The 2011 English Riots

A Contexualized, Dynamic, Grounded Exploration

in Contention

After a brief account of what happened, the question is posed of whether the idea of moral panic is the most revealing approach with which to understand the riots. Before answering, the question of how novel were the riots is addressed in relation to policing, social media, riot areas, the rioters, rioting behavior, the State’s response and the reaction of communities. The elements of a dynamic, grounded explanation are then tentatively offered, followed by an attempt to situate this explanation within the context of the contemporary lives of disadvantaged youth lacking both political support and an economic future. The conclusion returns to the question of moral panic. It suggests that since most of what happened had clear precedents in the series of urban riots since the 1980s, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that the constructions of the 2011 riots are best understood as a moral panic. However, the small indications of new developments, namely, the sheer vindictiveness of the state’s post-riot response—hunting down the rioters, harsh sentencing, naming juveniles—as well as the spread of rioting to new areas and the practice of communities ‘fighting back’, are important to explore for what they reveal about the present neoliberal conjuncture. They seem to be morbid symptoms of an apparently intractable series of crises characterized by, among other things, an unprecedentedly grim situation for poor, unemployed, disaffected youth living in deprived areas.

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Contention

The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest