From a riotous London.

The global fall in stock market prices in the last few days has eerily coincided with the most astonishing high street scenes across London and the UK. Zoe Williams writing in today’s Guardian newspaper provides a useful analysis of the a-political character of these youthful riots. Picking up on Jean Baudrillard, via Alex Hiller, she points out the dislocation of consumer society from a sense of social norms. Or, in other words, it seems that consumption and anomie are not inconsistent with each other. Thus these riots have mostly involved the looting of shops for higher end trophies — branded clothing, phones, laptops, cigarettes and alcohol. They are primarily about stuff, not ideas. This woman in north east London puts it eloquently. Equally, I would add, the global flows of capital within the neo-liberal economic system are also about a disembedding of commodities from society, and the material realities of their production and exchange.

We’re a month away from the conference. Organisationally, things are dropping into place. The programme is finalised (with the exception of the usual last-minute changes). The conference dinner location is fixed. The keynote speakers are warming up. The book of absracts is close to print. And no doubt conference presenters are busy focusing their papers.

The enthusiastic response in terms of papers submitted and delegate registrations suggests that there are many out there dedicated to embedding or re-embedding design into politics. Of course one of our conference aims is to revindicate ‘lost’ histories of design activism, to show that this has been the case for a long time. But it also seems a good moment for us to go backwards in order to move forwards.

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3 Responses to From a riotous London.

  1. noel douglas says:

    There is nothing apolitical about a riot. Just because the rioters themselves have no clear political expression to their grievances does not mean the riot itself is not a political act.

    The riots started because Mark Duggen a black man was held down by four police officers and shot in the head at virtually point blank range with sub-machine guns, “An eyewitness to Duggan’s killing told the Evening Standard: “About three or four police officers had [him] pinned on the ground at gunpoint. They were really big guns and then I heard four loud shots. The police shot him on the floor.” (see: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/48578) 333 mainly black people have been killed by police officers in the UK in the last decade and no police officer has ever been charged, now how do you think that makes Black people feel? Black kids get abused, bullied and stopped and searched by Police in the UK all the time. And we’re saying this isn’t political?!

    The people who looted came from across the age range and weren’t all young, moreover people are not stupid, in Hackney, for instace, these kids and their families see millionaire bankers living in houses they could never afford right next to some of the poorest housing estates in Europe. They also see the Bankers, the Politicians, the Police and the Media have all been on the take themselves, looting society for their own gain, people understand this. Watch this interview with some kids who rioted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe9Hyk5P16k

    Of course in a society that tell you from every billboard having stuff makes you a person people are going to want to get stuff they can’t afford otherwise, there’s 1 job for every 54 people in Tottenham and Job seekers allowance is £65, houses are unaffordable, and most jobs pay barely a living wage if you’re unskilled.

    This is Neo-Liberalism’s fault, it is a cancer eating away at society and peoples sense of themselves, we shouldn’t be surprised if, if voting changes nothing (which it doesn’t anymore), if marching in the streets in millions does nothing (as it did over the Iraq War), and if you see the whole of society against you, some people fight back in ways that may not be nice.

    But please don’t pretend it’s not political.

    • Yes, agreed. At one level, of course, everything is political. And to claim something is not political is a political declaration in itself.

      But what I was driving at, some weeks ago when I wrote this blog entry, was that there was not an explicit ´cause´ or declared politics around the riots. That´s all. Okay, one of the problems is that no or little voice has been given to those involved in the rioters, so their intentions are ´spoken for´by others (media, politicians, academics etc.).

      I think we should distinguish between different political expressions. So perhaps a design activist political expression is going to be articulated in its intent differently than a rioter´s.

      Hopefully we can discuss this further in a coffee break.

  2. noel douglas says:

    Sorry one other thing I should add…the only way out of poverty for many of the kids would have been education, and what have the government done? Scrap EMA which is the money poor kids get to go to college before university, and putting up uni fees to £9000 a year, so that door shuts as well. I’ve taught kids from these estates, they only want a life like anyone would.

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