sociological aspect of violence
Sociological Aspects of Violence Violence has existed since the beginning of humanity. Consequently, it is strongly tied to the human psychology as one of the swiftest ways to solve conflicts. That way, violence can be considered a social activity as it is exerted over others as a way to gain an absolute advantage or benefit. However, “violence is not a single activity, but rather a socially defined category of activities that share some common features.” (Blume 1).
Violence exists everywhere, from the mass media the world consumes to every household in the planet. Violence is ubiquitous and exists without borders. Likewise, it is not just a matter of physical violence. There are also a myriad of displays of violence in our streets, ranging from violent gestures to violent phrases. These displays seen in the streets pervade the human behavior, making violence normative and considering it an appealing trait instead of something that must be controlled. At the same time, given the fact that violence exists in such ubiquitous manner, it is not a surprise that schools had become into one of the most violent places in the country, which indicates that violence is a circle where children learn to be violent and pass that “knowledge” to their offspring, effectively continuing the circle.
The analysis of violence is a fundamental part of sociology. It has become a staple of the contemporary sociology, as it emerges from a social deviance and an everyday situation, making it a colorful subject to interpret. Also, given its ever-changing nature, along with its significance to the human relations, challenges the former model sociological model regarding violence, adding instances of gender violence and ethnic violence. Hence, to accurately assess the sociological perspectives of violence, its analysis has to situate it together with the society, as violence without society would not be but a mere act of survival.
Contemporary research refers to violence as a structural and a symbolic problem. To Bourdieu, symbolic violence is “the violence that is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity.” (Bourdieu 162). However, as Bourdieu states, it is hard to determine whether these agents want to impose violence or said violence is a learned conduct. Nevertheless, these agents, as the scholar calls them, are “knowing agents who, even when they are subjected to determinisms, contribute to producing the efficacy of that which determines them insofar as they structure what determines them.” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 272). In layman terms, agents are those individuals who, knowing the factors around their situation, decide to maintain the structure to which they are subjected, perpetuating the violence.
On the other hand, there are Foucault’s notions of violence. To him, violence is not inherently a dangerous phenomenon. Instead, it is necessary as a way to maintain relations of power between individuals (Foucault 129). Nevertheless, he warns about those relations of power becoming states of domination that end up in relations of a dominant power versus a dominated individual. Hence, it is important to note that Foucault does not see violence as an isolated situation. Instead, violence represents relations of power on which individuals, thanks to their social contexts, experience in varied degrees.
Therefore, using Foucault and Bourdieu’s perspectives, this essay aims to address these sociological aspects of violence: Symbolic violence and violence as a relation of power.
Violence causes suffering, and from a sociological perspective that suffering is senseless as it demoralizes the subject while empowers the perpetrator. To the latter, there is the enticing sensation of holding power over other. To the first, the alienating sensation of being subject to the other’s desires and force. Hence, these relations of power existing in violence are not strong bonds, but rather frail ones as they are linked to practices that need a dominator and a dominated. It is never a relationship between equals, which adds to its instability. Consequently, most sociological perspectives have focused on the hierarchical and gendered nature of violence, adding to an atomistic approach to violence instead of trying to offer a broader approach to the subject.
Nevertheless, although Bourdieu and Foucault’s perspectives are strongly linked to these mentioned relations of gender and power, they serve to show the constitution of the post-modern society and their methods of social control and alienation. To Bourdieu, symbolic violence is not related to physical manifestations. Conversely, it is pegged to the exercise of violence that is not physical but relies on the subtext to exist and thrive. For instance, Bourdieu speaks about gender relations as the paradigm on which symbolic violence operates in the society (Weininger 119). By considering women as weaker, less intelligent and unreliable to do “men’s work,” men are exerting a sort of symbolic violence to women. However, as he said, symbolic violence requires an agent who allows that violence to exist. Without said agent, there would not be an instance of violence. Therefore, at the moment when men and women agree that women are inferior to men, they are setting a paradigm that has lasted centuries. The same occurs with class relations. Middle and lower classes, although resent the perceived domination of the higher classes, they have historically allowed it as they perceive themselves as powerless against the others that have the power. Like gender relations, class relations exists because a part of the population allows the other to install a paradigm of inferiority over them. Consequently, by perceiving themselves as inferior, they are continuing the domination cycle, allowing bouts of violence and control to happen, effectively alienating these sectors of the society. On the other hand, symbolic violence also manifests itself through trends and lifestyles, although it is a situation stemming from the formerly discussed flawed perceptions of inferiority. Thus, if the higher classes define themselves as better and characterize themselves as such, enforcing stereotypes around the way they live, they are likely to keep these instances of symbolic violence as long as they want.
On the other hand, Foucault does not focus on who exerts the violence in society. Rather, he asks himself how do violence function and its relation to power. To him, power is nothing but a series of techniques that have become a staple in our regional culture. Hence, each place has its instances of violence. Moreover, power by itself is strictly relational, which means that it works with an external situation such as the violence (Geciené 117). Then, violence works as a power that needs to be used to keep the power. However, as in Bourdieu’s thought, violence does not have to be physical to cause an effect. Instead, it can be reflected in the use of certain gestures, discourses, and desires. Nevertheless, to Foucault, violence is not a mechanism of the bourgeoisie nor the lower classes seeking effective ways to maintain their domination. Conversely, he aims to direct his analysis to the mechanisms of violence instead of focusing on the perpetrators (Foucault 58). Hence, power and violence is not of those who exert it, but it refers to a series of mechanisms that allow said violence to exist. Those mechanisms, he says, are the existing infrastructure of repression that concentrates power and permit violence Thay way, to truly analyze how violence works in the society, it cannot be assessed as a whole, but as a micro issue that shows in the way people treat each other and permit violence as a form of domination. Consequently, to Foucault, the only way to find how violence exists and explain it is through the microcosms of human relationships. In that case, violence can only be applied by those who have the knowledge and are capable of using that knowledge to form relations and define others and their positions in society.
To sum up. Contemporary violence is not necessarily a physical act. Instead, sociology has found many ways on which violence can happen that are not physical but relational. Therefore, Foucault and Bourdieu agree when they say that violence is knowledge over others and the way they see reality. By shaping the way others see reality in a way that fits only a portion of the society, violence keeps existing and despite not being able to address it as easy as most governments address violence, it can be treated with education. If, as Foucault says, knowledge is power, then the only way to end these flawed relations of power is by bringing knowledge to every portion of the society. Nevertheless, as the research shows, it would only be a matter of time until scholars found new instances of violence that are unknown to us.Works Cited
Blume, T.W. “Social Perspectives on Violence.” Michigan Family Review 2.1 (1996): 9-23. University of Michigan. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Bourdieu, Pierre, and Loi Wacquant. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1992. Print.
Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. 58. Print.
Foucault, M. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom.”Philosophy & Social Criticism. Sage Publications, 1987. 112-131. Print.
Geciené, I. “The Notion of Power in the Theories of Bourdieu, Foucault and Baudrillard.” Sociologija. Mintis Ir Veiksma 2 (2002). Klaipedos Universitetas. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Weininger, E. “Chaper 4 Pierre Boudieu on Social Class and Symbolic Violence.” Approaches to Class Analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.