Now that some time has passed since the London riots (earlier posts here, here, and here), The Guardian is beginning a series consisting of sociologists talking about what they have learned about the riots from talking with those who were involved. The series starts here:
Many interviewees identified deprivation and inequality as root issues. Some spoke about the lack of work opportunities and access to education, as well as the EMA cuts. Some believed that getting an education was the key to the golden gate, but a year after graduation they were still struggling to find work. For others, also out of work, a university degree had never been on the cards.
But much of the anger was directed at the police. Young people spoke of incessant stop-and-search accompanied by rudeness, arrogance and racism. Some young people talked of Duggan’s death not as a unique injustice, but as yet another example of police murder. Young people spoke of the riots as a means of “sticking two fingers up” at the authorities, and for a couple of nights relishing having the upper-hand…
Finally, many young people talked about the riots as a consequence of the anger and frustration felt at not seeing a future. Unable to see education, jobs and pensions on their horizon, some explained how they sought pleasure in consumerism. But while those they looked up to accessed and displayed these objects freely, for young people they were often out of reach. As consumers first and foremost, the inability to shop made them feel unfulfilled and lacking in self respect. In some places the signs of these divides were part of the architecture around them – the upward mobility of the cityscapes of global capitalism looked increasingly remote.
Some young people hoped the government would hear the riots as a call to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. But they didn’t think this likely.
I’ll be interested to read the subsequent pieces in this series. While the riots were often narrated by outsiders (particularly here in the United States),
interviews with those involved could reveal the internal motivations that led to actions that outsiders would see as out of line. Such broad and faraway views can be interpreted in different ways as Darnell Hunt illustrated how race influenced how people viewed news coverage of the Los Angeles riots of 1992. I hope we can soon to get to a point where we have some harder data, beyond even the vague statements from interviews offered in this opening piece. While the public may not want to hear the motivations of those who participated (particularly since it may be interpreted as justifying their actions), this is needed information in order to alter structural conditions and help prevent and/or predict future riots.
Indeed, a criminologist also thinks we need more “credible research” regarding the riots. (A side note: I use Newburn’s 2001 piece on evaluation research in my research methods class.)