“are you a good riot or a bad riot?”
Though we hesitate at Badiou’s distinction between immediate and historical riot, it’s worth commending the way in which he measures the extension of the riot in terms of spread in physical space and across social categories. Whereas, in Badiou’s account, the immediate riot extends from the banlieues of Paris to those of Marseille, or from London to Manchester council estates, it does so via the medium of a single social category: young proletarian men. The historical riot, however, exhibits a categorical extension, spreading among men and women, the young and the old. Badiou is mistaken when he asserts that “immediate” riots are composed entirely of young men – the arrest records from the British riots say otherwise, and numerous riots so-defined in the past decade have significantly involved women, the elderly and kids, though perhaps not in proportional numbers. Still, it is absolutely essential to understand how riots and insurrections come to involve (or remain limited to) different social groups. One thing that decisively distinguishes the Egyptian insurrection from, say, the UK riots is that, largely as a result of the Tahrir encampment, there were numerous ways to participate in the uprising that did not involve direct combat with the police and their proxies. This contributed not only to the expansion of the insurrection but its durability. Nonetheless, it is not enough for an insurrection to be composed of people other than young men if the relationship between social groups continues to follow the established division of labor in capitalist society – with men fighting the police and women doing the work of caretaking, for instance, or proletarians fighting and middle class people attending assemblies and making important decisions. We have to examine not only how an uprising spreads among different social groups but how it undoes (or perpetuates) the violence of such categories.