The Eye of the Beholder: Violence as a Social Process

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A triangular reconstruction of the social dynamics of violence offers a means to bridge the gap between research on the micro- and meso-level dynamics of violent interaction on the one hand, and theories of power and domination on the other. The origins of this approach are found in the phenomenological programme of social science violence research formulated by German sociologists in the 1990s (Sofsky, von Trotha, Nedelmann, and others). Reconsidering their arguments in the framework of social constructivism, this article reconstructs violence as a triangular process evolving between «performer», «target» and «observer». Disentangling the dimensions of the somatic and the social shows, however, that these are not the fixed roles of agents, but changeable modes of experiencing violence. Violent interaction uses the suffering body to stage a positional asymmetry, i.e. a distinction between strength and weakness, between above and below, which can be exploited for the production and reproduction of social order.

T K Beck
Head of the Research Group «Violence and Space» in the Franco-German Research Network «Seizing Europe» Centre Marc Bloch at Humboldt University Berlin

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