University of Leicester
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The racialisation of disorder in twentieth century Britain

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:36 authored by Michael Rowe
Two dominant themes can be identified in political and media debates which followed various incidents of urban unrest in Britain during the 1980s. Events in St. Pauls, Bristol, in April 1980, in Toxteth, Liverpool in July 1981, and in the Handsworth district of Birmingham in October 1985, were amongst those which were frequently held to represent a new and troubling development in British cities. In the report which followed his Inquiry into the disturbances in Brixton in April 1981, Lord Scarman recorded the 'horror and incredulity' with which the British public watched violent scenes unfold on television news reports (Scarman, 1981; 1.2). Accompanying the view that urban unrest was anathema in British society was the frequent suggestion that the events in many cities in the early and mid-1980s were essentially 'race riots', clashes between black people and the police. Many of the arguments which explained the disturbances in terms of the 'race' of those involved are critically discussed in this study.;The thesis develops a theoretical framework based upon the concept of racialisation. It is argued that a full understanding of racialised discourse must pay attention to both the particular local circumstances in which they appear, and well-established themes which have unfolded over time. An important aspect of the study is the examination of other discourses with which racialised ideas have co-joined, reflecting the way in which notions of 'race' are socially constructed. The final part of the thesis returns to debates of the 1980s and argues that the racialisation of unrest in that decade was closely inter-twined with conservative perspectives which sought to deny socio-economic causes in favour of explanations based upon the supposed cultural or personal proclivities of those involved.


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Public Order

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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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