Riotous assembly incites analysis

A conference aims to bring clarity to the motives for last year's civil unrest. Matthew Reisz writes

September 27, 2012

Glasgow gangs, the changing probation services, sexually explicit material exchanged over mobile phones and stereotypes of the "feral underclass" will all be up for debate at a conference this week looking at "the riots one year on".

The civil unrest that took place in some British cities in August 2011, said Yvette Taylor, head of the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research at London South Bank University, was "not an unthinking form of protest - many deep social divides were brought to our attention".

At the start of this year, Professor Taylor joined forces with Kim Allen, senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, to produce a "gendered analysis" of the riots for the British Sociological Association website.

They argued that while coverage of young women's participation in "'organised' protests such as the anti-tuition fees marches, the Occupy movement and 'slut walks' predominantly featured white and middle-class women", commentary on the "so-called 'greed-driven' rioting" focused on demonised working-class, and often black, "'troubled' mothers and 'failed' female rioters".

Dr Allen and Professor Taylor also pointed out that "in the absence of any public inquiry, academics have played an important role in bringing sociological perspectives to bear on the complex causes and consequences of the summer riots".

It was precisely in order to take the discussion forward that they organised the conference Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On, which is being held at London South Bank University on 28 September.

Among the presentations, Jennie Bristow, an associate of the University of Kent's Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, will consider how the riots were seen as "a direct consequence of the cultural, moral and legislative changes associated with the permissive Sixties" - but also as "a youthful version of the accepted practices of bankers, business tycoons and governments".

Rebekah Diski and Kerris Cooper, researchers at the London School of Economics, will explore how many rioters described their behaviour "as a form of empowerment; as a short-lived victory over what they saw as 'the biggest gang'", whether or not they were involved in overtly anti-police action.

And Raymond Arthur, reader in social sciences and law at Teesside University, will claim that plans to penalise parents of truanting children "could conceivably lead to the complete disintegration of already fragile family units".

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