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Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691143224
ISBN-10: 0691143226
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2011 Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award, American Sociological Association

"Collins's Violence is a sourcebook for the oft-ignored and usually unseen obvious: We humans are bad at violence, even if civilization makes us a bit better at it."--David D. Laitin, Science

"Violence is a rare academic work, with both a convincing reappraisal of its scholarly terrain, and enough accessibility and useful advice to attract laymen. The writing is clear and direct--sometimes with a welcome touch of the colloquial--and well illustrated with photographs and charts."--Graeme Wood, New York Sun

"Offering a wealth of observations...Randall Collins's overall theory is neat: violence is not easy, hence relatively rare. It is a compelling argument."--Jane Kilby, Times Higher Education

"Insofar as his analysis has sought to highlight its micro-situational aspects, he must be applauded. In the future, only interdisciplinary research will be able to approach this topic with the same vigor, and coherence as Collins has provided us in this book."--Paul Armstrong, Canadian Journal of Sociology

"The book is a superb commentary on how the emotional energy created by the situation of forward panic produces violence. . . . Collin's exhaustive treatment of the forward panic is a major contribution to the literature and the term is certain to become a standard part of our vocabulary on violence."--John M. Hagedorn, Anthropos

"Professor Collins has initiated a much needed discussion of violence, unencumbered by myth and make-believe. . . . After reading this excellent and highly readable volume, there are few myths left remain standing!"--P. A. J. Waddington, Policing

"[T]he book is a notable attempt to develop a general sociological theory of interpersonal violence, and anyone interested in violence and peace can learn a great deal from it."--Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Journal of Peace Research

"[A] deeply learned, thoughtful, and erudite book. . . . [T]he complexity of thought and the clarity of exposition of this first volume leave the reader both fulfilled and eager. Like the greatest of classical sociological thinkers, Collins is both pointillist and abstract expressionist, synthesizing micro and macro, and always asserting the power of the social."--Michael Kimmel, American Journal of Sociology

"Violence overturns standard views about the root causes of violence and offers solutions for confronting it in the future."--World Book Industry

From the Back Cover

"Covering infinitely recurrent strips of social action running from blustering confrontation to intimate physical attack, Violence is peppered with breakthrough insights, demonstrating the power of systematic theory and even concluding with that rarest of sociological contributions, a short list of eminently practical suggestions. The concept of 'forward panic' alone makes the book indispensable. This book is a milestone contribution to criminology, to micro-sociology, to the sociology of emotions, and to a field that knows no academic boundaries: the history of efforts to control violence. Randy Collins has developed a framework that should guide a generation of research."--Jack Katz, University of California, Los Angeles

"I have no doubt that this book will be hailed as one of the most important works on violence ever written. After reading it, it is difficult any longer to imagine that all that is needed for violence to occur is a motive to engage in violence. Collins argues persuasively that the situation must also be right if violence is actually to occur."--Donald Black, author of The Social Structure of Right and Wrong

"A masterful study of the microdynamics of violence. This book will undoubtedly provoke excitement and controversy among a wide group of readers, including educated nonspecialists as well as academics, journalists, law-enforcement professionals, and policymakers. Truly an original book."--Eiko Ikegami, author of The Taming of the Samurai


