Last July’s riots provoked a media storm, political outcry and unprecedented judicial repression. Central to this response was the view that the riots must be condemned not only for the widespread levels of destruction caused, but because, unlike previous social eruptions, they were not linked to any identifiable political cause. Rather than being an expression of anger about social injustice they were said to be a product of selfishness and greed. Media discourse focused on the shops looted and goods taken: designer sportswear, name brand trainers and causal clothing, alongside fast-moving consumer goods such as flat screen TVs and Play Stations.
This paper analyses the riots, drawing on both recent work on the impact of class inequality and relative deprivation alongside the classical sociology of fashion and consumption, notably Simmel, Veblen and Bourdieu. Building on this framework, it unpacks the figure of the feral teenager as the ‘marginalised consumer’ of contemporary culture. Using a Marxist approach to brands, as commodity fetishism par excellence, it argues fashion’s imputed democratic potential continues to be marred by its status as a ‘child of capitalism’ and, that the riots arose as a consequence of an era of intensified commodification, alienation, social division and contradiction in neo-liberal capitalism.