The riots of this summer have had no shortage of comment with the majority of mainstream media offering little in terms of insight by merely fiercely denouncing the perpetrators without posing the simple question- why? (SevenStreets offered its own interpretation).

With this in mind it was with curiosity that many ventured to Edge Hill University’s Ormskirk campus to take in the views of Owen Jones. The author of ‘Chavs’ had been a regular presence on news channels during the disorder and was held up as a key dissenting voice to the pervasive attitudes.

During those days in August I recall feeling at a loss to reason why rioting had come to Liverpool. Surely it couldn’t have been a reaction to the shooting of Mark Duggan, a man resident some two hundred miles away? Themes of frustration, anger and poor relations with the police were well voiced so I was looking for someone to tie all this together and, perhaps a touch ambitious, give some hope for avoiding a repeat.

With the lecture theatre poorly signposted it was after the 6.30pm start time that many arrived but Jones had seemingly just warmed up ten minutes or so in. Speaking to an audience mainly made up of students and head nodding liberals – exceptions were found during the Q&A – the main challenge was to present his views clearly rather than win over doubters.

Most of the discourse was on the social factors that prompted young people, vast majority male, to reek such havoc. Themes of disenfranchisement and broken communities were continually referred to in a clear delivery aided by his obvious frustration at the decline of working class opportunity.

All too briefly did he take the talk towards the themes of our consumerist society, little mention of why the looting was concentrated on shops selling clothes and shoes.

Perhaps an hour was not long enough to engage the audience on themes of materialism and how it leaves people feeling compelled to wear the right brand of clothing. This would have required a much broader spectrum to lecture on and Jones clearly felt it easier to stick to simple themes of class and, later on, Conservative bashing.

It was apparent that the bulk of research had been conducted in London so for those interested in answers about why Liverpool saw rioting were left disappointed. Of course many of the factors mentioned were easy to apply to any cities but speaking in the North West may have prompted more analysis of Manchester and Liverpool.

Opinions that strayed from the speaker’s views were brushed aside as anecdotal evidence of people interviewed in the capital was presented as the ambigious answer to those trying to find some clarity.

Leaving the lecture there was a bustling murmur of debate and further conversation which is credit to the skill of Jones’ delivery and his admission that the subject needs far more research, particularly on why certain areas saw petrol bombs and burnt out cars whilst others didn’t.

Personally I headed home with more questions than answers as, despite a thorough analysis of certain factors, there was a disappointing lack of depth. The evening, far from providing some tangible explanation, proved that there are no easy conclusions to draw; however impassioned the efforts of the speaker were.

This was lecture two in a series of (In)Security, Surveillance and the State lectures at the university. Details of further events can be found here

Mark Boyns

  • Paul Jones

    Not having it. I know the title itself is a broad brushstroke, but it’s the majority of the working class who demonise chavs, and rightly so. The requirement to work does not excuse chaviness.

  • Sevenstreets

    What are you not having?

  • Paul Jones

    The title suggests the naming of chavs as chavs demonises the working class. It doesn’t. The majority of the working class are not chavs, and the worst chavs around I would suggest are celebs; i.e. not working class. That’s how I read it anyway, rightly or wrongly.

  • Sevenstreets

    What did you think of the article?

  • Corky Ninja-Kitteh Cork

    I’m not even sure the word ‘Riots’ is valid either. Riots historically (in my mind at least) usually have an underlying reason, and people react to that reason using force against an authority etc. Yes maybe this is how it may have began in London after the shooting incident, but the subsequent actions in other cities had no other reason that I can see, other than they were hijacked to destroy and steal items of value and social identity (Ive seen references to Baudrillard in the past which in part seem valid). Im unsure that the working classes can shoulder much blame – indeed im willing to bet that many involved were from more middle class backgrounds, as well as ‘classes’ seen as below even a working class value. If that sort of makes sense?

  • Sevenstreets

    Not really sure why people get hung up on the use of the word riots – there’s no etymological reason why they shouldn’t be referred to as riots. I’m fairly sure the people who looked out of the windows to see their cars being firebombed thought of them as riots.

  • Corky Ninja-Kitteh Cork

    Im sure they did, and technically the word is correct in its use 🙂 But I just sort of cant see it as such, more a sort of ‘free for all’ using the initial riots as an excuse to justify their actions. Im also sure many just got involved for ‘fun’ and launching bricks at cars etc simply because they could. I’m also sure the media picked on this section of events and used it to demonize people further. I do agree though there are many more questions begging to be asked.

  • Sevenstreets

    You might enjoy the piece that’s linked to in the Owen jones article

  • Paul Jones

    The article was OK, but I don’t like a tone that suggests ‘Oh, but they’re young and skint with no hope’ etc. Scumbags I’m afraid. Well written, but not sharing a bed with it.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ Robin Brown

    Surely the point is that writing people off as ‘scumbags’ is the very problem. It;s too easy not to question why things happen if we can write them off without even asking the question.