Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

Summary: Taking the criminological perspective, I attempt to dissect the Generation Y gang culture in Britain, and see how it connects to the ongoing rioting.

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People aren't born angry. Something has to make people angry.

Technology has been blamed for the riots in London and major cities around the United Kingdom. Though social media is not to blame, nor is BlackBerry Messenger directly implicated -- though it was used to perpetuate violence -- technology is not the demon in this.

Technology is the middle-ground for which people use to do other things. It's as simple as that. So, if technology is not to blame: what, or who is?

Many children today do not represent the quintessential image that adults have in their idealistic and optimistic minds. Children kicking soccer balls and skipping ropes on lush green fields and coming in for a cool drink prepared by a loving parent once the sun sets.

One of the problems with society is that we over-generalise and lump in one extreme to another.

But so many of the children and young people in the deprived areas London, Manchester, and in other British cities rioting and looting, are only so in body. In mind, they are adults, because they have been forced to adjust to the harsh realities of what life really brings.

In this rare off-topic article, I explore the younger Generation Y's gang culture in London and theorise how rioting spread from what was initially a peaceful protest. It's a long piece, but it offers some theoretical explanations as to why.

(Image via Flickr)

Though I do not condone the violence or the criminal activity, part of my role as a criminologist is to objectively empathise -- a paradox to some -- in order to understand why crime occurs, leading thus into how society can prevent it.

While there is certainly "no justification for this level of violence" -- a soundbite resonated through every broadcast of the day -- there are, however, reasons for it.

Generation Y gang culture in London

Gangs and violence are not mutually exclusive. It isn't just the typical young 'youth' boys rioting and looting, but girls also. Girls are just as likely to be involved in the gang culture as boys, and London has its fair share of gangs as will every other city on the planet.

While many vilify gang culture in London, it is a crucial part of the Generation Y's culture in the capital. A gang does not automatically mean it will be violent, commit criminal acts and hold abusive attitudes and behaviour.

As one fellow criminological colleague of mine told me, a Londoner herself, the term 'gangs' is another way of saying 'informal families'; collectives of people for familial support amongst those of their own generation, because they may not have the traditional parental reinforcement.

Gangs, in her experience, may cause violence, but the most want to give the impression that they are self-dependent though not a force to be reckoned with -- merely a defensive mechanism to prevent further harm from their already fragile childhoods.

The rational choice of rioting and positive role models

One significant factor to take into account is the opportunity that rational choice theory presents us. In short, we rationally choose not to commit crime or disorder and vice versa. The lack of police on the streets of London during the initial uprising led to images of rioting and looting appeared initially to go unpunished, which can go towards partly blaming for uprising in other areas of the country.

In terms of rioting, young juveniles are more likely to commit crime in groups or with others. This is more prevalent in groups or gangs where there are no positive role models, or there has been a sudden loss of one.

This leads me to sub-cultural theory. Communities are living, breathing social organisms. Each culture -- whether this be a community, a street, an ethnic group or a socio-economic class, for example -- will have a deviant sub-culture. These conflict subcultures are the ones rioting -- not necessarily the criminal subcultures, which deal in the black market economy in drugs and suchlike. Criminal subcultures could benefit from the conflict subcultures' looting, by the selling of stolen goods, for example.

These deviant subcultures are in effect violent gangs and hostile groups, and can be classed by membership, short-term hedonism, and non-utilitarianism. This forms part of status frustration -- a culture clash between those who seemingly have everything and those who have little, and struggle to survive in Western society.

Combining both sub-cultural theory with lacking police numbers and rational choice theory, we find opportunity theory -- where crime is committed based on the opportunity presenting itself. If the car isn't locked, it's more likely to be stolen than one that is.

The police and the state

Though now -- as over 16,000 police officers cover the streets of London to heighten the law enforcement presence to resist further unlawful activity -- only now are we seeing the carrot and the stick approach, almost to 'coax' people away from rioting.

State housing authorities say that those caught on CCTV rioting face eviction from their houses, for example.

While these measures come from central and local government, these entities are detached from the vast majority of the young, deprived children and families engaged in the violence. It falls down to the police knowing what is best -- as police are, as many seem to forget, people too -- and know their local areas well. The police should be the ones dealing with those in their local communities, rather than politicians in Downing Street pontificating with wide-ranging language and "policy initiatives" which take an inappropriate broad stroke at societal smaller problems.

