glad you liked the piece.

Christine

This has been the best article on the riots that I have come across while roaming the net for something more than what the pundits are repeating. Thank-you.
The 'for itself' is glaringly apparent but the 'in itself' is much more intriguing. My first understanding was to think in terms of the demise of social capital (Robert Putnam); the utter lack of community that these individuals feel...

Will Davies

I find social capital analysis only pushes the question elsewhere: why is social capital so low anyway?

Gail Wright

Why do people act like this? Margaret Thatcher told them years ago. 'they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first'.
When the bankers take millions, the pollies dip their snouts, the rich refuse to pay their taxes, the MNCs are giants too big to argue with in the courts, and the media barons ride off scott free, they are all looking to themselves first. Ordinary people have learnt to follow suit.

Marcus Moore

Thanks for this, Will. I've been pondering writing something on the 'after-english' as a counterpoint to the inevitable discussions in and about the aftermath. You may have saved me the trouble of a lengthy wander through the woods of condone, condemn, excuse, explain, justify and analyse.

Manwhile, these may interest you:

http://marcusmoore.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/the-wrong-questions/

http://marcusmoore.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/law-unto-themselves/

And I would add a personal belief that two pieces of machinery have helped create a world which encourages xenophobia within our localities: the motor car and the television...

Rsutcliff

I think it would be crudely economistic to assume that people might therefore divert their energies from community drama projects to smashing up JD Sports within the space of 15 months

On this particular aspect of your argument: It may or may not be 'crudely economistic', but I would say - after many years involvement with youth work and youth services - that it is entirely plausible on this occasion, and has been the case previously.

Good centre-based, project-based and detached youthwork has demonstrably in the past for some young people provided some of the pay-offs in terms of identity, social contact, achievement, stimulation and association that they have obtained from involvement in such activity as we have been witnessing, without the damaging effects on others and themselves. It has provided such benefits very rapidly, and the impact of their withdrawal can be equally swift.

Will Davies

Rsutcliff - I don't in any way want to detract from the importance of youth work or community development. I have seen four or five youth work projects up close in Tower Hamlets, and am fully aware of their importance and value. I have heard from such projects how difficult it can be for teenagers to find safe, sociable activities in the evening. But the notion that removing one set of activities will result immediately in rioting and looting suggests a society with a more fundamental break-down of rules and institutions, than even the best youth worker could alleviate. You don't lose all respect for property or public space, simply because you no longer have a youthworker to speak to.

Angela Phillips, Goldsmiths

You say: "I think it would be crudely economistic to assume that people might therefore divert their energies from community drama projects to smashing up JD Sports within the space of 15 months."
15 months is a very long time for a 14/15 year old. It may be that for some there has been no chance of any of these projects. They have also spent the last 15 months hearing that they are basically to blame for being poor and as a result must lose even more. They may not be able to focus their anger on political ends but anger it is - and it arises from their circumstances. The fact that they choose to express it by grabbing the things that society tells them they ought to want, but cannot have seems fairly explicable. Nasty but explicable.

Robert

Risk and loss are often the hidden motivators. What does that group have to lose, a life of drudgery with the marketing ideal infinitely beyond their reach. So what do they risk, when they lash out at a society that has trapped them at the bottom, whilst it glorifies those at the top including their children.
They also saw the rich steal billions with no repercussions, million dollar bonuses for executives that were bailed out by tax payer billions. Those tax dollars now lost to those at the bottom, those tax dollars that might have provided an education and real job.
They are acting out on the lesson they have been taught, steal enough, do it publicly and brazenly and nothing happens.
People demand that petty rioters and looters get imprisoned but those that fraudulently mismanaged billions, well, mass media has already forgotten they existed, the police do nothing to pursue them and politicians are back to being their best friends forever.

Chris Corrigan

You don't lose all respect for property or public space, simply because you no longer have a youthworker to speak to.

Perhaps not Will, but if that centre is the last piece of public space devoted to associational life, losing it might be a cause for youth to look elsewhere for belonging and projects. All people and especially young people need public spaces where they can work together, find belonging and learn something about themselves. Schools don't offer that, and the rest of the public sphere generally takes a dim view of youth congregating for any reason.

Great piece by the way.

somerandomhash

Hi,
I just read this piece and wanted to say thanks for taking the time to post it.

Like others on here I would like some reason and critical thinking applied, in particular to the Language used to describe and explain. I have been very shocked by the events but horrified at the reporting (on all sides) I would possibly argue we may have witnessed the start of a 'propoganda' war the likes of which humanity has never dealt with before.

I have come to realise over the last few days that some of my deeply held views are irrelevant, I actually feel rather overwhelmed by this but I took a concious descision to pause for thought and try to understand and explain some of these feelings.

I would like to share some links which may provide others with alternative views:

As Parliament reassembles, Patrick Dunleavy argues that MPs and government ministers need to take some deeper-lying lessons of the last week to heart.

Governance is difficult and needs to be taken seriously.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/2011/08/10/vulnerability-of-the-british-state

In 2008, western states stepped in to prevent the collapse of the global financial system.

Yet despite averting economic catastrophe, we are witnessing a dramatic rise in intense anti-statism, beginning in the US and now spreading to the UK and Europe. Patrick Dunleavy investigates.

http://www.politicalinsightmagazine.com/?p=593

Also, I would like suggest the following from Topics in Legal Reasoning:

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/bridge/Introduction/map.html

The piece that struck a 'chord' most for me was Critical Perspectives on Rights:

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/bridge/CriticalTheory/critical1.htm

This paper is American but the concepts and arguments equally apply to all 'law'

Thoughts?

