Brixton 1981–2011 : rioting, newspaper narratives and the effects of a cultural vanguard
1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, English Philology
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During the 2011 England riots, numerous interpretative narratives appeared in the media, each of them offering a different view regarding the nature of the riots and their origins. Alongside these general narratives, a number of minor narratives that tended to focus on individual events and incidents surfaced as well. The primary goals of this work are to examine, analyse and categorise the narratives that appeared during and after the riots and explore an entirely different cultural narrative that the mainstream media has entirely ignored. This is accomplished through media analysis, which collects data from three focus newspapers: The Guardian, The Telegraph and Daily Mail. The overall research is both qualitative and quantitative. The exact number of articles that possess a certain narrative pattern or focus on an individual aspect of the riots is recorded and analysed, but the ultimate narrative analysis is highly qualitative. Most of the quantitative analysis is present in the media analysis section, where the goal is to establish the presence of certain narrative trends. The media analysis, though somewhat technical, is strongly influenced by Lule’s research on journalistic myths present in, for instance, Daily News, Eternal Stories: The Mythological Role of Journalism. The media analysis is split into two sections: one of them focuses on reporting that occurred during the riots and the other one focuses on the period after the riots and the narrative development that has occurred. These two sections are preceded by chapters that aim to explain both the background of rioting in Brixton, which holds a cultural legacy of social unrest and is the area that many journalists decided to focus on when the riots started. The specific background of the 2011 riots, which is the death of Mark Duggan, is also discussed before the media analysis sections. The work’s theoretical approach to rioting in general is based on Waddington’s flashpoint analysis and Upton’s Urban Riots in the 20th Century: A Social History. The conclusive sections have a very distinct focus on comparing and contrasting the narratives present in the media with the cultural narrative that is established in the latter sections of the thesis. Using Gilroy’s cultural analysis present in, for instance, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack as a basis and combining his approach with a more musicological assessment of cultural trends, such as local rap music and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s dub poetry, the thesis contrasts The Telegraph’s “culture of criminality” and The Guardian’s socioeconomic approach with the concept of a cultural vanguard. While the traditional narratives have their strengths, they completely fail to take Brixton’s unique cultural connection to rioting and social unrest into account. Additionally, they ignore the fact that the seeds of this cultural vanguard may have spread and morphed over the years, creating a cultural atmosphere that is particularly volatile to flashpoints that turn into large riots.
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