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Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory

Randall Collins
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 584
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In the popular misconception fostered by blockbuster action movies and best-selling thrillers--not to mention conventional explanations by social scientists--violence is easy under certain conditions, like poverty, racial or ideological hatreds, or family pathologies. Randall Collins challenges this view inViolence, arguing that violent confrontation goes against human physiological hardwiring. It is the exception, not the rule--regardless of the underlying conditions or motivations.

    Collins gives a comprehensive explanation of violence and its dynamics, drawing upon video footage, cutting-edge forensics, and ethnography to examine violent situations up close as they actually happen--and his conclusions will surprise you. Violence comes neither easily nor automatically. Antagonists are by nature tense and fearful, and their confrontational anxieties put up a powerful emotional barrier against violence. Collins guides readers into the very real and disturbing worlds of human discord--from domestic abuse and schoolyard bullying to muggings, violent sports, and armed conflicts. He reveals how the fog of war pervades all violent encounters, limiting people mostly to bluster and bluff, and making violence, when it does occur, largely incompetent, often injuring someone other than its intended target. Collins shows how violence can be triggered only when pathways around this emotional barrier are presented. He explains why violence typically comes in the form of atrocities against the weak, ritualized exhibitions before audiences, or clandestine acts of terrorism and murder--and why a small number of individuals are competent at violence.

    Violenceoverturns standard views about the root causes of violence and offers solutions for confronting it in the future.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3175-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Micro-sociology of Violent Confrontations
    (pp. 1-36)

    There is a vast array of types of violence. It is short and episodic as a slap in the face; or massive and organized as a war. It can be passionate and angry as a quarrel; or callous and impersonal as the bureaucratic administration of gas chambers. It is happy as drunken carousing, fearful as soldiers in combat, vicious as a torturer. It can be furtive and hidden as a rape-murder, or public as a ritual execution. It is programmed entertainment in the form of sporting contests, the plot tension of drama, the action of action-adventure, the staple shocker of...

  6. Part One: The Dirty Secrets of Violence

    • CHAPTER 2 Confrontational Tension and Incompetent Violence
      (pp. 39-82)

      From my ethnographic notes:

      Somerville, Mass. (a working-class area of Boston) Oct. 1994, ca. 11:30 p.m. weekday. I’m walking along the street and see a flashy car pull up at the curb in a business district, in front of a warehouse/business. Young white guy in his 20s in short jacket gets out, slamming the door. I keep on walking. Farther down the street (on the opposite sidewalk, the right side as I turn around to look back up the street) is another young white guy. He starts pulling bottles out of the garbage (on the street for next morning collection)...

    • CHAPTER 3 Forward Panic
      (pp. 83-133)

      In April 1996, two southern California deputy sheriffs chased a pickup truck crowded with Mexican illegal immigrants. The truck had driven around a checkpoint north of the border, refusing to stop then or later as the patrol car followed it at speeds over 100 miles per hour. During the chase, weaving through freeway traffic, occupants of the truck threw debris at the police car and attempted to ram other cars to divert their pursuers’ attention. After almost an hour and having gone eighty miles, the truck drove off the side of the road, and most of its twenty-one occupants climbed...

    • CHAPTER 4 Attacking the Weak: I. Domestic Abuse
      (pp. 134-155)

      Reconstructed from forensic evidence:

      A female babysitter is giving a one-year-old child a bath while the parents are away. The child resists, squirms, and cries. The babysitter tries harder to control the child; as they struggle, she turns up the rush of water into the tub—the hot water faucet—and pushes the child’s hand under the spigot. The child screams louder, which increases the babysitter’s determination to keep the child in the water. The child is eventually scalded, and hospitalized with second-degree burns (from California court files).

      This is a case of forward panic. The woman did not set...

    • CHAPTER 5 Attacking the Weak: II. Bullying, Mugging, and Holdups
      (pp. 156-190)

      The most frequent kind of attacking the weak is probably bullying. This is most common among children, and declines with age except in total institutions that in effect treat their inmates like children. I will deal here also with muggings and holdups, which make a typical sequence for growing up into a life of crime. All together, these go from easy to hard forms of violence; in each case, the perpetrators have to learn how to make them easy to perform.

