Posted in A2 Sociology: Crime and Deviance, AS Sociology: Education


It has been a fascinating last week for Sociologists, the UK ´riots´ have raised so many issues and new media has undoubtably added a new slant to the social unrest.

Social unrest is of course nothing new and to some extent the unrest that started in Tottenham holds many parallels with the Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham that took place in 1985 and resulted in the killing of a police officer.

Perhaps the over riding similarity is the manner in which both the and 1985 and 2011 disturbances and are said to be triggered by perceived wrongdoing by the police against members of an ethnic minority:

1985 – Brixton – a black woman was shot during a police search and in Tottenham – Cynthia Jarrett, an Afro-Caribbean woman died of a stroke during a police search of her home

2011 – Tottenham – Mark Duggan, an black British man was shot dead by police despite no evidence to suggest he was shooting back

Yet, whilst the catalysts are similar, the 2011 riots in Tottenham have led to an unprecedented wave of criminal behaviour across a number of British cities such as  Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester (not to mention many parts of London). Although all of these cities have suffered disturbances before  (1980 St Pauls Bristol, 1981 Toxteth, Liverpool, 2005 Birmingham…) , which is unlikely to be a coincidence, it is very unusual that rioting spread across such a diverse geographical area. Often such disturbances are restricted to a limited area – for example, Bradford and Oldham in 2001.

Therefore, the subsequent unrest has raised so many issues for Sociologists to explore:

1. Why have the riots spread across a wide geographical area?

2. What are the causes of the riots?

3. What role has new media had in the escalation of the riots?

4. How have news institutions reported the events and what impact have these reports had?

– how sensationalised has the coverage been?

– what repesentations have been constructed and how?

5. How might the state react to this unrest?


Sociology and Media Studies teacher at Hazelwick School, West Sussex. Former teacher at Felpham Community College and Doha College

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