Dismissing riots as ‘meaningless criminality’ a mistake, academic warns

The oft-repeated claim that the riots that have broken out in London and other cities in recent days are “mindless” and “meaningless” is mistaken, an academic expert has said.

August 9, 2011



Credit: Luke MacGregor/Reuters


Clifford Stott, senior lecturer in crowd psychology at the University of Liverpool, said today that “to render the riots meaningless is actually to deny the opportunity that we must take to understand them”.

His comments came as the Prime Minsiter David Cameron announced that Parliament was to be recalled on 11 August for a one day debate on the civil unrest, which has spread from the capital to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.

Professor Stott said: “What dominate at present are vitriolic debates loaded with moral indignation that are as much about pathologising crowd action, attributing blame and denying responsibility as they are about truth and objectivity.

“But this transition from peaceful to riotous crowds is, of course, one of the fundamental questions of crowd psychology.

“In addressing it over the last 30 years my colleagues and I have made some important advances in scientific understanding of how and why riots come about.

“Of central importance is that we know that ‘riots’ cannot be understood as an explosion of ‘mob irrationality’. Nor can they be adequately explained in terms of individuals predisposed to criminality by nature of their pathological disposition.

“To render crowd action as meaningful and driven to a large degree by contextual issues is not to act as an apologist for these riots. Nor is it to accept as legitimate the attacks against ordinary working class people, businesses, homes and families.”

He said work at Liverpool on the effective policing of riots had shown that the best approaches rely not on the reactive use of force, but instead “prioritize proactive interventions based upon dialogue as a means for building and maintaining police legitimacy”.

Professor Stott added: “Our argument is that to render the riots meaningless is actually to deny the opportunity that we must take to understand them if we are to take the appropriate measures that will prevent them in the future.”

john.gill@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy