UK Riots: The Frustration of the Underclass

While the riots are still ongoing in various degrees across different cities in England, here are some media reactions and analyses on the erupted violence.

To start off, gripping photos as always from

The Globe and Mail points it out as the violent expression of ‘futureless youth’, given the broad demographic of the rioters as being under twenty, and signifying dangerous nihilism without a cause.

This is the most extensive rioting Londoners have seen in a generation, surpassing the scope of the huge race riots that paralyzed the city in the 1980s, with scores of fires and skirmishes spreading over Monday night into Croydon in the far south, Camden Town in the north, Hackney in the east, Ealing in the west, an unpredictable and seemingly random set of mass crime explosions – but also the least comprehensible.

These are not race riots: Though they began, on Saturday afternoon, with a small protest in Tottenham, north London, over the shooting of a dark-skinned man by police under suspicious circumstances, they quickly became a much wider and less purposeful explosion of youth criminality […]

One European Union study this year found that 17 per cent of Britain’s youth are classified as “NEETs” – for Not in Employment, Education or Training, in other words high-school dropouts with no prospects of employment – the fourth-highest percentage in the European Union. There are 600,000 people under 25 in Britain who have never had a day of work.

From The Guardian.

In the broadest sense, most of those involved have been young men from poor areas. But the generalisation cannot go much further than that. It can’t be said that they are largely from one racial group. Both young men and women have joined in […]

“I’ve seen Turkish boys, I’ve seen Asian boys, I’ve seen grown white men,” [a youth worker witness] said. “They’re all out there taking part.” He recognised an element of opportunism in the mass looting but said an underlying cause was that many young people felt “trapped in the system”. “They’re disconnected from the community and they just don’t care,” he said […]

This is unadulterated, indigenous anger and ennui. It’s a provocation, a test of will and a hamfisted two-finger salute to the authorities.

The Telegraph, while citing several factors such as the failure of policing, marginalized ethnic groups and unemployment, locates it more acutely on wider global economic recession that has left England’s lower classes poorer and disillusioned.

The real causes are more insidious. It is no coincidence that the worst violence London has seen in many decades takes place against the backdrop of a global economy poised for freefall. The causes of recession set out by J K Galbraith in his book, The Great Crash 1929, were as follows: bad income distribution, a business sector engaged in “corporate larceny”, a weak banking structure and an import/export imbalance.

The BBC, taking a step back, also examines the behavior of looters from a social psychological point of view.

For most people looting is opportunistic. And greed is certainly a factor. But some people approach this situation not necessarily with bad intentions. They are swept away by the crowd, for a variety of reasons highlighted by social psychologists.

One concept is called deindividuation. Normally people’s behaviour is guided by their own identity and values, which tell us to not do certain things – like taking things without paying for them. But in some situations they take on the values of the group. Our own internal values and norms become less salient.

The second idea is called emergent norm theory. Most of these people have probably not been in a riot like this one before. They are unsure of what the appropriate behaviour is. So they look at what other people are doing. And if other people are doing this, it suggests it’s normal. Or at least maybe it is something that I can get away with.

Writers from the Economist consider the impact on politics and policing and the economy, generally arguing that this episode will make  future austerity measures more difficult amid heightened concerns for security and welfare.


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