The Emergence of a Lumpen-Consumerate: the Aesthetics of Consumption and Violence in the English Riots of 2011
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Within hours of the outset of unrest in the August 2011 English Riots, the government asserted that they were the doings of “criminal gangs”. In doing so, government officials and journalistic commentators cited television images of rioting and plundering youths. Although this assertion was subsequently abandoned, it reflected an on-going process: the criminalization of youth in Britain. The recycled images of flames and hooded teenagers came to serve as the proof of youth “gone bad”. This paper explores both the actions supposedly captured in the images depicting the riots and the discourses surrounding the reproduction of those images. It seeks to connect the youth politics of the everyday—especially the problems of being ignored as political subjects—to the formal political structures that rely on youth to be socially unruly on one hand and disciplined consumers on the other. Segments of British youth are cast out, seen as unneeded or unwanted in this disciplinary project and constitute what I call here a “lumpen-consumerate”. The paper concludes with a comparative analysis of the consumer images that both discipline young people and serve as a model for framing the unrest. The paper builds upon Deleuze, Badiou, Bourdieu, Bauman and others in order to examine how spontaneous, uncoordinated action came to be read through mass media spectacle as dismissible and intolerable images of “criminal gangs” to be policed.
KeywordsCollective violence Riots Consumer culture Neo-Liberal capitalism Aesthetics Identity Belonging
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