Violence and Social Theory
Department of Sociology University of Portsmouth Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK
Violence escapes easy definition, defies straightforward understanding. It devastates, transforms and breeds. It is both prominent and hidden, aberrant and utterly mundane, senseless and sense-making. The ambivalence and elusiveness of violence is reproduced in sociological and social theoretical discourse, which variously struggles to contain it, as power or politics by other means, or preface it, as structural, collective, interpersonal. More often, it has simply been a haunting absence, misrecognized, compartmentalized and ignored.
This paper details an initial attempt to trace some of these discursive contours in the treatment of violence within social theory. In addition, it will pay particular attention to the changing nature of violence in recent decades associated with globalization. In an uncertain and ethnically mixed globalized world, violence has become an increasingly important idiom for generating certainty, a forensic means of establishing and refashioning sharp lines of identification. How does the emergence of such forms and instances of violence, and the commonalities and continuities across them, necessitate reconsideration of our understandings and theories of violence?