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Gareth Millington on anti-riots and urban modernism

Posted on 18 December 2012

Lecturer in sociology Gareth Millington has just published an article in Sociological Research Online. In the paper Gareth offers an urban perspective on the disturbances of August, 2011 arguing that the socio-spatiality of contemporary London plays a critical role in explaining how and why the riots unfolded in the highly idiosyncratic form they did. The article is unashamedly inspired by Marshall Berman’s (1982) classic text, All That Is Solid Melts into Air, especially in terms of understanding the friction that exists in the city between competing forms of urban modernism.

Gareth Millington

Anti-riots did not emerge from and nor did they lead to the 'capture' of a centre. […] Yet, the reality is that it is not possible for a modernism of the street - on the scale celebrated by say, Baudelaire - to flourish in contemporary London-space. Rather it is the desire for man dem to link up that is recognised here; it is that enthusiasm for the crowd (as opposed to the disdain so common in today's neoliberal city) that makes London's anti-riots quintessentially modern. So, on one hand London's anti-riots embrace the 'maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish' that comprises the modern experience (Berman 1982, p. 15). On the other, however, they are an example of Marx's famous line that men (sic) make history but they do not make it under self-selected circumstances. The disturbances of August 2011 resemble an improvised urban modernism in a city torn apart by the anti-urban rationality of homogeneity, fragmentation and hierarchy. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that anti-riots occurred in the disaggregated form they did - and this is not a failing (Millington, 2012: 5.5).