April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
August 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
Recently the BBC screened a documentary drawing on some of the interviews conducted as part of the Reading the Riots research project initiated by the LSE and the Guardian, with which I was involved as a researcher. One of the interviews I conducted was selected for inclusion in the documentary, with actors playing me and my interviewee. Here is a link to the documentary, which is available on BBC iPlayer.
The webpage for the programme on the BBC website writes that
This series was originally scheduled to be shown in July 2012, but was postponed after a judge overseeing a riot related trial in Birmingham issued a court order preventing it from being broadcast. The trial ended and the film was broadcast in August 2012.
The new broadcast date was the day following the end of the Olympics.
I am looking forward to watching the documentary when I return to the UK (I can’t watch it in India because only radio programmes are available on BBC iPlayer here).
December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
Yesterday the Guardian started publishing reports of the findings of the “Reading the Riots” research project which I have been involved in since October. My role in the project was to conduct some of the interviews with people involved in the riots. As I haven’t been involved in the analysis of the data gathered by myself and the 30 other researchers who carried out interviews, it has been very interesting to find out some of the findings of this analysis.
One of the thoughts that came to my mind as I read through the coverage in yesterday’s newspaper was that while the headline news is that most of the rioters emphasise negative experiences with the police as a significant motivation for their behaviour in August, the interview guide we used to conduct the interviews (available online here) studiously avoided asking direct questions about the police until the end of the interview. This is an important point which adds weight to this element of the findings: where rioters emphasised the police as a factor, this was not a result of prompting by the interviewers.
This is not an insigificant point given how Neil O’Brien of Policy Exchange has reviewed the research project in The Telegraph:
The list of questions asked about the causes of the riots (p6) reflects that [the leftist bias Neil O’Brien attributes to the social scientists, researchers and journalists behind the project]: lots of reasons favoured by the left, and nothing about acquisitiveness. (Neil O’Brien, “How the Guardian destroyed the left’s excuses for the riots”, The Telegraph, December 5 2011)
Aside from the fact that ‘acquisitiveness’ is often understood to have a fairly similar meaning to ‘greed’ (which appears as one of the options on page 6 of the interview guide but appears to have escaped Mr O’Brien’s attention), Mr O’Brien misses the point that the main focus of the interviews was qualitative data gathered through open-ended interview techniques, rather than the multiple-choice questions at the end to which he refers (for more on the methodology see here). What this means is that the majority of each interview was carried out in the form of a conversation around certain topics, in which the interviewer avoided leading questions, to the best of her/his ability. In this context it is striking that most of those I interviewed mentioned negative experiences with the police long before we got to the multiple-choice questions.
At this point I don’t have the time to engage with the rest of what Mr O’Brien has to say; besides which it hardly seems likely that he would have any interest in my attempts to do so, given that – like most people, perhaps? – he seems to have all the answers to why the riots happened without the need to take into account the insights that might be provided by (leftist, biased) social science research.
Some of the coverage of the project so far:
September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
• A greater understanding of the history of Tottenham, particularly relating to policing and how it has impacted on the local community, which is essential for those who seek to understand and remedy the causes of social disorder
• A rejection of measures that reinforce stereotypes, marginalise or criminalise the people of Tottenham, which will not serve the course of justice and will be detrimental to the community in the longer term.
Stafford Scott, said in advance of the press conference:
“As family and friends come together to remember Cynthia Jarrett some 26 years after she was taken from us, we find it incomprehensible that this borough, Haringey, has seen three more members of our community killed whilst in the ‘custody’ of Metropolitan Police Officers. No community should have this as their reality. As a result this is a community that has come to the conclusion that there is no justice – there’s just us.
For more information visit the TDC website
September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
In the aftermath of what have become known as the 2011 riots I have spent some time volunteering with local groups seeking to find a community-led way of responding. This has involved time spent going door-to-door on many of the estates in Tottenham. Among the conversations with residents that took place along the way, one analysis that kept on coming back was the connection of overworked parents with troubled children. One 60-year old white man of Irish origin put it succinctly:
The kids want TVs and computers and Blackberries, and so the parents work all hours to get the money to buy the gadgets, and never see their kids until they’re in court.
Now I am preparing a lecture course on international development, and it has suddenly hit me how closely this analysis fits with what scholars like Diane Elson were saying in the early 1990s (see Elson 1991, Moser 1992). Elson argued that mainstream economics focuses on the so-called productive economy in which labour is exchanged for wages, and ignores the reproductive or care economy within the home, in which family members – more often than not, women – provide everything that is necessary for the reproduction of the workforce (e.g. dinner and breakfast for the men who will go out to work and the children who must go to school to learn, to become the workers of tomorrow).
