Best sociological explanation for a St. Patrick’s Day riot: “young people are dumb”?

A sociologist argues that the best explanation for a St. Patrick’s Day riot in Ontario, Canada is that “young people are dumb”:

A sociology professor says she’s “going to go with the young people are dumb explanation” for why nearly 1,000 people rioted in London, Ont., early Sunday morning in the wake of St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Rima Wilkes of the University of British Columbia rejects the notion that the rioters — who attacked police and firefighters, overturned cars and lit fires — are angry and disenchanted youth, or the coddled children of baby boomers merely acting out.

Wilkes said the riot was similar to the one that occurred last June in Vancouver after the Canucks lost to Boston in the Stanley Cup final, in that it was fuelled by alcohol and a party atmosphere.

Wilkes told CTV News Channel in an interview from Vancouver that there are two kinds of riots: alcohol-fuelled riots such as this one and the one in Vancouver; and riots based on ethnic tensions or social unrest, which “are motivated by something else.”

Even if this is the colloquially-stated reason, can’t it be couched in more scientific terms such as suggesting that college students are more prone to engage in risky behavior or that only certain or few situations with alcohol consumption turn into riots? The problem is that this explanation could contribute to the idea that sociology is just common sense. In other words, why do you need a sociological view of the world if you could explain this situation with common sense? (I also wonder if this sort of explanation paints sociologists/other academics as grumpy adults who are complaining about “young people these days.”)

One way I think this could be done better is to suggest that not all situations that involve alcohol and young people or alcohol and “over-excited” sports fans turn into riots that require police attention. Riots like those in Vancouver last year are rare. Even situations that erupt out of long-standing grievances, such as the London riots of August 2011, are relatively rare. This then points us to larger theories of social movements that focus on factors like resource mobilization or political processes in order to determine what exactly leads to collective action.

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