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54 The previous chapter was concerned with identifying and analyzing the factors that provided the historical and social psychological basis for ethnic violence to occur—in terms of the fire metaphor, the kindling. In the case of fires, while certain kinds of vegetation are particularly likely to produce intense fires, certain environmental conditions must be present that make them especially combustible. This chapter will analyze the circumstances that transform certain long-standing social conditions into potentially volatile situations. However, before beginning to analyze the transformation referred to above, I wish to make clear that while this book has some important implications for understanding the sociology of ethnic conflict more generally, its primary focus is not the general category of ethnic conflict. Rather, it is concerned with one expression of it—physical violence among ethnic groups in schools in the United States. Obviously conflict between ethnic groups can take place without physical violence, and we see this in such areas as market behaviors, politics, and sports. There are two main kinds of research on ethnic violence. The first uses survey techniques to look at attitudes related to violent intent or self-reported violent behavior and thus is concerned with the formation of bigoted and hostile attitudes toward social groups that over time lead to aggressive and violent behavior. Within this research, negative attitudes toward certain groups of people—disliking them, seeing them as a threat, or feeling socioeconomically deprived by them—and positive chapter 3 Climate and Weather Social Conditions and Structural Change Dogs bark at a person they do not know. —Heraclitus, Fragments, 500 CE Climate and Weather | 55 attitudes toward the use of violence are enough to explain why people engage in violence.1 The second type of research focuses on the immediate events that precipitate a physically violent encounter—the micro interactions that set the stage for violence between individuals and initiate physical aggression.2 It is concerned with the content of an immediate encounter: that is, the meaning that the actors apply to the symbols that elicit an emotion leading to an aggressive behavioral response.3 Although both of these perspectives can explain some aspects of violence that will be empirically investigated in later chapters, they miss a particularly important phase in the development of the conditions leading to violence. On a time line, this period is located between the earlier conditions that form attitudes and beliefs leading to prejudice, bigotry, and disdain toward members of a particular ethnic group and the immediate interaction between individuals that turns into a violent encounter . This period fuses the beliefs and prejudices that have been historically developed and passed on to succeeding generations by family, friends, and institutional leaders with the interactions that individuals experience with members of the various out-groups in the neighborhoods and schools in which they associate. Thus this chapter will describe how ethnic change converts the social condition of historic interethnic conflict into a dangerous possibility for the eruption of interethnic violence. neighborhood experience Although a public high school’s geographic district comprises many neighborhoods, they are usually (except in the case of magnet or charter schools) spatially connected in such a way that the residents generally share a similar socio-geographic experience. So what experiences are especially important in establishing ripe conditions for interethnic violence ? In this study, a set of economic and social concerns within the school’s enrolling neighborhoods proved to be the most salient in creating a volatile environment. Economic Apprehensions The first of these had to do with economics, particularly the economics of housing. Every realtor will tell prospective buyers of a house that “the value of a house” and its price will depend on three factors: “location , location, location.” What they mean is that any house’s exchange 56 | Tinder value will depend on a combination of objective and subjective factors that residents and prospective buyers place on a particular location. Thus people attempt to buy houses that combine what they need (i.e., use value) with the probability of increasing their wealth as the property increases in equity (i.e., exchange value). Here lies the economic basis for the creation of an environment of heightened ethnic tensions.4 Those already living in the area, especially those who have been living there for some time, have a financial commitment to homes they actually live in as well as to the neighborhood where the housing is located. Like other homeowners, people of modest means will look...


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