The plethora of popular and social scientific accounts of the English riots of August 2011 have not only failed to distinguish between the events that “triggered” the initial disturbances and the underlying conditions which gave them impetus, they have also ignored the reality that while rioters may be apolitical, rioting is an inherently political phenomenon. This article endeavours to contextualize the riots by plotting the probabilistic connections between the trigger event and the underlying conditions which brought the riots to fruition.
Throughout, the article utilizes the form of the “essai” (essay) developed originally by Michel de Montaigne from 1580, which endeavours to link ideas in logical and original ways. The article draws upon recent research concerning the relationship between governmental austerity and social disorder and assesses whether, and to what extent, Durkheim's notion of anomie, Habermas's notion of “legitimation crises” and the idea at the heart of the Marxist dialect, of the transformation of quantity into quality have any explanatory power vis‐à‐vis the English riots of August 2011.
The article suggests that the riots should be understood and responded to as illustrations of crises in economic and political relations rather than simple problems of morality, culture, and the efficiency, or otherwise, of the criminal justice apparatus.
This paper could promote a more thoughtful debate.
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