restricted access Chapter 1. Toward an Understanding of Ethnic Violence in Schools
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19 Violence in this study has been defined as an act of aggression aimed at causing some degree of pain or physical injury to the targeted individual(s). What distinguishes its various forms has more to do with the motive and target of the aggression than it does with either the type of aggressive movement involved or the tools used. In this regard, the motive for ethnic violence in schools is to injure someone because of his or her observed or assumed ethnic identity. Ethnic violence has some behavioral characteristics similar to other forms of violence, but the dynamic through which it completes its life course assumes a particular pattern. This chapter will outline the life course characteristics of ethnic violence in schools, by which I mean the course that it takes from start to finish.1 Many of the tenets advanced in the present theory can also be ascribed to ethnic violence that takes place in contexts other than a school, as well as various forms of nonethnic violence. However, the sequencing of these other phenomena could very well be different. A number of theories offer explanations for why ethnic violence occurs in schools, but they address ethnic violence in general wherever it may occur. As we will see, some aspects of these theories are relevant to ethnic violence in school, but because the school occupies a unique physical, social, and cultural location in American society they do not fully explain the school phenomenon. Randall Collins and Donald L. Horowitz propose two of the theories most pertinent to school violence .2 While they deal directly with violence in great depth, including chapter 1 Toward an Understanding of Ethnic Violence in Schools The thornbush is the old obstacle in the road. It must catch fire if you want to go further. —Franz Kafka, The Third Octavo Notebook, November 21, 1917 20 | Toward an Understanding of Ethnic Violence the issue of ethnicity associated with it, they still do not cover the full dynamics of ethnic violence. Collins’s theory has enormous breadth in that it attempts to theorize the micro processes of violence across social environments and targets. It focuses on the individual and what gets him or her to engage in violence; and although a number of interactional factors (e.g., competition or an argument) may provide the impetus for violence, the engine that drives all violence is what he calls a “forward panic.” This forward panic is “a pattern developing in time, the buildup of tension/fear and the shift to sudden weakness of the victim . . . [that] opens the dark tunnel down into which people collectively fall.”3 Obviously, in part this concept suggests that individuals have a dark side that enables them to do evil things in the right situation. Thus it would seem that there is nothing unique about any particular situation, including one that involves ethnic violence , since once the processes begin they have a life of their own. The argument assumes that all violence is more or less phenomenologically the same; the only thing that differs is the situational content that triggers a sequence. Although there is much to be learned from this perspective, it eliminates , or at minimum blurs, factors that work together to create variance in the types of violence. Factors at the macro level, like the history of social interaction between individuals and groups, economic pressures within and between groups, and current social structural arrangements, as well as factors at the micro level, like the motives, timing, type of involvement chosen, and structure of engagement (length, intensity, targets ), all play a part in the character of the violence engaged in as well as its interactional path. Thus if one accepts Randall Collins’s approach, all violence is phenomenologically similar. Yet earlier I proposed a definition of violence as the use of physical force to damage or injure another person . Further, I suggested that the common denominator for all that is generally referred to as violence begins with some aspect of “aggression,” or the act of initiating hostile action toward other persons. However, where, when, with whom, how, and why that aggression takes place are significant in producing phenomenologically different forms such as sexual violence, domestic violence, and war, to name a few. All can involve aggression in the form of physical force and bodily injuries, but the sociological character and interpretation of each are different. Ethnic violence is one such form. It is differentiated from other forms of violence...


Subject Headings

  • School violence -- United States.
  • Ethnic conflict -- United States.
  • High schools -- Social aspects -- United States.
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