Posts Tagged ‘violence’

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

August 20, 2011 1 comment

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

On writing (or ‘on not writing’)

Yesterday, I had an unfortunate episode of writer’s block, probably the first time since I submitted my PhD that I’ve properly struck by it. This was particularly frustrating because I’ve felt in quite good form recently with my writing in that I’ve managed to put in a couple of funding applications, a conference abstract, a book proposal, a chapter abstract and all of my blogs posts (all… six of ’em) over the past six months or so. So yeah, things were going quite well and then Friday came along and… nothing… My mind was just completely frozen up and every time I looked at the screen I just couldn’t find the words. At all. Maybe it’s a bit of a mental hangover from finishing my competitive co-operation paper I submitted on Sunday (in which I used the very attractive term ‘co-opetition’. It just trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?), or maybe it’s just changing gear to something completely different. Whatever it is, I hope it runs its course sometime soon and let me get back on it, especially since I just recently found out that I won’t be returned as an Early Career Researcher for REF2014, meaning that instead of submitting two ‘pieces of assessment’, I now need to submit four. Not a big deal and I would have had the four by the end of 2013 anyway, but now that it’s ‘mandated’ by my department, I feel a little bit of pressure on to get it done.

So this current article I’m working on is about orientations towards violence among working-class adolescent males and the most I was able to do was take a conference paper I’d done on it from about 10 months ago and reorganise it into something resembling an article (if only in terms of section headings rather than actual content). I had originally planned to submit it to the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, a very highly respected publication edited by a colleague of mine at Birmingham City University (Professor David Wilson), but since the majority of their publications are focused on the penal industry (stop snickering), I didn’t think that my article was a particularly good fit. So, I’ve decided to submit it instead to the British Journal of Criminology where it seems to fit a bit better. I did get massively excited when I stumbled upon this research centre at the University of Glasgow and was particularly taken by the following quote:

“The tradition of the hard man has tremendous currency in contemporary Scottish popular commentary and in literature but there has been little serious discussion of his antecedents or of the constituents of manliness that have seemingly prevailed in Scottish society.”

In my article, this is more or less what I’m investigating: what is it to be a ‘man’ in contemporary Glasgow today, what role does violence play in the construction of ‘tough’ masculinity in the city, and how far do adolescent males resist, contest and challenge dominant ideologies of ‘tough’ masculinity? I’m especially interested in the impact of violence on adolescent male constructions of masculinity because the image of the ‘hard man’ is such a dominant cultural touchstone for young men (promoted in large part by parents and caregivers). I’m analysing narratives (again) to see how the participants in my ethnography talk about their experiences of violence and what it means to them to be a ‘man’. My biggest argument is that violence really is a part of the lives of many adolescent males in Glasgow, but not in the ways we might stereotypically think (especially because I problematise how far violence can be considered the preserve of only ‘neds’. And yes, I know the term is an issue, which is why it’s in scare quotes).

Maybe, just maybe, by the beginning of the week the fog will have lifted (metaphorically speaking) and I’ll be able to make some headway on this article before I have to start thinking about putting together yet another funding application…