Over the course of the early part of August 2011, we saw revolving images of social disorder in London yet very thin explanations for the events; I think the Home Secretary called them ‘pure criminals’ engaged in ‘sheer criminality’. The disorder continued, and it each time it spread to different areas, the media sent reporters to the frontline with their cameras. Then the politicians came back from holiday and all the usual suspects were thrown in the mix: ‘gangs’, ‘problem youth’, ‘dysfunctional families’, ‘single parents’, the underclass; the list went on. The debates which followed revolved around the violence, victims, effective policing and sentencing but rarely went into depth about the causes or how the disorder developed so quickly and why. This is the aim of the paper.
In my spare time since the events, I have tried to speak to as many people as possible who were involved in some capacity (instigators, fringe participants, spectators, local residents, professionals) because collectively, they hold the clues with regard to how and why this occurred.
In this paper, I try to place the events in London in context by using their testimonies to show a) why the social disorder unfolded when it did and b) how it spread so quickly. My early analysis indicates that relations between the authorities and the public in certain urban communities are extremely fragile and it doesn’t take much to stimulate public action on perceived injustices. I also show that social networking played a significant role in the way the disorder started and spread, by suggesting that the reasons for involvement in the social disorder were collective as well as subjective. Lastly, I show how the media depictions were one-sided and the government response was knee-jerk, hard-line and blatantly disregarded established criminal justice processes.
The timeline analysis allows for a contextual and situational understanding of how and why people got involved, and what their role was during the social disorder in London.
Briggs, D.(2012) "What we did when it happened: a timeline analysis of the social disorder in London", Safer Communities, 11(1), pp.6 – 16, doi:10.1108/17578041211200065..