The English City Riots of 2011, "Broken Britain" and the retreat into the present

FLINT, John F and POWELL, Ryan (2012). The English City Riots of 2011, "Broken Britain" and the retreat into the present. Sociological research online, 17 (3), p. 20.

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The responses to the English city riots of 2011 bear a remarkable resemblance to those of historical urban disorders in terms of the way in which they are framed by concerns over "moral decline", "social malaise" and a "lack of self-restraint" among certain sections of the population. In this paper we draw on the work of Norbert Elias and take a long-term perspective in exploring historical precedents and parallels relating to urban disorder and anti-social behaviour. We reject the notion of "Broken Britain" and argue that a more "detached" perspective is necessary in order to appreciate that perceived crises of civilisation are ubiquitous to the urban condition. Through this historical analysis, framed by Elias' theory of involvement and detachment, we present three key arguments. Firstly, that a 'retreat into the present' is evident among both policy discourse and social science in responding to contemporary urban disorder, giving rise to ahistorical accounts and the romanticisation of previous eras; secondly, that particular moral panics have always arisen, specifically focused upon young and working class populations and urban disorder; and, thirdly, that previous techniques of governance to control these populations were often far more similar to contemporary mechanisms than many commentaries suggest. We conclude by advocating a long-term, detached perspective in discerning historical precedents and their direct linkages to the present; and in identifying what is particular about today's concerns and responses relating to urban disorder.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research
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Page Range: p. 20
Depositing User: Emma Smith
Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2012 11:16
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 08:10

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