Clash live at concert Rock Against Racism ( ) Victoria Park, London, UK 30. April 1978

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Problem Set 1: Extract the Theory

Listen to (or read transcripts) of these two stories. Write down and diagram all the sociological theories you hear implicitly articulated.

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'Boredom And Alienation' May Factor Into U.K. Riots 20110813_wesat_05.mp3

Wis. State Fair Latest Target Of Violent Flash Mobs 20110813_wesat_06.mp3


  1. Comparison of two spates of rioting, 1980s and 2011, in the UK
  2. "Those riots often sparked out of overzealous policing and discriminatory policing in black communities, and there was a very clear kind of anti-racist politics involved in those times"
  3. "The current riots are also giving voice to outrage, Adebayo says, but this time the politics seem to center on consumerism — "and a kind of slightly juvenile, slightly ill-thought-through, I think, politics among the youth"
  4. They turn to a black cultural critic Diran Adebayo
  5. He says contemporary youth rioters when asked about motives give pat answers derived from social media
  6. Real cause is cuts in programs for youth — but this is not what the kids are mad about.
  7. "Long term structural problems" — lack of incentive for investing in "normative societal values"
  8. "There is a kind of a level of boredom and alienation and just not a commitment to the values that have kept society to some degree, you know, cohesive for many years,"
  9. for society to work well, people have to be respected for things other than material values.
  10. "It's very important that leaders and people of influence start giving messages that we value you as a person for reasons other than what you own," he says. "We have to give people a sense of these other values so that their esteem doesn't just lie in what they own, and I think that's the only long-term solution to these problems."
  11. Host: "real reasons" vs. "proximate cause" (0:16)
  12. see for list of causes showing up in media

What is being explained? Youth riots in summer 2011 in UK.
Why bring up riots from 1980s? They are something we think we understand. Since both are riots, young people, London, race, a reasonable starting point is to assume that they are the "same thing"

YouGov Poll:

1.2 Social media
1.3 Criminal opportunism
1.4 Police tactics
1.5 Race relations
1.6 Welfare dependence
1.7 Social exclusion
1.8 Absent fathers
1.9 Spending cuts and economic crisis
1.10 Gang culture
1.11 Consumerism
1.12 Multiculturalism

Social media (ref, ref, ref)
Criminal opportunism (ref)
Police tactics (ref)
Race relations (ref, ref)
Welfare dependence(ref)
Social exclusion (ref, ref)
Absent fathers (ref)
Spending cuts and economic crisis (ref, ref)
Gang culture (ref, ref)
Consumerism (ref)
Multiculturalism (ref)

Our theory problem: What caused the recent riots in London?


The naive proximate cause is an EVENT:


But people say "we've seen this before"


We did figure it out last time.


And so that can guide us this time


But let's stop and think. Does that logic make sense? First off, let's ask what it would take for us to say the riots this time are "the same as" the riots last time. Second, let's think about the logic of saying "if they are the same,then the causes must be similar."

One point to note, of course, is that the old riots were almost certainly more complex than memory makes them. But leaving that aside, the interviewee in the NPR story suggests the actual behaviors and mindset of the rioters are different and so a different set of explanations will be called for. If we do a little scouting around we find that he is not alone. Wikipedia editors have collected a whole list of "explanations" for the 2011 riots:


Lots of theories out there, let's try to unpack one. Let's look at the article for "absent fathers." Here is the theory:


What is the process behind this "theory"? How is it that absent fathers "causes" riots? Let's look at the article where this was reported (Daily Telegraph, 9 August by Cristina Odone). Never mind, for now, the politics of the writer — we are on the hunt for theories used to explain social behaivor:

London riots: Absent fathers have a lot to answer for

Here are three numbers to bear in mind when talking of the riots: 8 billion (pounds spent by social services each year on children and young people); 3.5 million (children from a broken home); and one fifth (school leavers who are illiterate).

Given that the £8 billion spent by social services on children and young people is a significant increase on the amount they spent, say, five years ago, talk of cuts triggering the riots makes no sense. Even when Labour Governments increased spending on social security, the results were hardly encouraging: the population of young offenders didn’t shrink, it increased. So did drug and alcohol addiction among the young.

But let’s look at the second number. A large and increasing number of youngsters are brought up without dads. The majority of rioters are gang members whose only loyalty is to the group and whose only authority figure is the toughest of the bunch. Like the overwhelming majority of youth offenders behind bars, these gang members have one thing in common: no father at home.

When the journalist Harriet Sergeant spent a year talking with gang members in the inner city, she discovered youngsters without male role models. Their notion of family life was chaotic and conflicted. Mother lived alone or with a succession of men. Work was something losers did – much better and more immediate financial reward came from milking the benefits system. Schooling offered no escape: illiteracy was ride, with most children leaving primary school unable to read or write, let alone do simple sums.

The commentariat won’t like it, but rioters would not stop in their tracks if their local authority were to reinstate their library. They would, however, feel very differently about life and about themselves if their father were to spend time with them, cheer them on to do better, and warn them about bad friends and dangerous substances.


London's burning! London's burning!

All across the town, all across the night
Everybody's driving with full headlights
Black or white turn it on, face the new religion
Everybody's sitting 'round watching television!

London's burning with boredom now
London's burning dial 999

I'm up and down the Westway, in an' out the lights
What a great traffic system - it's so bright
I can't think of a better way to spend the night
Then speeding around underneath the yellow lights

London's burning with boredom now
London's burning dial 999

Now I'm in the subway and I'm looking for the flat
This one leads to this block, this one leads to that
The wind howls through the empty blocks looking for a home
I run through the empty stone because I'm all alone

London's burning with boredom now…
London's burning dial 999

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Black people gotta lot a problems
But they don't mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick

An' everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
An' nobody wants
To go to jail!

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it

Everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?