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Reading the Riots
December 5, 2011 3:51 AM   Subscribe

"You feel euphoric you know. Because it's one of the best buzzes personally I've had in my life. Better than any drug. And you know it was just that....It was a feeling of standing up straight against an institution that's been historically has always been brutal, wicked and bad mind towards young people especially young black people."

In collaboration with the LSE, the Guardian's Reading the Riots project has used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methodologies to explore the causes of England's summer of disorder.
posted by roofus (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
This already seems to be getting a lot of coverage on the BBC in particular - think there's a segment about it on Newsnight tonight. Well done to the Guardian for doing this and being interested in the truth - it's what national media should really be about.

Expect the government to either ignore it or accuse the Guardian of excusing the rioters.
posted by Summer at 4:27 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Heard this discussed on the radio this morning, one rioter interviewed said he took part due to anger at the police, and enjoyed expressing this anger by burning (non-police) cars. This disconnect of directing anger at authorities against people in his local area who no doubt weren't happy with the police either makes me exceptionally sad for our society.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:51 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's the questionnaire.. Make of it what you will.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:00 AM on December 5, 2011


MAKE ME HAPPY RIGHT NOW OR I'M GONNA FUCK UP SOMEONE ELSE'S STUFF.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:07 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rioting, the unbeatable high.
posted by delfin at 5:10 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


MAKE ME HAPPY RIGHT NOW OR I'M GONNA FUCK UP SOMEONE ELSE'S STUFF.

Signed, the bond markets.

Sorry, what were we talking about?
posted by WPW at 5:54 AM on December 5, 2011 [26 favorites]


Of course, this is what the rioters say now, after having been arrested and given exceptionally tough sentences, which might have coloured their views somewhat. At the time it certainly seemed as if a key motivation was the opportunistic desire to get your free loot and bonfire while you had the chance.

Anyway this confirms the absence of consensus. The Guardian says the riots were caused by over-zealous and oppressive policing, while the right-wing press says they were caused by the police backing off and failing to intervene for hours on end.

At least we all agree the police were responsible.
posted by Segundus at 5:55 AM on December 5, 2011


Segundus: Of course, this is what the rioters say now, after having been arrested and given exceptionally tough sentences

The survey group comprised mostly people who participated in the riots but were not arrested or convicted.

We wrote to 1,000 people convicted during the riots and offered them the opportunity to take part in the study. Researchers also visited their homes. But primarily, local contacts were used to find people who were involved in the riots but had not been arrested. After being promised anonymity, a surprising number agreed to take part in the study, often because they wanted their story to be heard.


...

Unlike most of the data already released by the government, the Guardian/LSE study is not confined to people arrested and subject to prosecution. Indeed, only a minority of the rioters we spoke to had been arrested over their involvement.

posted by bright cold day at 6:14 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


they wanted their story to be heard.

Which is another thing criminals are unlikely to want. Huh, the elites' propagandistic version of events fails to line up with reality yet again.
posted by DU at 6:18 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Indeed, only a minority of the rioters we spoke to had been arrested

Good point. I'm afraid I've noticed that Segundus' comments recently have tended to be long on smart-arsed assertion and a bit thin on the old fact-checking.
posted by Segundus at 6:27 AM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


@delfin: "Rioting, the unbeatable high."

In "Among the Thugs," Bill Buford basically becomes a football hooligan in order to research them, and he talks about how mob violence is a type of high, even when he's there intending to deplore the actions of the mob and gets sucked in -- not against his will, exactly, he says, but knowing that what he's doing is horrifying.

Anyway, it's a really interesting read by an erudite individual who comes away with a much more sophisticated understanding of what drives that sort of mob violence and undirected destruction. But a "high" is definitely part of it.

And even though it's 20 years old, it made me all terrified about visiting the U.K. even though I've been there multiple times since the book was published (and would not be likely to be in a place where football hooligans congregate, even if anti-hooligan policing had not advanced considerably). What the hell, soccer fans?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 AM on December 5, 2011


Metafilter : A much more sophisticated understanding of what drives that sort of mob violence and undirected destruction MAKE ME HAPPY RIGHT NOW OR I'M GONNA FUCK UP SOMEONE ELSE'S STUFF.
posted by fullerine at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


@Eyebrows McGee: Very much so. Footie carries with it its own, alternative circles of mayhem outside of those who actually become violent.

Sports in general can tend towards extremely tribal fan bases, a dehumanization of both rival teams and their fan bases, and the strength-in-numbers effect leading to shockingly rude behavior towards individuals who would be perfectly acceptable outside of that wearing-the-wrong-jersey or cheering-for-the-wrong-person context.

I've seen it everywhere from Little League to the pros, and I've been swept up in it myself on many occasions. Not to the point of rioting, of course, but The Shove is more universal than one might think.
posted by delfin at 7:05 AM on December 5, 2011


Anyone who doesn't realise that the majority of rioters were motivated by nothing other than a crack at the police and getting some new gear in the process is living in a dream world.

