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Sociological Perspectives of Violence

Sociological Perspectives of Violence.
The focus of this paper is an overview of different research articles on racism and structural violence against the aboriginal. Violence will be looked at from three schools of thoughts namely the structural, conflict and process theories. The views of these different approaches to violence will be critically analyzed, but no value judgments will be placed on any of their perceptions of violence. Racism According to Headley (2000), racism is “the infliction of unequal consideration, motivated by the desire to dominate, based on race alone (p. 23). Headley further explains that this definition accommodates the distinction between “true racism” which is the desire to harm or dominate others solely on the basis of race, and “ordinary racism” which he sees as universal features of human biology (p. 224). Headley further maintained that a racist is not merely someone who wishes to put down another’s   race, but also suppress and assert his/her own superiority through a violent act (p. 224).
Naiman (2006) defines racism as hostility, aggression, and antagonism toward non-members of a particular group based on their physical characteristics, notably skin colour (p. 265). Similarly, Spencer (1998) sees racism as “the transformation of race prejudice and / or ethnocentrism through the exercise of power against a racial group defined as inferior, by individual and institution” (p. 1). To infer from the foregoing definitions, a common attribute of racism is the belief that one’s own race is superior to another.
This belief is based on the erroneous assumption that physical attributes of members of a racial group determine their social behaviour as well as their psychological and intellectual characteristics (Spencer, 1998, p. 5). Historical Roots of Racism. The term racism became popularized in the late 1960’s during the civil rights movement (Headley, 2000, p. 235). Prior to this time according to Headley, the term ethnic prejudice was used (p. 236). Naiman (2006) posits that racism is a relatively recent phenomenon, and its emergence as a systematic world-view developed concurrently with the rise of capitalist and its global expansion (p. 66) Naiman further explains   that some scholars define forms of   social intolerance prior to this capitalist era as racism, but he however argues that such social intolerance is more precisely seen as ethnocentrism (preference for one’s own cultural traditions) or ethnic chauvinism (antagonism towards a particular group) (p. 267).

