2001: ‘Riots’, or violent urban protests, in four northern English cities

The so-called northern ‘riots’ in 2001 were, in my view, a turning point in British society. For the first time, British Muslims (the protagonists were mainly, but by no means exclusively, Muslims) engaged in violent protest against racists and discriminatory policing in forms that were reminiscent of the ‘riots’ led by British African and Caribbean youth in the 1970s and 80s. The initial reaction by Labour councils and the Labour government was to launch enquiries and write reports. The policy that emerged was ‘community cohesion’. A flawed policy and piffling in its results, but relatively benign. But soon afterwards we saw a rising barrage of criticism of the multicultural policy that Britain had pioneered since the 1960s. The crescendo of complaint – ‘we are sleepwalking into segregation’ was the summary statement – continued right into the Coalition government, with David Cameron’s claim (in 2011) that Muslims had to learn to accept ‘British values’. (My book chapter about multiculturalism and my advocacy of ‘critical multiculturalism’ is available here.)


This paper (linked below) was written soon after the 2001 protests, heightened by the effects of the 7/7 atrocities that came soon after and increased the tempo of anti-Muslim discourse worldwide. I’ve never been much good at translating papers into journal articles so it has sat in my files for many years. Since the mis-use of Bourdieu’s concept of social capital has increased since it was first invoked in talk of community cohesion, the paper is a useful corrective to that mis-use. Since the ‘northern riots’, and the subsequent reports, have never been fully analysed the paper might have some historical relevance.

Farrar, Max (2003) ‘Community, Social Capital and Identification in the Multi-ethnic Inner City: Reflections on the violent urban protest in the north of the UK in 2001’. Paper delivered to the Communities Conference, Trinity and All Saints College, University of Leeds,18-20 September 2003 – – – downloadable here   CommunitiesPaperTASC2003



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