The England August 2011 Riots
: An Exploration Of Emergent Narratives And Counter-narratives

  • Suzanne Hyde

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The purpose of this research is to explore how the August 2011 England riots have been represented and responded to by a range of post-riots engaged constituencies.

The thesis contributes to our understanding of the riots and their interpretation in the following ways: it provides an interrogation of official narratives of the riots in relation to a set of fast-tracked policy responses labelled as riots responses by government. In contrast, and in response to party political narratives that dismissed any political content to the 2011 riots, some riots counter-narratives are explored. These demonstrate links between the shared personnel, networks, and politics of some of those involved in student protests of 2010/11 and the August 2011 riots.

Theories influencing the thesis include authors who have understood party political responses to the riots as a response of a cynical or broken state, based on pre-existing racialised historical notions of an underclass.

An interrogation of official narrative and policy responses to the riots is underpinned by methodological understandings of discourse, narrative and counter-narrative. Further, Bassel’s notion of ‘political listening’ influenced my responses to public riots conversations and the selection of research participants for interview, whilst techniques associated with non-participant observation were deployed during public events.

Specific steps taken to investigate this topic have included: desk-based interrogation of government narrative and policy responses to the riots; attendance at over 20 public conversations about the 2011 riots in London; undertaking 20 semi-structured interviews with people visibly dealing with 2011 riots issues at least one year after these events, and six interviews with people targeted for their policy expertise.

The research shows that whilst the rioters were narrated by government as a-historical, non-political opportunist criminals, government narrative and policy responses were in fact themselves opportunistic and based on historic ideological understandings of the young urban poor. Government responses also include the use of pre-planned policies and an assumption that politicians already knew what caused the riots before any public inquiry was undertaken. This is contrasted to the representation of the riots within forms such as Grime music. Use of new technologies by some London based young people enabled the development of new creative outputs articulating counter narratives of the riots. New documentary films were used at public events as vehicles to provoke ongoing public conversations about the riots.

Implications include the importance of providing space for robust counter-narratives in public life concerning events such as the 2011 riots. It supports an emerging literature that seeks to redefine what can be understood as political activity vis a vis dissolving the split between protest and riot, and how we might understand new forms of participatory politics. Far from being a-historical, one-off events, the 2011 riots should be understood within a wider context and trajectory.
Date of AwardJun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorPeter Squires (Supervisor), Mark Erickson (Supervisor) & John Lea (Supervisor)

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