These people are not like the Syrians and the Libyans.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:29 AM on December 5, 2011


no, the rioters were not fighting for democracy.

they do, however, feel that their civil rights are thin at best (eight times more likely to have been stopped and searched by the police than the general London population), and they feel alienated from society. If you give young people little or no hope for their future place in a society, then they will not give a damn about the other members or disrupting the peace of that society.
posted by jb at 8:18 AM on December 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anyone who doesn't realise that the majority of rioters were motivated by nothing other than a crack at the police and getting some new gear in the process is living in a dream world.

Anyone who doesn't realise that the rioters' actions were a direct consequence of their marginalised position in society is living in a dream world.

See, it's easy to make sweeping statements. That's why we need studies such as this.
posted by Acey at 8:30 AM on December 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anyone who doesn't realise that the majority of rioters were motivated by nothing other than a crack at the police and getting some new gear in the process is living in a dream world.

Rioting is a social effect. Reducing it to individual motivations misses the point, or rather makes it a lot harder to learn what needs to be learned from moments like these.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:00 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there a study that shows that asking people why they did something gives accurate results?
posted by memebake at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2011


This is more of a study of what randomly volunteering people are saying they think are the causes of the riots.

It is weird how everyone seems to be avoiding the FACT that these riots had a clear and singular precipitating event. The killing of a man by the police and the police spreading misinformation via the media before even speaking to the family.
posted by srboisvert at 9:19 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Except that that was only the spark that set the riots off, not necessarily their actual cause. From where I was, the chain of events looked a lot like this:
- Mark Duggan shot by police
- Protest occurs in Tottenham directly linked to that shooting
- Protest turns violent, police drafted in from all over the place
- A few enterprising criminals realise that all the police are in Tottenham and knock over a shopping centre in Wood Green
- People with grievances against the police and/or the desire for more stuff notice that the police are over-stretched and run around breaking stuff

While it would be daft to completely divorce Duggan's death from the violence that followed, it was pretty obviously not what most people had in mind.
posted by ZsigE at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2011


Except, ZsigE, the riots lasted for about three days, spread to places where the police weren't overstretched and involved extreme amounts of non-theft-related destruction in places such as Croydon. 'A few enterprising criminals' or 'people with grievances against the police' just doesn't cut it.
posted by Summer at 11:09 AM on December 5, 2011


Are we just dismissiing 'people with grievances against the police' ? Maybe if we don't want riots in the future we should see what we can do to reduce the number of people who have this kind of grievance? And preferably not by letting the Met shoot them.
posted by biffa at 11:16 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should probably clarify - "people with grievances against the police" was certainly not meant to be dismissive, as in many or probably even most cases those grievances would have been entirely legitimate (see, for example, the much greater incidence of the police invoking stop-and-search powers against rioters, mentioned in the BBC coverage of this project). I was mostly responding to srboisvert, who seemed to be implying (apologies if I'm misreading you) that most of the riots were in direct response to Duggan's death, as opposed to that simply being the spark that set off the underlying resentment and anger felt by many for a variety of reasons.

As for the riots spreading far afield, you're right that this can't just have been driven by greed. My take on it - and this is pure armchair psychology, so feel free to take this with a massive grain of salt - is that people saw in Tottenham and Wood Green that the police couldn't contain them, and that this led to a lot of people essentially grabbing the opportunity to settle long-held scores against the police, the authorities or their neighbours, or just smash things. A few hundred police can't contain thousands of people if they all decide to go on the rampage, so policing is by consent - maybe people sensed that they had an opportunity not to consent any more.

Maybe if we don't want riots in the future we should see what we can do to reduce the number of people who have this kind of grievance?
Bingo. People don't burn down their communities if they feel a sense of attachment to them, and they don't go attacking police cars if they trust the police. If we want to stop this in future the change needs to be systemic, and it needs to be led from the top instead of blaming those on the bottom.
posted by ZsigE at 11:57 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought the Newsnight debate was pretty insightful.
posted by w0mbat at 3:27 PM on December 5, 2011


It is weird how everyone seems to be avoiding the FACT that these riots had a clear and singular precipitating event. The killing of a man by the police and the police spreading misinformation via the media before even speaking to the family.

Every riot has a triggering incident, often lost in the chaos of what comes after. But these triggers are triggers for a reason, and always worth examining carefully if the root causes are to be understood and addressed.

For Watts in 1965, it was the Highway Patrol being needlessly officious when the sober mother of a drunk driver wanted to take her car--perhaps the most valuable possession in their family--away from the arrest scene. Instead of diffusing the situation, they arrested the mother and her two sons in front of dozens of their neighbors and impounded the car. In a community in which the residents existed in a state of continual financial exploitation, this one callous act lit the riot spark.

Rioting may by a "high," but it's a lot of work to build up and maintain that much rage, and most people would rather stay home and enjoy simpler pleasures. Seems like a solidly middle class economy is an opiate worth aiming for.
posted by Scram at 8:04 AM on December 6, 2011


the change needs to be systemic, and it needs to be led from the top instead of blaming those on the bottom

QFT
posted by ellieBOA at 2:35 PM on December 6, 2011


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