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Productive provocations: vitriolic media, spaces of protest and agonistic outrage in the 2011 England riots

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-01-01, 00:00 authored by A McCosker, Amelia Johns
Productive provocations: vitriolic media, spaces of protest and agonistic outrage in the 2011 England riots



Fibreculture journal






171 - 193


Open Humanities Press


Sydney, N. S. W.






The intense social upheaval that spread through a number of UK cities in the riots and protests of August, 2011 signalled the terrifying speed with which passionate disaffection can turn to uncontained violence. At stake in the dense and volatile debate that ensued, and in the acts of violence themselves, were contests over spaces as well as competing models of democracy, publics and citizenship, including the appropriate use of social media. Within these debates, almost universally, rational deliberative discourse and action is assumed to be the only route to legitimate “civil” society. So what is to be made of the violent physical contest over city squares, streets and property, as well as contests over acts of participation and demonstration played out online through the hundreds of eyewitness videos posted to sites like YouTube and the endless flow of often vitriolic words in blogs, comments spaces and social network sites? This paper uses a video posted to YouTube titled ‘Clapham Junction Speaker (London Riots 2011)’ to examine the passion and provocation that flowed beyond the city streets to enliven, intensify and sustain forms of protest and civic engagement. We argue that the aggressive and antagonistic tenor of the Speaker’s twenty minute monologue, the bitter vitriol that flowed through the comments space, and even the act of posting it constitute significant elements of a generative, ‘agonistic’ public, to use Chantal Mouffe’s term, that operates in multiple spaces and outside of the rationalising discourse demanded by mainstream media and government. This paper develops a richer understanding of these spaces of protest, and the concept of provocation central to these events.

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2013, Open Humanities Press

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