David Maguire on ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’

A Conference Report for GEA

The working title for my research is: ‘Learning to Serve Time: troubling Spaces of Working Class Masculinity in the U.K’. It aims to explore, through the in-depth study of a group of young adult prisoners, the ways in which the construction of a particular version(s) of masculinity operate as a factor in the academic (under)achievement, economic marginalisation, subsequent incarceration and later disadvantage of this particular group of young adult men. This research area links to some of the main themes presented at the conference including gender, youth and education. The day was packed with interesting and stimulating presentations, and thought provoking panel discussions. I was encouraged that the conference organisers gave space to community organisations, postgraduate students and established academics.

A representative of one such community organisation was Teddy Nygh, the filmmaker and founder of ‘Fully Focused Productions’; a media company that is organised and run by a steering group made up from young people. They presented a preview of their most recent film ‘Riots from Wrong’. It was clear from the viewing that this film promises a snapshot of the riots through an alternative lens. Perhaps this is because they took to the streets with their cameras, only hours after the unrest started. These young filmmakers were much more in touch and much closer to the subjects and communities under the spotlight than some of the dominant voices coming from within mainstream media and academic institutions.

Following this was a thought-provoking panel discussion ‘Reflections’ which included a varied group of panellists, not only from within the academy but with voices from the voluntary sector and creative industries. A large part of the discussion focused on how race and ethnicity were a catalyst and significant undercurrent to the disturbances, at least in many of the locations of unrest, but were in no way the only structural factor: class was also seen to have a significant role. Interestingly, a major theme throughout all the discussions was that there could not be one core causal explanation and that a myriad of interconnecting elements sparked the disturbances and, importantly, different communities took to the streets for different reasons. However, a recurring theme throughout the day was that there is a profound discontent with political purging of welfare and over and aggressive policing in some communities and this, in turn, generates profound resentment towards authority.

The afternoon papers I attended, broached questions not only relating to the media’s representation/ reporting of the riots, but also the type of commentary coming from within the social sciences (where it could be argued that a funding climate seems to be setting the tone). One interesting position was that there was little to separate current academic representations of the August disturbances from that reported in the mainstream media. This raised interesting and welltrodden debates about the role of the social sciences/’knowledge’ in challenging or reinforcing structures of inequality and political hegemony. The closing panel discussion ‘Futures’ touched upon how inadequate compulsory education provision, inadequate housing/ oversubscribed waiting lists, record youth unemployment, and a profound attack on welfare provision is creating a situation where many have even less to lose than they did a year ago. The endnote seemed to infer a warning that the time of mass disturbance is not yet over.

David Maguire, DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford

Leave a Reply