[Debate] Academic seeks new understanding of rioters - perverse capitalism to blame
m_redmond at btinternet.com
m_redmond at btinternet.com
Tue Nov 29 12:33:16 GMT 2011
Academic seeks new understanding of rioters
The UK's leading expert on gangs says the official inquiry into what caused the summer riots is woefully inadequate
Monday 28 November 2011 20.30 GMT
Riots in north London in August 2011. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA
Not too many academics have finished up with a broken nose as a consequence of their research.
But few academics spend long periods talking to young people on
deprived estates. The threat of violence, then, is an occupational
hazard for Professor Simon Hallsworth, director of the Centre for Social
and Evaluation Research at London Metropolitan University, and the UK's leading expert on gang culture.
years ago, the threat became a reality after he took a short cut
through "a dodgy part of Hackney". "I finished up on the ground being
kicked by a group who mugged me." But he seems sanguine. "You either let
that kind of thing get to you or you don't. At least it gives you an
appreciation of the violence that is a regular part of so many lives
because of conditions that they can't escape from."
What there are
not, he maintains, are as many organised gangs as the media and the
government would have us believe. "Those that do exist are a lot more
fluid and lack the hierarchical structure that the stereotype attributes
to them," he says. In the 10 years in which he has been engaged in
research on gangs, he says, "they've been blamed for just about
everything from drugs to the sexual abuse of women to dangerous dogs.
But if you could eliminate gang culture tomorrow, all those things would
still be going on and you'd still have disorder."
response to the August riots, he argues, was nothing more than a
"scapegoating strategy" that stigmatises the black community and what is
now dismissed as a "feral underclass". By lumping many complex issues
together under the label of gang culture, the government has absolved
itself of any responsibility for what Hallsworth believes is a crisis in
the neo-liberal economic theory that has held sway since the early
"There was an almost unquestioning acceptance of Cameron's
claims across the mass media," he says. Only the Guardian is absolved,
in his view, as the paper has embarked on the first empirical study of
the riots in collaboration with the London School of Economics.Hallsworth's
reaction has been a transatlantic collaboration with Dr David
Brotherton from John Jay College, New York. Together they have produced
Urban Disorder and Gangs: A Critique and a Warning, published online as
part of the Runnymede [Trust] Perspectives series.
call for hard questions to be asked about "the perverse form of
capitalism" that governments appear committed to on both sides of the
Atlantic. "It is not working for the many in a society of escalating
inequality and disadvantage where upward mobility is now a thing of the
In 1981, Hallsworth arrived in Brixton, moving into a flat
the day after the first riots began. At least it gave him an insight
that would prove invaluable in his later academic career. "Lord Scarman,
who drew up his report on the '80s disturbances, was a patrician figure
steeped in the values of the welfare state," he says. "He knew that
society was to blame as well as the rioters. Today, official attempts to
understand are woefully inadequate."He dismisses yesterday's
interim report by the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, chaired by
the former chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, as "a superficial glossy
brochure" before adding: "It tells us nothing new about the riots; tells
us nothing more about the profile of the rioters than we already knew;
profiles statistics already in the public domain, and it is written in a
style that makes the mistake of assuming that sound bites constitute
serious analysis. Worryingly, it begins and ends with the assumption
that if you listen to people enough – mostly non-rioters – and list what
they say, that constitutes an explanation. As to solutions, it leaves
us with, by and large, more of the same already being rolled out,
including the over-use of prison, which it does not challenge or
question."One fundamental change over the last 30 years,
Hallsworth believes, is the transition from a welfare state to what he
calls a security state. "We have the widespread use of CCTV, a much more
coercive attitude by the authorities and the biggest prison population
in Europe. And that was before the riots. No longer is there any
aspiration to be universally inclusive and aim for full employment. The
requirement for a cheap and flexible labour force is paramount.
these youngsters live in a society where you're judged by how you dress
and the type of phone you carry, yet they're excluded from jobs that
provide the means to buy them."They conclude their critique by
suggesting that now is the time to mobilise youth. "Only this time
round, it means investing in them and their communities; not
law-enforcement agencies and a new gang-suppression industry."
time, however, when reducing the budget deficit is the only game in
town, Hallsworth has no illusion that his advice will be taken seriously
in government circles any time soon.
I Support Hackney Community Law Centre. Legal Action for the Community!
Become a Friend of Hackney Community Law Centre
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Debate-list