Ignoring this side of the economy means that the full consequences of policies are not taken into account – in particular, when the State withdraws from particular areas of service provision, it is often women who have to step in, and often end up being responsible for both the productive and the care economy, decreasing their leisure time and/or decreasing the quality of their reproductive work. This is likely to have negative consequences both for women’s health and the care of children, potentially affecting social reproduction and human development (here I am paraphrasing from a working paper by Myriam Blin because I don’t have any more time to write right now).
Frank Turner’s great campfire punk song put it somewhat more provocatively than this, of course.
Blin, Myriam (2006) “Export-oriented policies, women’s work burden and human development in Mauritius” SOAS Department of Economics Working Paper No. 147, available online at www.soas.ac.uk/economics/research/workingpapers/file28832.pdf
Elson, Diane (1991) “Unpaid Labour, Macroeconomic Adjustment and Macroeconomic Strategies” Working Paper number 3, Manchester: University of Manchester
Moser, Caroline O.N. (1992) “Adjustment from Below: Low-income women, time and the triple role in Guayaquil, Equador” in Haleh Afshar and C. Dennis Women and Adjustment Policies in the Third World York: Macmillan Press
August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Today I saw an initiative launched on the “Post-riot clean up” Facebook page, titled “A public meeting in response to the riots” (https://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=160403017370099):
I looked through some of the comments and wrote one of my own:
I would like to echo the point made by Emma Jones, who suggested that people from west Haringey “spend some real time over in the east and get to know people in their own communities – that is the only way the divide can begin to end, and also the only way the people in the east will begin to take you seriously”. I would add that in the east there have already been a number of meetings with the same aims as this one, organised by a variety of organisations and campaign groups, and a number of new initiatives are being launched, including a Tottenham Defence Campaign (google it). For more info you can send me a message. Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to make it to tomorrow’s meeting, but I wish you all the best.
Here are some of the meetings/events I am aware of:
- On Saturday 13 August there was a march from Dalston to Tottenham, called by the North London Unity Assembly, under the slogan “Give our kids a future”.
- On Monday 15 August there was a meeting in North London Community House, called by the Right to Work campaign, under the title “Defend our young people, give them a future” with a number of speeches on the riots and reactions to the riots and then comments and questions from the audience.
- On Wednesday 17 August there was another meeting in North London Community House, called by Tottenham Concerned Residents and Supporters, under the title “After the Riots: What next for Youths and Tottenham?”
For me, it is interesting that Jim Shepley calls for a Haringey public meeting in response to the riots without acknowledging the efforts already being made in this direction within the borough, quite possibly because he is not aware of those efforts. While welcoming Jim’s aims, I would like to be a bit provocative in suggesting that his apparent lack of awareness/acknowledgment does raise interesting questions about how the riots are highlighting social divisions within British society in general and the London borough of Haringey in particular. A somewhat academic take on these questions can be found in the following blogpost http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/riotcleanup-or-riotwhitewash/ – I do not agree with everything that is written here, but I do find this a useful piece of writing to think with, particularly if we are to respond to the riots in a reflective and self-critical way that takes into account how our own positions within British society implicate us in what has taken place.
August 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
Sharing a few thoughts, quotes and links related to the riots that started in Tottenham – just down the road from my house – and spread across London in the past 3 days. Most of the links I include here were brought to my attention by my friend Leyli Behbahani.
Darcus Howe, a West Indian Writer and Broadcaster http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biJgILxGK0o&sns=fb
Comments from community leaders http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a3F3aG9RGw&feature=youtu.be
“People feel like caged animals” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-7ICDQ0BVs
Al Jazeera “Inside Story” http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/insidestory/2011/08/20118981726279649.html
“Just a normal day” – a short documentary by PostCode Films on the experience of being stopped and searched http://vimeo.com/10067376
One of my favourite quotes:
As political and social protests grip the Middle East, are growing in Europe and a riot exploded in north London this weekend, here’s a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent? “Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?” http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/07/7292281-the-sad-truth-behind-london-riot
This is not a justification for the rioting and looting. What is happening is criminal behaviour. But it is not just criminal behaviour. It’s just that I think that if we want our society to work better – perhaps if we want to avoid things like this happening again – we need to look for answers and attribute blame beyond the rioters and looters themselves. This quote offers one example of how we might begin to see the broader social context of the riots: by asking questions like “how else can the poor and disenfranchised get their voice heard, if the media only pays them any attention when they start destroying things?”
