It is arguably possible to understand the dynamics between class communities in central Salford through urban sociologist Tim Butler’s notion of ‘tectonic social interactions’, which he argues acts as a tension-management device whereby starkly different class communities move past each other as if inhabiting parallel worlds and oblivious to each other’s presence. However, we would argue that in Salford members of these starkly polarised communities do not simply pass each other by, as Butler suggests. Rather, the result is friction, antagonism and conflict both over the use of space and the demonisation to which the local marginalised working class are subject to.
Historically poor relations with the police in these communities, as noted by criminologists such as Sandra Walklate and Karen Evans, are exacerbated by the willingness of the police to privilege the concerns of relatively recent and more affluent incomers to the area, above the concerns of established residents. Resistance to the police in these neighbourhoods is a continual process. The riot events and their policing were not exceptional but arguably stood as a result of a recent intensification of a political and economic project that has had the effect of increasing inequality. It is also important to note, against those who would cast the August 2011 riots purely as an ethnic minority backlash against disproportionate policing, that these are far from the only communities to have exceedingly poor relations with the police.
Indeed, despite opportunist attempts by the British National Party to suggest that the Pendleton riot was precipitated by an influx of ethnic minority youths in to central Salford, we can attest to the fact that the rioters consisted almost exclusively of white working class Salfordians.
The distinction between the Salford riot and the event in Manchester was acknowledged by the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Peter Fahy when he suggested that the events in Salford were about attacking the police and not in the first instance about looting. This stands in stark contrast to the continued line that accompanies official regeneration discourse in which the police are understood to have good relations with the community. However, this notion is clearly true when one understands that official modes of community engagement tend to exclude the voices of working class residents, at the same time as they privilege those of business interests and the more articulate middle class.
The police are understood by many working class residents to be actively involved in defending this process of gentrification and prioritising the interests of middle class incomers. It is in this process that a synchronicity between regeneration and policing is revealed. There is in central Salford a clear example of what criminologist Craig Johnstone has noted as a convergent focus of both urban policy and criminal justice policy on ‘disorder’.
This is due to the intersection of crime control and the contemporary politics of urban regeneration in the representation of the working class as problematic. The working class are viewed as a barrier to success of regeneration policies, preventing the remaking of the inner-city in line with private interests. The working class are, therefore, by virtue of their location and their inability to ‘join in’ with the new forms of property-led consumption, signs of disorder.
The convergence, and now fusion, of urban development and policing is nothing new. Political theorist Mark Neocleous has argued that police and social policy have been ranged against the working class since the industrial revolution.
What we see in Salford and what others have noted elsewhere (for example criminologist Roy Coleman looking at the regeneration of Liverpool) is the contemporary manifestation of this fusion whereby the police and those involved in orchestrating and managing gentrification share the same aim.
The riots served as the latest, most explicit and most emphasised expression of resistance to the increasing disenfranchisement of the marginalised working class, who in Salford are in such close proximity to a state managed process of reclaiming the inner-city. But in Salford this is a process without a foreseeable end – the working class, being too numerous, cannot be fully excluded and must be increasingly policed to ‘cleanse’ the area of disorder. Paradoxically, the attempt to remove signs of disorder through the policing of regeneration creates antagonism and conflict. Through this conflict the working class actively contest the fabrication of a social order predicated upon their exclusion.
*The ideas expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Dialogue Society