Home > Random > Profile of an England Rioter: Young, Male, Unemployed (in other news: Bears in wood: What do they do there?)

Profile of an England Rioter: Young, Male, Unemployed (in other news: Bears in wood: What do they do there?)


Some interesting material has started to emerge in the fallout of the England riots. We’ve had David Starkey’s mad rant, incredible sentences for incitement to riot, and general gnashing of teetch and hair-brained ideas as to why the riots happened. But one story which struck me was this one, especially since it goes against the Governmental rhetoric that the riots weren’t about poverty but were rather about criminality, violence and anti-social behaviour.

Now, I can’t say that the report that the individuals involved in the riots were male, young and unemployed (I even said this last week) was especially surprising, and a map posted on Wednesday 10th August shows quite clearly just how far the riots were happening in areas of of deprivation. But with the research carried out by the Guardian, we now have some empirical data which gives us a better view of exactly who was involved in the events of last week.

So, the first thing is age. The largest percentage of those accused of involvement were in the 18 – 24 age bracket.

Next up, gender, and males are overwhelmingly represented here.

The Guardian hadn’t (at time of writing) provided the analysis of (un)employment figures, so perhaps the article is slightly misleading by suggesting that the accused were unemployed, but I’m sure that this data will be forthcoming in the near future.

There is a caveat here, that since these figures are only based on a sample of 400 people, it’s hard to know how far the analysis is representative of all defendants who end up in court, and this picture will only emerge once all those arrested have gone through the system. Nonetheless, in its current guise, we surely have definitive evidence that these riots, while perhaps not motivated by poverty, still have poverty at the centre.

More worryingly (and something the Government is less likely to be able to affect any significant social change) is that the rioters are young and male. Poverty can be ‘solved’ by capital investment and so on, but it’s more difficult to change the culture of ‘tough’ masculinity towards which young urban males seem to be orientated. This requires positive role models (and those role models don’t necessarily need to be male), a strong sense of community and involvement in that community, and particularly moving towards an alternative value system which doesn’t put ‘street respect’ at its core. My own feeling is that ‘respect’ on the streets is something which is won through intimidation, physical strength and a clear demonstration of “don’t fuck with me”, but when faced with those not familiar with this ‘code of the streets’, young urban males have little in the way of recourse to alternative value systems by which other parts of society abide, and that’s one of the reasons young urban males are so marginalised. They don’t generally follow the same norms of interaction that other parts of urban society do.

Now, that’s not to say that it’s only young urban males who need to change. Those who might not fit this categorisation, like middle-aged, middle-class and white, also need to change (and I think many people are uncomfortable admitting this). There needs to be a stop to this culture of demonisation of the urban poor which pervades middle-class culture, and you only have to read some the comments on the Daily Mail blogs to see that some people believe that the best way of dealing with rioters is to lock ’em up and throw away the key. As I said last week, that is only a short-term and simplistic ‘solution’ to a complex and long-term issue, so we have to tackle this issue as an entire society rather than thinking it’s “them” who have to change (who “they” are depends on your perspective). The rioters, as condemnable as their actions are, have families, hopes, dreams, wants, and fears. They are people, and like everyone else, they have their flaws. These flaws might be massively at odds with what we expect as a ‘civilised’ society, but I think it’s short-sighted to believe that their actions are the result of some sort of chemical imbalance, or inherent criminality, or mindless thuggery. These are symptoms of deeper issues and we need an honest look not only why the event of last week happened, but also how we might be able to prevent it in the future. And taking away benefits, housing, and putting those involved in riots even further to the sidelines is not it.

– The Social Linguist

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  1. Derek Rogers
    June 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Everything you say on this point is, in my view, cogent and interesting, and should be more widely recognised. We had no riots in Scotland, which is pretty surprising, given the levels of both deprivation and stroppiness in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Has anybody asked why?

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