August 10, 2011

On the London riots

In the flurry of media coverage on this week's UK riots (see below), the most polarized commentaries take the form of a classic dialectic between structure and agency. Right wing commentators are quick to condemn such violence as immoral and apolitical, while left wing commentators just as predictably turn our attention to the social/economic structures that underwrite this mayhem. If the Right is too narrow in its naive understanding of human agency--and it usually is--the Left can also be at fault for privileging structural analysis over individual accountability, coming dangerously close to a fatalistic understanding of the status quo and thereby eroding the possibilities for the improvement of actually existing social conditions. Such social pessimism is precisely what the Left has traditionally sought to counter. Indeed, a broader scope of critical analysis is necessary (which can and should include moral outrage), but we must be careful where we direct our outrage and consider how best to counter these events. 

Real collective responsibility doesn't write off individual agency, but places it in a broader network of social forces. As the global economic crisis increasingly demonstrates, such responsibility is barely present within Western capitalism; rather, we are witnessing a growing disparity between rich and poor, as countries in Europe and North America struggle to maintain class stratification with increased austerity measures. 

Here, I've collected links to some of the best articles and blog posts on the UK riots I've come across so far:

Finally, a special report from Al-Jezeera demonstrates the difficulty (and divisiveness) of accounting for and pinpointing the specific social/economic/cultural forces that have contributed to the riots.

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