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:
- Panic on the Streets of London - Laurie Penny (via Common Dreams)
- An open letter to those who condemn looting - Evan Calder Williams (via Socialism and/or Barbarism)
- The Riots: A grim mirror image of neo-liberal Britain - Tom Fox (via Red Pepper)
- The London riots: On consumerism coming home to roost - Zygmunt Bauman (via Social Europe Journal)
- Caring costs - but so do riots - Camila Batmanghelidjh (via The Independent)
- Things I believe about the London riots - David Hill (via The Guardian)
- There is a context to London's riots that can't be ignored - Nina Power (via The Guardian)
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.