Drawing on the 2011 United Kingdom riots, this article explores contestation over the meaning of riots. Is rioting criminality and looting, or are there political aspects to the act For those advocating a political element, there is difficulty in reconciling how an apparently spontaneous act can have political motivations. This article argues that rioting is a distinctly political action, and in order to understand it we must theorize the characteristics of agency that underpin the act. Drawing on Bourdieu's habitus, but developing it to include a preconscious component, the article develops a novel theoretical framework for understanding the rioter. Habitus is presented as a mechanism that can help better understand how experiences in the past affect the rioter's present, thereby leading to a coming to the surface of underlying political grievances. © The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (ISTD). All rights reserved.