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Recognizing the 2011 United Kingdom Riots as Political Protest: A Theoretical Framework Based on Agency, Habitus and the Preconscious

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 54 Issue: 3 Dated: May 2014 Pages: 375-392
Sadiya Akram
Date Published
May 2014
18 pages
This paper discusses a theoretical framework for understanding riots and the rioter, with a focus on the 2011 riots in the United Kingdom.
The author first notes that most of those involved in the riots came from deprived areas, had below-average levels of education and higher-than-average levels of unemployment and free school meals. Historically, rioting has largely been the preserve of such groups and often involves ethnic minorities. Locating rioters within the particular social and economic structures that shape their daily activities and the level of fulfillment and security they provide is important in understanding rioting. This article is divided into four sections. It first discusses definitions of politics and political action, outlining an understanding of politics as background for the author's interpretation of rioting. The article then reviews the literature on rioting, focusing on accounts that highlight the agents and structures that inform the riot behavior. Developments in and limitations of this literature are discussed. Next, the article develops its theoretical framework for understanding rioters, based on Bourdieu's concept of "habitus," while also making a case for its neglected preconscious element. "Habitus" pertains to the habits of thinking, feeling and acting in interaction with what a person experiences as the habitual features of his/her life that seem to resist efforts at change that could facilitate a happier, more fulfilling life. This sense of futility in a life that rioters believe they cannot change, and that others do not care to change, fuels riots with persons feeling a similar futility and frustration with their lives. The final section of the article conceptualizes change in "habitus," which provides a basis for understanding why and how underlying preconscious grievances emerge within the riot. 56 references