Researchers will interview hundreds of people who were involved, in the first empirical study into the widespread rioting and looting.
As well as surveys of those who took part in the disorder, the research will include interviews with residents, police and the judiciary, and an advanced analysis of more than 2.5m riot-related Twitter messages.
The study – Reading the Riots – is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. The project, announced on the eve of the one-month anniversary of the outbreak of trouble in Tottenham, north London, will seek to better understand why riots then spread to other parts of the capital and cities across England.
Four consecutive nights of looting and arson in August left five people dead and more than 2,000 suspects arrested. Police anticipate that investigations to identify perpetrators of the disorder will last several years.
Reading the Riots is modelled on an acclaimed survey conducted in the aftermath of the Detroit riots in 1967. The findings of that study, the result of a groundbreaking collaboration between the Detroit Free Press newspaper and Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, challenged prevailing assumptions about the cause of the unrest.
Reading the Riots will bring together a team of leading academics and experts and combine quantitative and qualitattive research methods. At the heart of the project are two unique databases compiled by the Guardian over the last month.
The first is a database of more than 1,100 defendants who have appeared in court charged with riot-related offences. The list, compiled with the assistance of the Ministry of Justice, consists of more than 70% of those who have appeared in magistrate and crown courts. Many will be given the opportunity to take part in the research study in the coming weeks.
The second database contains 2.5m riot-related tweets. Executives at Twitter’s headquarters in California authorised the collation of tweets, pooled from hashtags relating to the riots and their aftermath, so they could form part of the study. A spokeman for the company said: “Twitter provided publicly available information that is accessible to researchers and others via its API.”