I don’t think it is possible to get around this by saying “But by saying that you are somehow justifying this violence.” That argument misses the point that the violence of the rioters and looters is a response to the violence inflicted on them by the state and society. Tottenham is one of the poorest and most deprived areas in the country. Young people there do not believe they have a future, that they are going to be able to get jobs, and over the past year the government has closed a number of programmes set up to increase their social mobility and give them options. Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been closed, so the future of these youths’ education – the key to social mobility – is in question. In the past 6 months Haringey Council has cut funding to youth centres/outreach programmes and to voluntary sector organisations working with young people in the borough in response to budget cuts imposed by the central government, reducing the number of alternatives to spending time on the streets (a point highlighted in an article by the Guardian just over a week ago, and by London Assembly member Jenny Jones yesterday), and a decade on from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry black people are now seven times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people (for a report on the stats see this Guardian article).
One of my friends wrote on Facebook that BBC News in Tottenham said the following:
The police are taking backhanders
The MPs are fiddling expenses
The media break the law without compunction
…The bankers have looted our economy
Our politicians are sunning themselves in luxury
How do you expect young people to behave?
On the whole, media coverage is not adequately making these connections, and is instead emphasising other (largely spurious or misleading) connections. I was particularly struck by BBC TV news coverage of the first night in Tottenham, in which the studio anchor started by asking the reporter-on-the-scene “So, this area has a history of racial tension, right?” This seemed a rather misleading way of approaching what would be described more accurately as the racialised relationship between police and youths in Tottenham (see above).
I found an academic study of media coverage of the 1985 riots, which highlights exactly the same fixation with strong leadership and law and order articulated by Theresa May in her pre-recorded statement. Some of my Facebook ‘friends’ were decrying Ken Livingstone’s intervention last night, in which he pointed to precisely the broader social conditions that are the context in which these riots have emerged. (There was also some political point-scoring but hey – that comes with the job.) Is it not sort of inevitable that if the politicians and media only focus on what is happening on the streets, and fail to ask why this is happening now rather than at any other time, then they are only going to come up with the short-term solution – “arrest the perpetrators, restore order” – rather than the longer-term solution of “ok we might need to think about whether some of our policies need to change”? If you don’t understand history, you are doomed to repeat it, right?
It just so happens that at the same time as all this is going on I’m preparing a lecture which requires me to look through writings on the concept of moral economy developed by historian E.P. Thompson and anthropologist James C. Scott. In his study of the rioting around changes in agriculture that led to the repeal of the Corn Laws in eighteenth-century England, Thompson argues that in every riot or crowd action there is
some legitimising notion…I mean that the men and women in the crowd were informed by the belief that they were defending traditional rights or customs; and…that they were supported by the wider consensus of the community…It is of course true that riots were triggered off by soaring prices, by malpractices among dealers, or by hunger. But these grievances operated within a popular consensus as to what were legitimate and what were illegitimate practices in marketing, milling, baking, etc. This in its turn was grounded upon a consistent traditional view of social norms and obligations, of the proper economic functions of several parties within the community, which, taken together, can be said to constitute the moral economy of the poor. An outrage to these moral assumptions, quite as much as actual deprivation, was the usual occasion for direct action. (E.P. Thompson, “The moral economy of the English crowd in the 18th century”, 1971, pages 78-9)
In his analysis of some of the major peasant rebellions in early twentieth-century Southeast Asia, Scott defines ‘moral economy’ as a community’s “notion of economic justice and their working definition of exploitation – their view of which claims on their product were tolerable and which intolerable” (1976: 3). This does not quite fit the riots in London, where it seems more likely that the central (although not verbalised) grievance of the rioters is that they don’t believe they will be able to get into a satisfactory position to produce (and earn). Yet I still think there may be something in the concept of moral economy that is useful here. I need to think about this more, but my idea (simple as it is) is something like this: that when it comes to identifying the circumstances in which a riot becomes more likely, perhaps what is more significant than the actual level of deprivation and oppression is the sense of injustice. Many commentators have argued that Tottenham is much better now than it was in 1985, and some of my friends have noted that conditions in the UK are not as bad as conditions in many other countries. What is more significant is the rioters’ perception that this society does not want them, that this government is reducing their opportunities and options for getting out of their position, and that this is not right. And this is one reason why the portrayal of the riots by politicians and the media as ‘mindless thuggery,’ ‘without cause,’ and motivated solely by ‘greed’, is problematic.
Maybe a good quote to end with is this:
When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty and shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard. (Martin Luther King)
But, on second thoughts, maybe it would be better to end with a question: who’s up for getting involved in the clean up? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14456857
Scott, James C. (1976) The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia London: Yale University Press