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‘There will be burning and a-looting tonight’: The Social and Political Correlates of Law-breaking

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Abstract

In the aftermath of the August 2011 riots, politicians and commentators offered a range of explanations for the social unrest and wanton violence. Drawing on survey and focus-group data, this paper investigates those explanations by analysing how socio-economic, normative and political factors shape contemporary attitudes towards law breaking in Britain. The paper finds that both economic deprivation and personal moral values help to explain attitudes toward illegal behaviour, but citizens’ mistrust of political leaders and their disengagement from public affairs are also an important factor. The findings suggest that politicians who want to provide moral leadership need to do so through their actions as well as their words.

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