Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory

Princeton University Press
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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 in Violence, 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.



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

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About the author

Randall Collins is the Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology and a member of the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Interaction Ritual Chains (Princeton) and The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 3, 2009
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Pages
584
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ISBN
9781400831753
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Violence in Society
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Supergrow is a collection of fifteen essays that appeared between 1966 and 1969 in publications such as the American Scholar, the New York Times, Antioch Review, Esquire, and the Saturday Review. Author Benjamin DeMott discusses everything under the sun--music, improving one's sex life, violence in Mississippi, theater, student revolts--but a single theme unifies the material: people ought to use their imaginations more. The book starts from the assumption that our troubles stem from failures of the imagination. Overcome by mass media, we are often too oblivious to fresh and original ideas. As DeMott states, "àthe right use of the constructive imagination increases the effectiveness of our energies, enables people to anticipate moves and countermoves, prevents them from becoming frozen into postures of intransigence or martyrdom which, though possessing a æterrible beauty,' have as their main consequence the stiffening of resistance and the slowing of change." Supergrow is a sociological and political critique of various aspects of everyday life in America, one informed by a powerful moral sensibility and an Emersonian sense of self-reliance. DeMott takes pop culture seriously, but exhibits a refreshing unwillingness to "go with the flow" and get caught up in fashionable intellectual fads. Graced with a new introduction by the author, Supergrow is an insightful work that is not afraid to tackle difficult subject matter. Whether discussing homosexuality, racism, popular music, or child rearing, Supergrow is well-reasoned, perceptive, and entertaining. As DeMott would hope, it will stimulate the imagination. "Devastating, sustained, profoundly witty, resounding." --New York Times Book Review "I didn't think it possible for a long time to come for any writer to say anything about black-and-white relations or lack of them that had freshness and pertinence. I was wrong."--Nat Hentoff, Village Voice Benjamin DeMott is an essayist, novelist, and journalist. He was professor of English at Amherst College, and a consultant and writer for National Educational Television. He is the author of The Body's Cage, Killer Blues: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Gender and Power, and You Don't Say, available from Transaction.
Sex, smoking, and social stratification are three very different social phenomena. And yet, argues sociologist Randall Collins, they and much else in our social lives are driven by a common force: interaction rituals. Interaction Ritual Chains is a major work of sociological theory that attempts to develop a "radical microsociology." It proposes that successful rituals create symbols of group membership and pump up individuals with emotional energy, while failed rituals drain emotional energy. Each person flows from situation to situation, drawn to those interactions where their cultural capital gives them the best emotional energy payoff. Thinking, too, can be explained by the internalization of conversations within the flow of situations; individual selves are thoroughly and continually social, constructed from the outside in.

The first half of Interaction Ritual Chains is based on the classic analyses of Durkheim, Mead, and Goffman and draws on micro-sociological research on conversation, bodily rhythms, emotions, and intellectual creativity. The second half discusses how such activities as sex, smoking, and social stratification are shaped by interaction ritual chains. For example, the book addresses the emotional and symbolic nature of sexual exchanges of all sorts--from hand-holding to masturbation to sexual relationships with prostitutes--while describing the interaction rituals they involve. This book will appeal not only to psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists, but to those in fields as diverse as human sexuality, religious studies, and literary theory.

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