The Riots – A Sociological Perspective

The Riots – A Sociological Perspective

In the light of the recent UK riots, one of Oxford Open Learning’s tutors considers events from a sociological perspective.

The Riots – A Sociological Perspective

In the previous psychology blog promted by the recent riots in UK cities we looked at some reasons that have been given for why people who wouldn’t be expected to can become involved in riots and behave in a way that is out of character. This blog looks at recent events from a sociological perspective.

People who riot are different people aren’t they? Not everyone will riot? There is a suggestion that individuals who you would not expect to riot can get dragged into rioting for a range of reasons. This blog doesn’t quite fit into the framework we have been following for the blogs for sociology, but given the events of last month, I thought it would be useful to look at the riots from a sociological point of view.

In case you are not aware, there were riots in major cities in the UK last month. We are not going to go into the whys and wherefores of how these riots started here, but from a psychological point of view, it is interesting to look at how people respond in this sort of situation.

Sociologists have been interested in the behaviour of crowds for a long time.

Direct action is a form of political activity that takes place outside the normal political processes. This involves things such as riots, vandalism, terrorism, boycotts, sit-ins and demonstrations.

Riots are serious, violent outbreaks of urban disorder, usually on a large scale. Violence can be directed at people and/or property.

Riots are often thought to happen as desperate actions when the people involved are not represented in any other way. This suggests that people who are not represented by traditional forms of politics (political parties, pressure groups etc.) may resort to riots as a way to get heard. This view ignores the fact that other forms of direct action, such as those listed above, can also be used to attract attention from other members of a society.

Riots are not a new phenomenon. They have happened for many years. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were frequent riots that occurred as a result of industrialisation following the industrial revolution. In the UK, we saw riots in the inner-cities in the 1980s in Toxteth, Brixton and Tottenham and riots occurred in the same decade to protest again the Poll Tax. Riots also occurred earlier this year to protest against changes to student university funding. So the riots that  occurred last month are not a unique or different situation – the reasons for riots starting just differ in different situations.

Tracey Jones


If  this blog has inspired your interest in sociology, visit the Oxford Open Learning website to find out more about our A level and GCSE Sociology courses.

You can also contact a Student Adviser to discuss your distance learning options.

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