Preprint / Version 1

Open Anthro Vol 1-2 On Violence



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What Vivian Gornick says about experience can also be said of violence: it's a large piece of territory. A writer confronting experience and an anthropologist tackling violence start with the same questions: "What about it? What exactly is it? Where was it? How to enter it? From what angle and in what position? With what strategy, and toward what end?"

In keeping with the mission of Open Anthropology to bring the discipline into the public conversation about critical social issues and contemporary policy debates, this edition focuses on violence. In the broadest sense, violence is the exercise of force that inflicts injury or damage. In the world as it currently exists, there is no dearth of illustrations or indicators of violence. News reports in the first two weeks of July 2013, the time of this writing, cover stories that include: the death of Trayvon Martin and the violence of racism in a jury trial in Florida; the torture of solitary confinement; death by drone; bomb attacks in Iraq; malign neglect of the factory floor; and one "view from the victim room," a tiny sample of stories from a tiny sample of English-language press outlets that share one common feature: death, injury, damage was inflicted by force.

These are headline topics that unveil the surface but do not answer important questions about the large territory that is violence. The surface lends itself to easy explanations that I suspect nobody really finds all that convincing or relevant. Some people explain violence with a shrug, "It's human nature, is all" or find blame in an other's culture or belief system, "they are a violent people."
Most anthropologists avoid such totalizing statements that tend to end discussion and erase history and context. Instead, they approach the subject systematically, building and arranging the knowledge they have acquired. Towards that goal, anthropologists and other social scientists have developed labels that differentiate forms of violence, categories that include the spectacular violence of war, genocide, and massacre; the structural violence of unequal social and economic relationships—the violence of racism, sexism, and class inequality; and interpersonal violence—all forms that are understood to be intertwined, interconnected phenomena.


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