September 26, 2018

Aspects of Violence

Plan for today:

  1. Defining violence and coercion
  2. Patterns of violence
  3. Audiences


Defining violence

difficult and contested, but for our purposes:

violence: action in which perpetrator regards inficting pain, suffering, fear, distress, injury, maiming, disfigurement, death as intrinsic, necessary or desirable means to the intended ends.


  • actions where harm is undesirable but unavoidable (e.g. medical procedures)
  • actions that are "accidental" (assuming a reasonable standard of whether the harm was foreseeable) (does this foreclose kinds of structural violence?)

Defining coercion

coercion: using violence or the threat of it to induce people to act or behave other than they would.

  • Connection to "off-the-path behavior"
  • Could overlap in some cases with violence, or not (e.g. taxation is coercive but might not be violence as such)

off-the-path behavior

off-the-path behavior: when the behavior we observe is systematically influenced by potential, but untaken and thus unobserved actions

e.g.: coercion involves off-the-path behavior because we may not see violence since its threat ensures that people (nearly) always comply.

Patterns of Violence

Patterns of violence defined by:


forms of violence in which an organization/individual regularly engages


killing, torture, displacement, rape, robbery, kidnapping/imprisonment, etc.

Patterns of violence defined by:


which people or social groups are made the targets of specific repertoires of violence


ethnic groups, genders, political groups, combatants, etc.

Kinds of Targeting

selective violence:

violence against an individual because of specific allegations about their behavior or actions


assassinations, disappearance of political activists, etc.

Kinds of Targeting

collective or identity-based violence

violence against individuals based on their membership in a social group.

This kind of violence is connected to social boundaries: violence happens along the boundary because it targets people based on the categories they are labelled with


ethnic cleansing; supporters of a political party; shelling cities with ethnic majorities

Kinds of Targeting

indiscriminate violence

violence against individuals without regard to individual behavior or membership in social categories

Patterns of violence defined by:


how a repertoire of violence is performed


killing by firing squad, massacre using knives, bombing, torture to death

Patterns of violence defined by:


the count or rate of victimization among specific groups in the population


fraction of police shooting victims that are African American

What determines patterns?

What affects the pattern of violence?

Three related things (these may overlap)

  1. Strategic goals

    • Seizing territory, enforcing political agenda
  2. Symbolic goals

    • Performing for an audience
  3. Organizational structure/needs

    • How are perpetrators organized?
    • Who has capacity for violence?

Example: Strategic Goals

Selective violence is often used to produce prevent cooperation with an enemy or to induce cooperation with the perpetrator.

But there is no guarantee this message is correctly delivered

Example: Strategic Goals

What would you do in terms of targeting, repertoire, and technique to make violence "selective"?

Example: Organizations

Chicago Police and Torture

Who are the audiences for violence?


No an exhaustive list:

  • victims

  • potential victims

  • other people/groups who commit violence (peers/rivals)

  • co-perpetrators/self

  • constituency/community