Whilst in Berlin recently I had an interesting reaction when it came to my identity. I don't feel American anymore-- on a tour largely composed of Americans with a smattering of Canadians, I couldn't talk to these people. They wanted to commisserate about where we are from and how "weird" everything is in Germany and I couldn't relate at all.
At first I thought I felt British but I have to confess, it's not even Britishness. I feel like a Londoner (and ask any Brit, London is not Britain and Londoners aren't typcially British).
As a journalist I hated missing the riots. I was chewing my fingers in envy and in frustration that the isolation that Central Wisconsin (my US 'home') brings. As a Londoner I also regret missing it because as much as I feel like a Londoner I won't have that collective memory that other Londoners do. As a young female, perhaps I'm lucky to have missed it, not having to deal with fear or danger or lasting anxiety effects of the situation.
As a Londoner I have been apoplextic at the government's self-absolution, using language like 'moral decay' to describe the rioting instead of connecting it with the bleak economic situation made bleaker by their austerity budget and (lack of) social program.
It has always been that things signify but even more so since Edward Bernays began to shape marketing, since we are identified by our things rather than them identifying us. What happened and the manner of the rioting is unsurprising to me: in a sense, people self-enfranchised by looting consumer goods rather than basic goods. It is those things that enfranchise us and allow us to participate in society in what we have learned is a meaningful way. Think about it: economic growth is encouraged (now lamented by lack of) consumer spending. Perhaps the second thing governments did after bailing out the banks was to cut a number of taxes and emplored people to go out and buy.
As to white middle class kids participating in the rioting something I think that many have failed to appreciate is this: everything we were raised to believe has fallen apart. There has been a lot of media noise in the UK questioning the purpose of a university education. The opening of the first private, exclusive university within (in much annoyance to me, as I attend an arm of) the University of London doesn't help matters. Even when these kids graduate there are fewer and fewer chances for jobs in an economic system that still mis-measures the health of an economy and perhaps that's the reason it can't produce economic recovery.
In perhaps the biggest irony of the situation, the Tories' "Big Society" remains a good idea and if they had bothered to implement it at all (except for, of course, creating the economic circumstances in for it but not the social structure, institutions, nor regulations) the riots might not have happened.
Here are some links to coverage from the Guardian:
UK Riots the political classes see what they want to see (excellent post-mortem on how the riots were/are immediately spun for self-interest and self-affirming existentialism)