Viewpoint: UK riots

Dr Clifford Stott

Professor Clifford Stott, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said: “The difficulty we are faced with, as a society in the context of a ‘politics of riot’, is that meaningful dialogue to address this important question is almost impossible. 

“What dominate at present are vitriolic debates loaded with moral indignation that are as much about pathologising crowd action, attributing blame and denying responsibility as they are about truth and objectivity. But this transition from peaceful to riotous crowds is, of course, one of the fundamental questions of crowd psychology.

“In addressing it over the last 30 years my colleagues and I have made some important advances in scientific understanding of how and why riots come about.

“Of central importance is that we know that ‘riots’ cannot be understood as an explosion of ‘mob ‘irrationality’. Nor can they be adequately explained in terms of individuals predisposed to criminality by nature of their pathological disposition. To render crowd action as meaningful and driven to a large degree by contextual issues is not to act as an apologist for these riots. Nor is it to accept as legitimate the attacks against ordinary working class people, businesses, homes and families.

“In fact work at the University of Liverpool has played an important role in developing policing methods that prevent riots from happening. Our science also underpins many of the recent recommendations made by the HMIC following the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests. These approaches do not rely on the reactive use of force.  Instead they prioritize proactive interventions based upon dialogue as a means for building and maintaining police legitimacy.

“Our argument then is that to render the riots meaningless is actually to deny the opportunity that we must take to understand them if we are to take the appropriate measures that will prevent them in the future.”

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