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London riots can change our understanding of mass hooliganism

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Posted January 22, 2015

London faced the largest riot since the eighteen century few years ago. Sociologists Michael Biggs and Juta Kawalerowicz at Oxford University think that this event can change our scientific understanding of riots in general.

A store after Tottenham riots. Image credit: Alan Stanton via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

A store after Tottenham riots. Image credit: Alan Stanton via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

”Our findings challenge the orthodoxy that rioting is not explained by deprivation or by disorganization. Rioters were most likely to come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Rioters also tended to come from neighborhoods where ethnic fractionalization was high, and from areas with few charitable organizations,” the researchers claim.

At first glance, it is plausible to think that economically deprived individuals are more inclined to participate in public disorders. For instance, it might be conjectured that those who have less are less inclined to acknowledge social institutions and thus more inclined to break institutional rules.

Nevertheless, explanation referring to economic deprivation has almost no empirical support. There is more evidence supporting theories which emphasize rivalry between different ethnic groups. ”Ethnic competition has emerged as the master variable in recent literature on American riots. Olzak argues that “ethnic conflicts and protests erupt when ethnic inequalities and racially ordered systems begin to break down.”

The mechanism here is threat: people in one roup are more likely to riot if they feel another group has designs on their prerogatives,” the scientists explained. However, data supporting this explanation were obtained analyzing data collected in the United States.  Biggs and Kawalerowicz suspected that british story can be different.

Sociologists analyzed anonymized dataset provided by London police, which conteined information about the living place of each arrested person. This information allowed them to explore societal background of rioters. First of all, study provided strong support for the hypothesis that deprivation increases the likelihood of turmoil. But how this finding can be reconciled with results of previous studies?

“In American cities, areas where blacks predominate are almost invariably poor; indeed, proportion black is used as one measure of concentrated disadvantage. The overlap surely hinders any attempt to distinguish poverty from race in American ethnic riots. It is possible, by contrast, in London,” the scholars think.

They also found that a many rioters came from the ethnically heterogeneous neighborhoods. This can indicate that they live in socially disorganized places. However, it is disputable whether ethnic diversity implies social disorganization in the case of London. Finally, they found out that rioting was more supported in these locations where relationships with police were worse.

Article: Kawalerowicz J. and Biggs M., 2014, Anarchy in the UK: Economic Deprivation, Social Disorganization, and Political Grievances in the London Riot of 2011, to be published in Social Forces, source link.

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