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For some, most notably the media and politicians, rioters are bored youth who engage in opportunistic crime and violence (Clarke 2011) and, indeed, we know that, in the case of the United Kingdom riots of 2011, there was 0 million worth of damage (Barentsen 2013) and 2,500 shops were looted (Treadwell . For others, rioters are marginalized subjects whose actions are symptomatic of a post-political climate, where political solidarity and action are replaced with rampant consumerism (Treadwell . However, we also know that, of the 1,344 people who appeared before the courts following the 2011 riots, 78 per cent were on the Department of Work and Pension’s National Benefits Database (Berman 2011).
Following Bhattacharyya’s argument that ‘the days of rioting are not, in themselves, the events that merit analysis and scrutiny’ (183), my reading of ‘riots’ in this essay extends to rioting as a symptom of and response to certain social and historical conditions as portrayed in Wheatle’s . They describe general social and economic processes, but it is quite difficult to try to imagine what it is like to experience the results of a set of social processes.
Drawing on the 2011 United Kingdom riots, this article explores contestation over the meaning of riots.
My aim here is not to argue that all rioters are political actors, or to deny the negative impact of looting or criminality, but to show how there are spaces for politics in this act that deserve to be acknowledged.
Recognizing rioting as political is important, because denying these political aspects risks obscuring and recognizing a form of action, which represents protest by individuals against structural inequality.
Of course, for scholars who emphasize the political aspect of rioting, there are a number of issues, which make this thesis difficult to sustain.
First, what are the rioters’ motivations and grievances and, if they are not clearly articulated, how can we know of them?Next, I turn to the extant literature on rioting, focusing particularly on accounts which highlight the agential and structural factors that inform the act, and identify the developments in, and limitations of, this literature.Next, the article develops its theoretical frame for understanding rioters, based on Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, whilst also making a case for its neglected preconscious element.In particular, the rioting literature has taken very little account of recent developments in the conceptualization of agency, which could enhance our understanding of the rioter.We can gain a better understanding of rioting, as politically motivated action, if we draw insights from Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and, in particular, its preconscious aspects. Set on council estates in urban areas of London in 1981 and the early 2000s, respectively, these two novels represent and respond to continual legacies of colonialism and globalization — such as unemployment, institutional racism and excessive stop-and-search methods — that face many young black people in Britain today and that, in many ways, resulted in the riots that took place across Britain in August 2011.My investigation of these two novels is framed by two sets of ‘events’ that are interconnected through questions of precarity, racial injustice and black and minority ethnic rights: first, the series of riots that occurred in the early 1980s — such as the 1981 riots in Brixton as represented in — and second, the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police in August 2011 and the subsequent riots in London and across Britain.Habitus is presented as a mechanism that can help better understand how experiences in the past affect the rioter’s present, thereby leading to a coming to the surface of underlying political grievances.In 2011, there was rioting in various United Kingdom cities, including in London and Birmingham.These occurred against a backdrop in which riots had taken place in 2005 (Birmingham), 2001 (Oldham, Burnley, Bradford) and 1981 (Tottenham, Brixton and Handsworth).Despite the relative frequency of riots in the United Kingdom, there is much contestation about what riots are and what motivates rioters to act in the way that they do.