it is a relief to read something that is more reflective. (Though this will be little comfort for those unfortunates who came before the courts in the immediate aftermath of the riots and were on the receiving end of some severe sentences).
One of the main questions here concerns the meaning of the riots, or specifically the extent to which they were a form of protest or just criminal behaviour (as if they can only be one or the other). There is something of a paradox here: riots as a form of inarticulate expression. And it is precisely this which leads to the conflict over the meaning of the riots. Is it just looting or something else? Or was it both? What precisely was being protested about? And, if there were clear demands, why riot to express these when there are better ways of bringing these to the attention of the authorities. The answer, of course, is that riots are complex social events: that the trigger may not be fully related to all the actions or motives of all the participants; that people join in for different motives and pursue different ends; and that the actions of groups of people, or people in crowds, have a kind of rationality or logic of their own.
|Bread Riot, Stockport 1840s|
It is hard to see the English riots of 2011 in these terms - riots, like so many things, ain't what they used to be. The kind of 'moral economy' that held, even starving, communities together is long gone (especially in big cities), as witnessed in the violence that was directed against people's own neighbourhoods. And the rise of the market economy has had many, no doubt, corrosive effects on social relations. It would be a mistake, though, to conclude that these were purely irrational actions - just that we have not yet fully grapsed their meaning. The one consistent factor, though, across time is the response of the authorities. Prison sentences may have replaced transportation, but the fear of disorder persists.