Racism in Canada According to Naiman (2006), some Canadians like to believe that racism is a relatively recent phenomenon linked to modern immigration patterns or compared to United States, Canada has little history of overt racism (p. 69). Naiman, however, argues that racism in Canada has a long and sordid past, which in reality as described by him “ is an unsightly history swept under the threadbare rug of its national myths” (p. 269). Naiman further maintained that the history of racism in Canada begins with the subjugation of Canada’s aboriginal people. Violence Anglin (1998), states that an uncontroversial, exhaustive and precise definition of violence is difficult to find. “Violence is understood as an incident in which an acting individual intentionally injures another” (p. 146).
Anglin further explains that the action of the perpetrator can be physical, or psychological. In same vein, Steinmetz (1989) defines violent as “an act carried out with the intension of, or perceived as having the intension of physically hurting another person”. Strasburg (1978) defines violence as “illegal use or threat of force against a person”. From the foregoing, it can be infer that violent behavior means physical force exerted for the purpose of violating or abusing. There are three key terms which are likely to be present for any action to be classified as a violent act.
The action must be intentional, force may be applied and the action must result in harm (physical, psychological and emotional). Human behaviour does not occur in isolation or in vacuum but it is influenced by the interplay of many other factors. Consequently, different schools of thoughts about violence, view any violent act as a precursor of other factors. For example, the Conflict, Structural, and Process theories. Conflict theory Conflict theory is better understood as the Marxist theory. According to the theory, “Crime is perceived as a function of competition for limited resources”.
That is, a social status in which an individual is perceived evaluated and treated accordingly by legal authorities. The Marxist view is that conflict between these class-based social hierarchies, the haves (bourgeoisie), and has not (proletariat) that produces violent behavior. According to Holmes (1988), the difference between these two classes is a matter of relative power . Holmes further explains that the ruling class have sufficient power hence, they are able to label some proletariat’s behavior as criminal Structural theory
The structural theory on the other hand, sees violence from the perception of cultural forces or neighborhood conditions. That is, our behavior is a product of our environment. The world we live in, shapes our lives. Since our environment is not static, our behavior revolves around this dynamism. The structural approach holds the view that the way certain things are structured by the society creates violent acts. For example, consider the film Elephant; the structural theory will argue that it is because of the way society is structured, that people are able to acquire weapons to perpetuate violence.
Similarly, heterogeneity of society inherently creates violence. This is because according to the theory, there is bound to be such issues as cultural or religious conflicts due to these differences. Process theory According to the proponent of this theory, crime is a function of socialization and upbringing. Delinquent behaviour is learned like every other behavior through association with significant others and reference groups, especially parents and peers. It is through observation and interaction with these significant others; we learn techniques for engaging in delinquent acts.
According to Process theory, all forms of violent acts are learned through imitation and observation. For example in the movie Elephant, the Process theory argues that the two serial killers learned such violent acts through the use of violent computer games and imitation of the Nazi’s leader, Hitler. The argument advanced by these different schools of thought appears convincing, because violence in society can be explained through each of these approaches. When these schools of thought are viewed critically, there appears to be a probing question that needs to be answered.
Among each of these theories which contributes more to violence in society? Considering the importance of each of these schools of thought, it will be difficult if not impossible to adequately explain violence from the perception of one of these approaches. This is true because each of these approaches interplay to influence one’s behaviour depending on the situation. For example, using the movie Elephant, the Process Theory will argue that the serial killers learned their dastardly act through watching   violent video games (observation) their attempt to imitate Nazi’s leader Hitler was the precursor of their actions.
On the other hand, the Structural Theory will argue that it is because of the way society is structured that the serial killers were able acquired guns to perpetuate their acts. Similarly, if society is structured in such a way that getting violent computer games are almost impossible to get, perhaps the killers might not be able to procure such weaponry or learn violent behaviour. In same vein, the Conflict Approach says the power struggle between the ruling class and the working class creates imbalance family structure, which they claim resulted in poor parental upbringing.
This results in violent acts because the children are not properly catered for. The Role and Effect of the mass media on Violence Research on media influence in violence has been concerned with possible negative effects of exposure to violent films. What messages, for example do children take away from their exposure to various violent movies? According to the Observational Learning Theory Bandura, et al, in their Bobo doll study cited in Holmes (1988), explains that the media encourages children to solve their problems by violent means; they further maintain that constant exposure to violence normalizes violence (p. 100).
Critics of the Bobo doll experiment have pointed out that the doll was the type of toy that invited aggression, and also since the filmstrip used in the experiment lacked a plot, it contained no justification for the violence of children. .Other scholars like Alfred Hitchcock’s as cited in Holmes (1988) argues that tracing the direct effects of the media is a very difficult task. The reason for this according to him is that when the media operates in the natural environment, their influence is only one factor among many other factors; this is because what they see and hear is most likely monitored by their parents (p. 8). Hitchcock further explains that even when children are exposed to violent movies through the media, this violent act is further reinforced if the parent’s, themselves also engages in any forms of violence. The media reflects nearly every aspect of a society; these reflections are not necessarily accurate. This is because violence is not accurately represented by the media. The news media in particular, provides an important forum in which violent acts are selectively gathered up, invested with a broader meaning, and made available to public consumption (Ksenych, 2003, p. 35).
The media has the power to shape the issue and to shape the consciousness of viewers by sensationalizing and trivializing cases of abuse. A good example of this is the misleading representation of   the percentage of violence as reported by the media and the one reported by statistics Canada (Ksenych, 2003 p. 35). Structural Violence Structural Violence according to Anglin (1998) “is violence produced by structures of domination, form of expropriation of vital economic and non-material resources and operations of systems of social stratification or categorization that subvert people’s chances of survival” (p. 46). Through structural forms of violence, persons are socially and culturally marginalized in ways that deny them the opportunity for emotional and physical wellbeing.
Walker (2003) sees Structural Violence as “the constraints on human potential caused by economic and political structures” (p. 1). Similarly, Fiske (2006) contrasts “Structural Violence” and “Direct Violence”. Fiske argues that structural violence is manifested in social inequalities, and almost always invisible, embedded in social structures. Direct violent on the other hand, is overt and has a perpetrator of the harmful actions (p. 47). Thus, structural violence occurs whenever people are at disadvantaged by political, economic and cultural traditions. Structural Violence on the Aboriginal People The “stolen generation” is the name generally given to the Aboriginal families adopted into non Aboriginal families as a result of government policies on assimilation (Mellor, 2006, p. 82). According to Holmes (1998) the first British and French colonist made contact with the Aborigines primarily to exploit their labour power in the fur trade (p. 270). Holmes further explains that the Aborigines were under paid in exchange of their labour.
Furthermore, as the fur trade declined and agriculture expanded the colonists forcefully took over the valuable lands inhabited by the Aboriginal people. Fiske (2006) sees structural violence against the Aboriginal from the perception of cultural marginalization. Fiske explains after confederation, the Canadian government used assimilation to gain control over the Aborigines. The tool used to promote this end was the Indian act of 1876 (p. 248). This act not only controls every aspect of the lives of the native people, but it also laid out who would be bound or not bound by the act.
For example, the “Status Indians” were those bound by the act, and were prohibited by the act from owning lands, from voting, and from purchasing or consuming alcohol. By same token, the groups not included in the act are “Non-Status Indian”. Fiske further explains that prior to 1985, the Aborigines women were excluded from Indian register when they married non-Indians. Similarly, these women were not only forced out of their community, but were also stripped of their rights to property inheritance. The children born in this marriage were also denied Indian status.
By same token, Walker, (2003) explains that there was also forms of structural violence against indigenous knowledge production (p. 37). This is evidence in Eurocentric research paradigms which distort indigenous experience as expressed in the following quote   “To assume that phenomena from another world view can be adequately explained from a totally foreign world view is the essence of psychological and philosophical imperialism”. Consequently, forcing indigenous researchers to fit their approach within western paradigms ignores the premise that all research paradigms have a pecific cultural foundation. Walker further explains that this cultural bias of the dominant western society is based on the assumptions that the western methodology was universal (p. 38). From the foregoing, it can be seen that the indigenous people of Canada were not only subjected to forms of inhuman condition, they saw the theft of their resources and     culture,   marginalization, and discrimination (Naiman, 2006, p. 272).

Sociological Perspectives of Violence

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