The UK's coalition government has little to call its own in terms of youth-specific policy, and the policy that does target young people has been immensely unpopular amongst the younger generation.

Besides tuition fees -- need I say more -- many of these policies focus on schooling and education, and forget the 'rioting generation' as we have seen this week, are not within the conventional realms of schooling and education.

Who to blame?

Should we blame the parents? In short, yes, but not entirely. Legally, parents can be prosecuted for the actions of their childrens' delinquency -- even in middle-class settings such as school truancy. But it is the fault of those who commit acts of rioting and looting, destruction and violence -- regardless of age. It is, on the other hand, just as much as it is the fault of state and local government for not mobilising policy at the smaller sub-cultures that are disaffected by wider, middle- to higher-class society.

There is clearly an inter-generational problem, particularly between parents and children. Local community leaders, such as priests, members of Parliament and youth workers, only appeal to those who are within the legitimate and law-abiding members of society, with criminal 'underdogs' only appealing to the criminal groups and gangs. Yet, both are just as influential as one another.

In short, we cannot just blame those on the street. Society appears as though it is breaking down, and will take time to recover, but in fact it has been broken for some time. It takes a while for the already-cracked crockery to break.

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Topics: United Kingdom, Government, BlackBerry

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  • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

    Very nice article, thanks. Follow-up question: how did England get to where they are today?
    ScottBraden
    • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

      @ScottBraden In what way, exactly? From the Roman days, or why the riots started?
      zwhittaker
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @zwhittaker

        effete socialism, high unemployment and an economy that cannot fund the social programs that the UK has committed to.
        Your Non Advocate
      • Message has been deleted.

        Richard Flude
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @zwhittaker <br>My English husband would agree with facebook@ and Richard Flude.<br><br>The reasons that they state are why it took less than 5 minutes to determine whether we would live in the UK or the US.
        sissy sue
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @zwhittaker <br><br>Riot is only the symtom, the root cause is the in-balance of people's minds. <br><br>I think people did not meat to burn the building, they just wanted to express something. <br><br>Balance = peace<br>in-balance = irritation

        I think social confilics is root cause;
        mlwan
      • Tipping point

        @zwhittaker Billions spent on illegal wars with no repercussions, there's enough money for billionaire bailouts but not education or healthcare, Cameron's press guy is in bed with Murdoch and his out of control wiretappers, Scotland Yard's top cop caught taking bribes, the poor PM has to cut his "vacation" short over outrage that there's no money for little Johnny's college or medication...

        Nope, no idea what or who is to blame. An eyewitness claims father-of-four Duggan is shot while face down on the street. No one remembers the subway shooting of an innocent Brazilian man after 7/7 where police lied about a long black coat and wires and jumped turnstiles etc.? No?

        Even though poster @Richard Flude probably attended a public school, and if not, certainly DIDN'T pay his own way through grammar school, he's never taken anything from the government - not the public education his doctors and professors received to competently take care of his needs, not the socialized military hunting terrorists in every alley, not the roads he drives or the air he breathes or the toilets he flushes or Grandma's hip operation or pandemic his health services prevented from killing him, no, he's a self-made man who chose his parents wisely.

        Good on you, sir. Those rioters and panhandlers should be water-cannoned, and be done with it.
        doctordawg
      • Doctordawg, I paid all for all the things you quoted

        Where to you think the money comes from when your not borrowing it against my and future generations incomes.

        I've never defended the bailouts, actually arguing the government should have stayed out.

        The NHS in the UK is a joke, my money wasted in building it.

        Now we are blamed for the riots as well!
        Richard Flude
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        It was the trigger-happy cop who shot an unarmed man that started it. He's a big a criminal as all the rioters.
        pianoman1962
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @zwhittaker

        You need to make a correction to your article. I really don't think you meant what you said in, "Gangs and violence are not mutually exclusive. " Of course they are not "mutually exclusive". It looks like you REALLY meant so say something more like, "Gangs and violence do not always go together", or "Gangs and violence are not always concomitant".

        After all, the popular perception is that gangs and violence DO always go together. This is certainly easy to believe in the states where the gangs seem to all be forced into one of the great divides between very violent gangs, such as Crips and Bloods.
        mejohnsn
      • Anyone seen the British PM's speech response?

