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Riots were not political and will happen again – warns Teesside academic

18 June 2014 @TeesUniNews


It is just a matter of time before the country sees another wave of riots akin to those in 2011 – a Teesside University criminologist has warned.

Professor Simon Winlow said that while many have argued that the riots should be understood as a political response to rising inequality, his research suggests that the majority of those involved were not motivated by a desire for social justice. Instead, the looting that came to typify the riots offered a perverse endorsement of contemporary consumerism.

Professor Winlow, from the University’s School of Social Sciences & Law, claims that anger and frustration exist in abundance in many poor neighbourhoods, but it is a mistake to assume that this anger represents a desire for progressive social change.

He was speaking ahead of the National Deviancy Conference, which takes place at Teesside University across two days on 25 and 26 June.

The historic deviancy conferences began in the 1960s and developed new approaches to the understanding of crime and disorder. The 2014 conference will be hosted, for the first time, by Teesside University’s Centre for Realist Criminology.

The Centre, launched in September last year, is developing a distinct form of criminology, which examines harm rather than those things judged ‘criminal’. The Centre is currently investigating hidden forms of violence, ecological harm, and recent changes to criminal markets in deindustrialised areas. It also has a commitment to charting changes in politics and consumer culture.

Speakers from around the world will attend the National Deviancy Conference, where Professor Winlow, who is the Co-Director of the Centre for Realist Criminology, will take part in a debate with Professor John Lea, from the University of Brighton, about the riots in 2011.

'This is an extremely important and prestigious conference that hopes to play some role in driving critical criminology forward,' explained Professor Winlow.

'People position the riots as a political outburst – a reaction to the excesses of the political elite. I think this is wishful thinking. Many on the Left believe that the people possess a natural desire for social justice. For me this is far too simplistic. I don’t equate the looting of consumer goods with a desire for equality.

'People are angry, but they’re not angry at capitalism. They’re angry that they are not being provided with the opportunities to achieve within capitalism. The difference is crucial.'

Professor Winlow was part of a research team that interviewed around 40 young men who took part in the riots. For most, the primary motivation was acquisition - they saw an opportunity to get some consumer items that they could either retain or sell on.

'More riots seem likely – it is just a matter of time,' warned Professor Winlow.

'The gap between rich and poor continues to rise and there are very few legitimate opportunities for marginalised young people. Every night on television we see the dream of extravagant consumerism. People are told that all of this is available, but of course for many people it’s a dream that can’t be realised.

'People are angry, and in a situation like this it only takes a small injustice to bring matters to a head. When there is a well-spring of anger and dissatisfaction all it takes is one slight rip in the social fabric and very quickly all that anger can spill out onto the streets.'

In the News

Riots will hit again claims academic
Evening Gazette, 19/06/14, P.39; Gazette Live - Online, 19/06/14
Riots similar to those which swept the country three years ago will happen again, a Teesside academic has warned.