London Riots – in thinking about the visualisation of poverty in public and the way in which poverty is said to ‘appear’ in the form of the riots:

– cuts to social services

– break in social contract: no reason to participate, uphold my end of society

– what society says you must want, and gives you no means to get that via the approved pathways (employment, purchase)

mapping poverty and deprivation directly onto the riots (i.e. not the other way around)

There’s been a lot of rage amongst what passes for left commentators about dissimulation: the ‘real’ or at least comparable looting and sacking, stealing and unchecked, immoral greed can be found amongst the ruling class. Part of this is our attachment to this mode of analysis: the longing to blame the ruling class from whom we in the educated middle class are at a safe distance. Part of this is the bitter, burning truth: part of having power is being able to resignify your activities as good and right and the comparable, contextual, thoroughly relative and related activities of those who don’t have the privilege as bad and wrong.

Poverty appears in public under these circumstances. It is not grimy bedding or toothless faces. Equally abject, it is ‘blind’, ‘nihilistic’, criminal, greedy, ungrateful, irresponsible, no excuse. It appears in a hoodie and unwhite skin.  I’m just not so sure that turning around the signification – “NO UR TEH LOOTERZ” – is at all adequate to the task of redistribution, respect, and rest. Like “blame poverty” and “blame inequality”, it’s using the master’s tools to bring down the master’s house, which we know from anticolonial feminism does not necessarily get us away from a world run by masters.

The response from the Cameron government is unsurprisingly severe. ‘The riots’ have given them a welcome reason to wind down social housing even further, to throw people trapped in poverty and racism directly onto a market that trades on both. The policing and evictions remind me of Race’s theorisation of exemplary power: government-directed practices intended not to respond with compassion and intelligence to actual social problems like street violence and parasitic dealing in consumables, but to reinforce the boundary between moral and immoral people. The UK government is taking the rhetoric of cleanup away from community-building and towards excision. Poverty is being evicted from the public.

The sociological question: “why hasn’t it happened more/yet?” “why aren’t there more riots?” – the answer may be around neoliberal consumerism’s powers of pacification….


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