New book reveals the myths and realities of the English riots this year

Friday 18 November 2011

The riots and lawlessness which swept many of England’s major cities in 2011 were not simply the result of mindless criminality, according to leading experts in crowd psychology and the policing of riots.

In the first definitive academic analysis of what happened in August, Professor Steve Reicher of the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews and Dr Clifford Stott of the University of Liverpool suggest there was much more to the riots than irrational mob mentality – and that to characterise them as such stores up serious problems for the future.

In a new e-book to be published on Friday 18 November, Reicher and Stott lead evidence to suggest that mad mobs, gangs or pure criminality were not to blame, and that grievance, and lack of opportunity, shared identity or empowerment are the central factors that must be addressed if we are to prevent a similar situation again.

The research found that the Tottenham riots rose out of longstanding grievances between the local community and the police, and also because the police failed to engage with the family of Mark Duggan and the local community.

The authors conclude the problem was insensitive policing rather than inadequate policing and rather than a senseless explosion, the rioting was a targeted attack on the police and an assertion of power over them.

David Cameron blamed the riots on a “broken society” but what really happened?  What caused such anger and violence?

When does a protest become a riot? And at a time of economic and political unrest, how can society prevent it happening again?

In their e-book, “Mad Mobs and Englishmen?” Reicher and Stott present an evidence-based evaluation of the causes of the 2011 riots.

Published on Friday 18 November, this book draws equally on academic theory and youtube videos uploaded from the frontline, cutting through the political spin and media speculation to provide a comprehensive analysis of the events and the causes that policy makers are missing.

They bust the myths of the 2011 riots and put them into their historical context, making clear suggestions for how a repeat scenario can be avoided in future.

Professor Steve Reicher said: “The evidence we have brought together shows that the riots were not simple criminality. They arose out of longstanding grievances and as long as we fail to address those grievances, then more riots are a distinct possibility.

“These riots began because the police failed to engage with local communities, not because they were too soft. So when the politicians call for water cannon and curfews, they are in danger of making a bad situation still worse.

“Riots always have a pattern that reveals the understandings and grievances of those involved. We will learn much about our society if we stop, listen and learn from what people did on those four nights in August.”

“If we simply dismiss and condemn the riots, and if we fail to learn from them, then we are in danger of sleepwalking our way towards catastrophe.”

“Excellent and important… this fascinating account… challenges the widespread dismissal of the riots as ‘criminality pure and simple’ …  compelling evidence for an alternative view of what really caused the uprisings.”

George Akerlof, Nobel Prize-Winner in Economics, 2001 and Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley

“Readable, considered and enlightening… at last, an authoritative examination of the riots by leading experts on the social psychology of crowd behaviour.  Anyone who really wants to understand the riots should read this.”

Claudia Hammond, journalist and broadcaster, presenter of All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4.

“insightful and well-argued… one of the most penetrating analyses of “rioting” ever published.  A must-read for anyone wishing to understand the issues behind urban conflict.”

Jim Sidanius, Professor of Psychology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University

“This reasoned and intelligent approach is in stark contrast to the moral panics apparent in Westminster and the media in the immediate aftermath of the riots. They have endeavoured to present a carefully researched document that seeks to understand such events and find workable strategies to prevent future occurrences and should be congratulated.”

Superintendent Roger Evans, former Deputy Commander of the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group.

Professor Steve Reicher is Professor of Social Psychology at St Andrews University and a leading expert in crowd psychology.  Dr Clifford Stott is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Liverpool one of Europe’s leading authorities on the policing of riots.

For more information on the book:

Published by Constable and Robinson publishers:

Book length: ~30,000 words

Price: £2.39 on

Both authors are available for interview or quotation, and advance copy PDFs available upon request. Email [email protected] for more details.

Contact Steve Reicher directly as per details: (or try the departmental secretary on: 01334 462071)

And Cliff Stott as per details here:

Note to Editors

Professor Steve Reicher is available on 01334 46 3057.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Fiona MacLeod on 01334 462108/ 0771 414 0559.

Ref: (riots 17/11/11)

View the University’s latest news at

Category Public interest stories

Related topics

Share this story