No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

A new turn in violence research

A new turn in violence research - on the possibilities and limits of a process-sociological approach to violence

 Violence research experiences periodic turns in which new perspectives come into focus. A current turn focuses on the temporality of violent interactions. Despite a strong distinction from other approaches, it’s only a variation of the dominant micro-sociological perspective. The new approach gives a truncated understanding of processes, a lack of conceptualization of other factors and exaggerated explanatory claims. How fruitful is the constant proclamation of new perspectives?

 The turns in violence research are based on overarching changes in perspective in the social sciences. A new turn is currently being made towards a process-sociological perspective. Motives, situations, and constellations alone do not provide sufficient explanations. The new approach addresses how violent acts can be explained over longer periods of time and across different situations; not only focusing on the immediate interactions in the situation but also taking into account the temporal and spatial dimensions of violence. This approach does not completely negate the importance of motives, but rather attempts to integrate them into a broader context of social processes. Process sociology essentially represents an extension of micro-sociological analysis, which is particularly suitable for the study of violent phenomena.

 An exclusive focus on micro-sociological approaches entails an insensitivity to long-term processes. Analysis of individual events such as terrorist attacks may not be sufficient to adequately understand the underlying processes. Process sociological approaches are often inadequately conceptualized and the connection to other sociological concepts is missing. In particular, the use of sensitizing concepts may reduce conceptual clarity. An example of this is the analysis of the terrorist attacks in Paris, in which the characterization as organized violence is questionable because the attackers had no formal membership in a terrorist organization and their self-attributions referred to different organizations. Traditional concepts such as organized suddenness or extralocal entanglements are too abstract and require a more comprehensive conceptual landscape to accurately capture violent interactions. Also, the generalization of organized suddenness is not sufficient to fully explain the behavior of Nazi perpetrators during the Holocaust.

System-sensitive violence research is necessary, because it takes into account and relates all dimensions of violence - time, social and material dimensions. This approach would make it possible to understand violent phenomena in their complexity and to adequately take into account the role of contexts such as social groups, institutions and states. Such a research perspective is necessary to adequately capture and explain the complex dynamics of violence.

Kühl, S. (2021), Mal wieder ein neuer „Turn“ in der Gewaltforschung - Zu den Möglichkeiten und Grenzen eines prozesssoziologischen Zugangs zur Gewalt, Working Paper 1/2021. Direct link.