        @zwhittaker
        here: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/pms-speech-on-the-fightback-after-the-riots/

        It's very illuminating. It shows several things:

        1. The British politicians know a lot more than they tell us. They are more aware of the 'commonsense' issues than they will ever admit - it has been to their advantage so far to pretend they don't. 'Honest Ignorance' is a better defence than willful Ignorance.
        2. They want their criminal pie (cocaine & prostitute parties, theft of tax monies, bribery, corruption, crime of all kinds) but the rioters are expected not to want their slice of the criminal pie. The old adage comes to mind "don't lie, cheat, or steal - the Government hates competition"
        3. It takes violent civil unrest to force those in Government to finally pretend to be honest. It takes some terrible criminal catastrophe that rocks the very fabric of social order to force the politicians to finally say something commonsense and honest. Whether they actually do anything in line with what they say is, well, another matter entirely. Whilever the host compliantly slumbers, the parasites happily continue their feeding frenzy. I think it's a case now, of resorting to emergency measures - telling some form of commonsense truth, *gasp* - in order to calm the host down.

        The PM -knows- that Police are being mis-used as tax collectors on Motorists - he admits it in his speech. He knows Police are being rendered ineffective at fighting crime due to paperwork overload. He knows government bureaucracy punishes honest citizens, and completely misses the criminal elements. He knows all of this. And, I bet the rest of the politicians with a handful of brain cells to rub together do too. But it takes complete catastrophe to force them to bother about it.

        The point I make is this: It's decades of flagrant "do as we say, not as we do" from all of our 'governing representatives" which has fed this fire. Those who don't have anything to lose ask "why should we have morals, ethics, or any regard for anyone else either?" It's only the middle class, with work ethics and some morals, that is keeping society sane. This is the middle class that Govt policies are doing their best to eradicate. The middle class that bears increasing Govt paperwork and legislatory burdens; that groans under the penalties of more and more govt red tape. More and more politically-correct welfare state legislation that literally encourages people to suckle from the State Nipple and stay degradingly dependent on it.

        So, the hide of Politicians getting a bit of a shock when the lower socio-economic elements they "represent" actually turn around and outwork their worldviews and mindsets, albeit in a far cruder and violent manner than they envision... it's laughable.

        The sad thing is, so many decent people have tried to speak out on these issues over the decades, but the Media + Govt machine howls them down with bilious attacks, and the silent majority gives approval by their silence. Well, they're getting a harbinger of what the crop they've planted will look like...
        Shinsengumi
    • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

      @ScottBraden: Your asking the wrong question. The question is how are thousands of young men learning BBM to manage riots and insurrections? It's not a simple task, so somebody's teaching BBM riot management to the lads. Just like they did in Egypt & Libya.
      JJJoseph
    • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

      @ScottBraden This is a good question. Unfortunately, it is also a question which, when asked, spurs a lot of impassioned but uninformed replies.
      mejohnsn
  • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

    A conservative government, stratified society where everyone is supposed to know their place, high unemployment, wars past and present and an economy in the dustbin.<br><br>Now what was your question again?
    tonymcs@...
    • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

      @tonymcs@... That conservative government must be really powerful if in just over a year it managed to reverse all the "good" indoctrination of a decade of Labour government.
      Shadeburst
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @Shadeburst The Conservatives have shown us yet again how much easier it is to destroy than to build.
        mejohnsn
  • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

    Delinquent Parents, Rampant Consumerism, years of neglect by right-wing governments a recipe for disaster.
    jatbains
    • A Conservative government was elected in May 2010

      The Tories / Liberal Democrats coalition could hardly be described as right-wing.

      You could have written :


      "...year and a bit of neglect by centre-right government is a recipe for disaster.";-)
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @Richard Flude Fair enough. The state cannot take the place of parents. Moral education starts at home.
        jatbains
      • RE: Criminologically speaking: If technology is not to blame for the London riots, what or who is?

        @Richard Flude Any coalition with the Tories in it is right-wing. Schizophrenically so, when the coalition is with "Liberal Democrats" (who are not always so liberal, despite the name).

        But on another point, sure the state cannot take place of parents, but when the parents themselves don't do it, who else will step in and at least partially fill that role?
        mejohnsn