Stuart

Interesting piece, but it's a shame you had to ape the rest of the left-wing media in mischaracterising the response of the right. It simply isn't the case that the right-wing pundit referred to above does not consider the underlying causes of the violence - he just identifies different ones, being family breakdown, lack of school discipline, a culture of entitlement creates by our benefits culture, and so on.

And while I agree that explanation is not the same as justification, if that explanation amounts to "they were forced into it by circumstances", which is what the standard left-wing explanation amounts to. That may be the case, but, in the end, if you smash in Currys' windows and grab a TV, you did it. You didn't have a banker or a politician forcing you to.

Amanda

Sociologists can offer an analysis of the rioting, looting, etc....Anomie. Defined as:

'1. Social instability caused by erosion of standards and values.
2. Alienation and purposelessness experienced by a person or a class as a result of a lack of standards, values, or ideals.'

Gordoning

I don't buy this argument, which I have seen made by several other commentators, that the cuts have nothing to do with it because they haven't really taken effect yet. These cuts have been so heavily trailed that we have to keep reminding ourselves that they haven't really taken effect yet - so in a sense, they *have* had a psychological effect. And in any case, it is dehumanising to the rioters to assume that they aren't capable of anticipating the cuts, feeling angry about what they entail, and responding to them in advance of them happening.
At the end of the day, if the cuts weren't a factor, then one still has to explain why the riots happened this summer and not last summer. What's your explanation?

Louise

This is a great article but I come from an academic background and now work in the charity sector. Your theories may be correct but what is astounding me in the discussions around these riots is the lack of awareness of what the recent cuts actually looked like when they happened to young peeople. Connexions, the main service young people accessed to find work and access services, along with the major youth volunteering programme v, plus most of the local councils' youth services, were axed in one fell swoop in March of this year. This isn't just a drama club going missing, it's an entire infrasructure that serviced young people from low income backgrounds effectively disappearing in a month. It was every main service that communicated to young people -on a macro level -that society cared, insofar as they provided services through infrastructure directly for, young people. If government policy says so directly 'we don't care about you' why on earth do you expect these young people to care about society? Especially when you think about how much time/ money we spent as a society telling them how much they need/ want/ deserve Nike trainers.

Brett Sterling

Why aren't there more voices like this one? Where is the structural analysis? Where is the understanding for the hopelessness of the situation of many? This isn't a problem made recently. This is a problem as old as society itself.

"They also saw the rich steal billions with no repercussions, million dollar bonuses for executives that were bailed out by tax payer billions. Those tax dollars now lost to those at the bottom, those tax dollars that might have provided an education and real job.
They are acting out on the lesson they have been taught, steal enough, do it publicly and brazenly and nothing happens.
People demand that petty rioters and looters get imprisoned but those that fraudulently mismanaged billions, well, mass media has already forgotten they existed, the police do nothing to pursue them and politicians are back to being their best friends forever."

Chris Corrigan

Sorry I left the italics tag open. Fixed that for you.

One of the places I have been finding common ground with people, left, right or centre, is in this notion that these events happened within a context. I echo what Stuart says about the right, and I have been able to engage conversations more deeply by using a follow-up line with archetypal right wing pundits: "Yes, but even David Cameron has said that the issues are societal." Once you breach that wall, you can begin to talk about context without having crime and punishment or knee jerk reactions come into play.

Having said that the other thing I've been trying to say is that the failure to explain what happened (and is happening in the UK) comes down to an analytical category error. These events were emergent, arises from a meshed set of causes and initial beginnings that coalesced around a series of cascading attractor events. A protest that turns violent. A smashed window that leads to more smashing. A tweet and a BM that encourages others to loot. If we treat these events as mechanical, logical cause-and-effect events, we will not be equipped to properly avoid a repeat. A better social understanding of complexity theory would help tremendously I think to enable decision makers to move wisely in the post-riot space of governance, service planning, leadership and community building. In this respect I can recommend the work of David Snowdon at http://www.cognitive-edge.com/

Shireen

@Stuart: It simply isn't the case that the right-wing pundit referred to above does not consider the underlying causes of the violence - he just identifies different ones, being family breakdown, lack of school discipline, a culture of entitlement creates by our benefits culture, and so on.

The whole problem is that this is a superficial analysis by the right. Why is family breakdown and lack of discipline so prevalent in this group but not in others? What is the common denominator? You don't see poverty and social exclusion as a thread running through here? When people have little to lose or risk, (jobs, houses, reputations), a lot of social glue comes unstuck.

Thierry

Firstly, this piece is excellent.
Secondly, I disagree that service cuts were not a significant part of the trouble. Without any evidence, I still believe that if Haringey hadn't closed 13 youth clubs (with a resultant reported "threat of youth violence"), then there wouldn't have been so many youngsters present to protest the shooting of Mark Duggan. Then again, is that a bad thing?
Thirdly, I agree entirely with the Left/Right thing... http://thierryennui.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/uk-riots-time-to-change-how-we-think/

Alex Gallagher

Excellent article. And "right wing commentator" may even be coming round to a more sensible perspective.

Peter Oborne has this,

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peteroborne/100100708/the-moral-decay-of-our-society-is-as-bad-at-the-top-as-the-bottom/

in the Torygraph, attacking the "feral rich", and Fraser Nelson

http://www.spectator.co.uk/

on the Spectator website, calling for an Inquiry into the riots....

Unease, certainly, on the journalistic right.

Alex Stevens

Nice piece, but people should be aware that criminologists have already been confronting the structural with the consumerist in works such as Mike Presdee's 'Carnival of Crime' (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415239103/) and Hall, Winslow and Ancrum's 'Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture' (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781843922551/)

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