Violence and Society: A Reader

Violence and Society: A Reader
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  • ISBN-13: 9780130967732
  • ISBN: 0130967734
  • Edition: 1
  • Publication Date: 2002
  • Publisher: Pearson


Matthew Silberman


Some years ago, I attended a conference at which Murray Straus, whose work on family violence brought to light one of America's hidden problems, spoke about his commitment to the principle that we should have zero tolerance for family violence of any kind. Even spanking, he argued, reflects an acceptance of violent solutions to societal problems that perpetuates itself from generation to generation. Around the same time (April 1991), I attended a conference on aggression and violence sponsored by the Department of Sociology at SUNY Albany. Both of these events inspired the development of a course on social violence that I now teach at Bucknell University. The collection of readings in this book derives from the materials in the course. In this work, I include excerpts fromBehind Closed Doors,the ground-breaking work on family violence by Murray Straus, Richard Genes, and Suzanne Steinmetz. I also include the published version of one of the SUNY Albany conference papers on sexual coercion by Richard Felson, one of the principal organizers of the conference. Donald Black's work on the social structure of right and wrong, the moral and legal regulation of social conduct, has been an additional source of inspiration for the design of my course on violence (see Black 1998). The core of the materials in this course focuses on the normative aspect of social violence, including behavior usually understood to be predatory in nature. But no course on the sociology of violence would be complete without paying attention to the social construction of the emotions that underlie violent conduct. Carol Tavris' work on the social construction of anger, the "misunderstood emotion," forces us to think about anger in ways that are counterintuitive to those raised in the individualistic, psychologically-oriented popular culture of late twentieth century America. According to Tavris, anger serves ajudicialfunction, regulating everyday conduct in a variety of social situations. This book is intended for upper-level undergraduate courses in sociology, criminology, and legal studies. The course on violence that I teach at Bucknell is part of the legal studies curriculum in the sociology program. No examination of contemporary American society can be complete without understanding the central role of the legal system in both contributing to, and regulating, social violence at all levels. It is from anthropologist Henry Lundsgaarde's description of "Homicide as Custom and Crime" in Houston, Texas that we learn how important legal norms are to our understanding of the production of violence in society. Statutes that provide legal justifications for homicides committed in a variety of social situations both reflect and support cultural traditions that legitimate the use of deadly force. The chapters in the book are organized into six parts, each emphasizing an important theme in the emerging literature on the sociology of violence. The first half of the book explores the social contexts that give rise to anger and violence in general. We begin in Part I with three articles on the social construction of anger. In Part II, we explore the role that social inequality, based on class, race, and gender, plays in contributing to increased levels of violence. Part III examines the role that cultural values play in justifying violence in a variety of situations and locations in American society. In this section, we also see how legal norms, by expressing some of the core values of the wider society, may contribute to, rather than deter, violence in America. The second half of the book includes chapters on specific topics of substantive concern in the literature. Part IV focuses on family violence, first by exploring the extent and nature of the problem, including child abuse and domestic violence. We then explore the issues involved in the legal regulation of family violence, examining the history of the criminalization ofMatthew Silberman is the author of 'Violence and Society: A Reader', published 2002 under ISBN 9780130967732 and ISBN 0130967734.

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