We reread E. P. Thompson’s remarkable 1971 essay “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century” in the light of the English riots of August 2011. Arguing against what Thompson would have called the “spasmodic view” of these riots—that they were “nonpolitical” or “prepolitical”—we contend instead that they contained information that reveals a particular “moral economy” of their participants. In particular, rioters and looters were acting in defense of the “customary entitlements” of what we call a neoliberal “deal”—a deal based on aspiration, plentiful cheap credit, and access to cheap commodities—and a “deal” that has now been voided by the 2007–2008 “credit crunch.” We conclude by suggesting why Thompson’s concept of a moral economy might be politically useful for contemporary struggles against austerity and movements that are seeking to resolve the crisis of social reproduction.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.