But how true is the “outsider” hypothesis in accounting for riots? In the UK in the early 1980s, people often thought that “outsiders” were responsible for disorders simply because a large crowd would gather when there was an incident which then developed into a riot. Commentators put two and two together and reasoned that the rioters could not all have been local. But research I was involved in strongly suggested that the people who were present on the streets at the time rarely came from outside the area, especially on the first night of disorder.
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Every society must bring the aggressive instincts of its individual members under control. This can never be achieved simply by outright repression or by moral precepts, but only by sublimation, that is by providing legitimate outlets for dangerous feelings.
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Perhaps this week’s turmoil in the UK offers some scope for anthropology’s core strengths of empathy and interpretation.