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691143226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691143224
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Allan Mazur on May 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Collins offers a comprehensive explanation of face-to-face (i.e., micro-social) violence in all situations, including spousal abuse, warfare, riots, murder, and sporting events. In 500 pages of analysis, he draws on video and photographic images, personal and ethnographic accounts, classic literature, history and personal observation, to find common patterns among the diverse situations in which humans physically injure other humans.
Collins's primary assertion is that people rarely act violently, that virtually everyone is reluctant to damage another person. The reason is that violent confrontation is fraught with tension and fear, which act as a protective emotional barrier against inflicting harm or being harmed. Collins regards this confrontational tension/fear as hardwired into the human brain. When violence does occur, tension and fear usually ensure that attacks are brief and incompetent. Terrified riflemen on a battlefield are unlikely to hit a target, if they shoot at all; clashing gang members are more bluff and bluster than lethal attackers. This picture completely contradicts the portrayal in action movies, where violence is perpetrated easily and efficiently, often over extended periods, usually free of anxiety.
Given the emotional barrier to violence, Collins asks, how does violence occur at all? He answers that the perpetrator must follow one of a few "pathways" that lead around the barrier of confrontational tension and into a "tunnel of violence." One such pathway, according to Collins, is to attack a weak victim. Audience encouragement is another pathway to violence, rather like the mob in the Coliseum urging on its favored gladiators, or bystanders shouting encouragement to students in a fistfight, or fans at a college football game.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've admired Randy Collins' work for several years because of his willingness to examine human actions at the micro level, not just the macro level. His previous book, INTERACTIONAL RITUAL CHAINS, was a remarkable investigation of interpersonal dynamics from a fresh perspective. VIOLENCE likewise offers a different way of looking at and understanding human behavior--in this instance, one of its more troubling facets. Thoroughly researched and generally well written, the book is applied social science at its best, and I recommend it highly. Collins rightly dismisses the social constructivist view that violence emerges out of a person's history--a disadvantaged home life, childhood abuse, etc.--and focuses on the particular situations that give rise to violence. Doing so enables him to explain not just those acts of violence committed by "bad" people but also those committed by "good" people, such as police officers and soldiers. He argues convincingly that a person's history does not predict acts of violence; rather there are a number of factors that come together at a particular time and place to trigger a violent act.

I will say, however, that VIOLENCE is not as well written as RITUAL CHAINS. There is a great deal of repetition, especially in the first several chapters, that a good copy editor (where have they all gone?) would have eliminated. I found the repetition annoying, which is why I did not give the book five stars. Perhaps other readers will be able to overlook this issue, but given the brilliance of Collins' previous work, I know he (and his pubisher) can do better.
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Format: Hardcover
I think Collins adds a very interesting perspective to the debate about violence. It is an analysis of the situation in which the violence happens. It is a very limited perspective that neglects a lot of other factors such as poverty. But I think it is a great if one reads his book as addition to the already established theories instead of a counter argument.
Problematic about the book is that the theory draws heavily on Collins' general action Theory (Interactional Ritual Chains) and it might be difficult to understand where he is coming from if one is not familiar with this earlier work. Also I think the book is unnecessarily long. He could have put the argument more on point. There are some other flaws in the argument I think.

However this is only the first of two books. For adding an analysis of the situation, the book is very worth reading!

About the first comment I want to say the following things: Firstly it is wrong that the book is purely descriptive. Collins is one of the sociologists who always tried to engage in explanatory social sciences. Even if it was, that does not mean it was bad sociology, because to introduce a new way categorize is a very valuable thing as Luhmann has taught us. And thirdly there is no clear border between description and explanation. I think the comment was rather stupid and non-elaborated because it gave no explanation of its judgment.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'd been waiting for a "sequel" to Dave Grossman's On Killing to see if it held up, and this is it. Collins makes sense of why soldiers so infrequently fired their weapons in World War II by showing that violence is difficult in any situation where the opponents are evenly matched. It takes a safe environment like a limited schoolyard fight or a massive mismatch like a driveby shooting for violence to be easy.

You also come away with a different view of human nature after reading the book. You begin to think that what separates humans from animals might not be language or tools after all, but our capacity for emotional mirroring. Collins' book makes the world look kindler and gentler even when he's discussing the ugliest violence, because he shows how unnatural it is for us and how the situation has to be just right for it to occur.

After being raised in American culture with its love for violence from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to SWAT teams, it's really interesting to find out that it's all based on macho and bluster. Reading this book is like someone raised in Sparta going to modern-day Sweden and finding out the world isn't innately violent after all.
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