      An unusually full micro-description of the social context of bullying is given in Montagner et al. (1988). This is...

  7. Part Two: Cleaned-up and Staged Violence

    • CHAPTER 6 Staging Fair Fights
      (pp. 193-241)

      Word was going around the high school Friday afternoon there would be a fight. At a nearby park, 3 o’clock: two well-known seniors, Dawson and Rashad, would find out who was the bigger man. A crowd of one hundred was gathered fifteen minutes early, eager with anticipation. After five minutes, Dawson appeared. He paced about rhythmically; the crowd could not stand still. An observer reported his own hands were shaking as he realized he was about to see arealfight.

      Then Rashad appeared at the far end of the park, flanked by two followers, moving quickly. Rashad appeared calmer...

    • CHAPTER 7 Violence as Fun and Entertainment
      (pp. 242-281)

      Confrontational tension and fear make most people most of the time avoid the actual experience of violence, and act incompetently when they are in violent situations. We have been tracing a series of pathways around this obstacle, ways of circumnavigating confrontational tension/fear. There are two main routes. The first route is attacking a weak victim; this can be done in a variety of ways, the most spectacular of which is forward panic. The second route is to confine violence in a protected enclave, staged and organized so that violence is limited or at least predictably shaped, and the social tension...

    • CHAPTER 8 Sports Violence
      (pp. 282-334)

      In a National Basketball Association game in 1997, Dennis Rodman deliberately kicked a cameraman in the groin while stumbling off the court struggling for a rebound under the basket. The kick occurred during a tense moment in the game, with the score tied 71–71 between the defending champion Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who had just rallied to make up an eleven-point deficit on their home court. Play was stopped for seven minutes while the cameraman was taken off on a stretcher. The delay cost the Timberwolves their momentum; the Bulls pulled ahead again to win 112–102,...

  8. Part Three: Dynamics and Structure of Violent Situations

    • CHAPTER 9 How Fights Start, or Not
      (pp. 337-369)

      To this point, I have discussed how people fight; I have not yet answered the question of why they fight. I have purposely avoided giving emphasis or priority to this question. Answers generally have been theories about prime motives, postulating one or another basic interest or overriding concern: for honor, for material gain, for the group, for power, for masculine identity, to propagate one’s genes, to satisfy cultural imperatives. As an analytical strategy, this seems to me the wrong way to explain who fights whom, when, and how.

      First, whatever the motive or interest that individuals or groups might have...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Violent Few
      (pp. 370-412)

      Violence always surges up in the form of a small proportion of people who are actively violent, and an even smaller proportion who are competently violent. Surrounding them usually is a larger number of the emotionally involved. Sometimes these are ostensibly part of the same team, the same rioters, the same military or police force, the same gang, the same fans or carousers, a larger group that we can call the nominally violent. Sometimes there are further layers of audience, supportive or merely curious, and finally accidental bystanders. And there can be layers of opponents and victims on the other...

    • CHAPTER 11 Violence as Dominance in Emotional Attention Space
      (pp. 413-462)

      We now reach a paradox. If only a small number out of a nominally engaged fighting force do all the violence, why not get rid of the rest? Why not pare down the army, the gang, or other confrontational organization, to those who are actively violent, or better yet, the small minority who are competently violent? Why not have an air force consisting only of aces, or any army only of snipers and other elite troops? Such arrangements are virtually impossible, for structural reasons. Violence is not generated by isolated individuals but by an entire emotional attention space.

      The best...

  9. CHAPTER 12 Epilogue: Practical Conclusions
    (pp. 463-466)

    This book is primarily an effort at sociological understanding. But a few practical implications suggest themselves.

    It is remarkable how many different kinds of violence there are. The book began with combat infantry and police violence, and ended with hitmen, ace pilots, and clandestine terrorists, with stops in between at bullies, gang initiations, and mosh pits, among others. I count at least thirty types of violence in the book. And there are many kinds of violence not treated in this volume, including rape (which comes in various kinds), torture, holocaust, serial killings, and school rampages. This means that no single...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 467-526)
  11. References
    (pp. 527-554)
  12. Index
    (pp. 555-563)