In the middle of the summer of 2011, an extraordinary whirlwind of public disorder swept briefly through London and a number of other English towns and cities, causing widespread – albeit brief – damage and alarm.
These ‘riots’ were apparently triggered by conflict in Tottenham between police and the friends and relatives of a young man who had been shot dead by police, although many questions were left unanswered as to what else may have contributed to the rapid rise and fall of this disorder, either in terms of broader social and political discontent, or in terms of the psychology of crowd and individual behaviour.
This paper, which has been widely downloaded both from this and other sites, was intended to promote debate about the extent to which these ‘English riots’ may have been an expression of what the psychoanalyst and paediatrician Donald Winnicott had termed ‘the antisocial tendency’, and the extent to which they may have expressed other aspects of societal anxiety about order and disorder.
The paper opens with a brief résumé of some key points in Winnicott’s account of early development, leading to a discussion of his views on the antisocial tendency and especially on the useful construct of seeing ‘delinquency as a sign of hope’. It then applies these ideas to a discussion of the English Riots of 2011 and their effects both in their immediate localities and at a national level.