Sartre's views on violence have been subject to considerable scholarly discussion over the last decade. At the same time, there has been renewed interest in the issue of structural violence. This paper is an attempt to engage with the two debates. I argue that by highlighting structural violence it is possible to reframe our understanding of how Sartre viewed violence and to demonstrate that Sartre's work remains a useful compass with which to orientate ourselves in a world saturated in violence. I contend that Sartre maintained a broadly consistent line on violence that held in tension the world we live in and the possibility of humanity in the world that we may create. In addition to this temporal dimension, Sartre's thinking on violence oscillated between social scales: between the individual and the collective. Awareness of this methodological double-movement helps clarify and contextualise Sartre's views, and facilitates fruitful re-readings of current scholarship on violence.
Ronald E. Santoni
In this article, I maintain that (1) Sartre's views on violence are ambivalent and (2) Sartre sometimes justifies violence. More specifically, I attempt to establish the misreadings by Michael Fleming and Marguerite LaCaze (on whom Fleming relies) of both my writing and Sartre's in these regards. Each, by arguing that, for Sartre, violence is “sometimes acceptable” or “functionally necessary” or “understandable,” but not morally justifiable, is ignoring Sartre's tendency at times to skirt the issue of justifiability by employing “weasel words” that amount to justification. Both critics seem to forget that Sartre says that, on occasion, violence “could be called just” (qu'on pourrait appeler juste), especially in conditions of last resort defense against oppression, in which case violence, according to Sartre, can restore and regenerate the oppressed. Further, although I acknowledge Fleming's noteworthy emphasis on “structural violence,” I offer considerable counterevidence against his (and LaCaze's) claim that I ignore or slight Sartre's concern for it. I argue, on Sartrean grounds, against his (and Zizek's) claim that structural violence can be purely objective. Finally, I contend that in arguing that Sartre's views are not strictly ambivalent, Fleming, following LaCaze, makes the error of equating “consistency” with not being ambivalent.
Bioculturalist approach can be fruitfully employed to explain why fictional violence is such an integral part of both our art and entertainment. In any cultural context aggression related biological traits are controlled and shaped in order to ensure both the internal order and the security of a community. William Flesch has argued that his process is guided by the tendency to admire altruistic punishers, who without self-interest assume the task of punishing evildoers. Spectators of such actions tend to react to it emotionally, both spontaneously and via reflection, thus giving the experience both an emotional and a meta-emotional aspect. This plays an important role in relating to the ways in which resorting to violence is justified in mainstream films. This scenario has a strong emotional appeal, even if the spectator would deplore such means in real life contexts. This discrepancy emerges even more strongly in the revenge scenario, which in a fictional context can appear satisfying and empowering despite the moral qualms the spectator might have concerning the ethics of revenge. Because of the deeply ingrained cult of individuality and doubts about the efficacy of government in maintaining law and order, these narrative patterns have developed especially strongly within American popular culture. However, judging by the worldwide success of such films, their appeal is nonetheless quite universal.
History, Violence, and Steven Pinker
Mark S. Micale and Philip Dwyer
In the closing months of 2011, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes.1 Weighing in at over eight hundred closely printed pages, Pinker’s book advances a bold, revisionist thesis: despite the relentless deluge of violent, sensationalist stories in the pervasive electronic media of our day, Pinker proposes, violence in the human world, in nearly every form, has in fact declined dramatically. Over the past several thousand years, and particularly since the eighteenth century, homicides, criminal assaults, war casualties, domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse, capital punishment, lynching, and rape have all been steadily diminishing in frequency.
Matthew C. Eshleman and Ronald E. Santoni
Can violence ever be justified or is violence necessarily oppressive? Is self-defensive counter-violence or “revolutionary violence” aimed at human liberation, which Sartre defended, necessarily in bad faith? These questions form the crux of the debate between Matt Eshleman and Ronald Santoni. Is violence by nature Manichean, making the Other into an “object” and evil antagonist, and thus dehumanizing and oppressing the Other? Or can violence be liberatory when it is directed at oppressors? Both authors—but especially Eshleman, and Santoni reluctantly—agree that some forms of violence (such as self-defense) do not involve bad faith, but disagree about whether or when revolutionary violence can be justified.
Movement, violence, and the making of home
Stef Jansen and Staffan Löfving
By giving an extensive literature review and presenting the central objectives of this theme section, this introductory article develops a programmatic call for a critical anthropology of 'home' in relation to violence and place. Challenging assumptions that territoriality, rootedness, and memories of violence are necessarily the primary determinants of identification among people on the move, it proposes conceptual tools to investigate how and when such discourses may provide or prohibit the making of 'home'. In particular, it draws attention to issues of political and economic transformation and the changing forms of violence and movement produced by them.
Ethnographic Engagement with Bureaucratic Violence
Erin R. Eldridge and Amanda J. Reinke
Bureaucracies are dynamic and interactive sociocultural worlds that drive knowledge production, power inequalities and subsequent social struggle, and violence. The authors featured in this special section mobilize their ethnographic data to examine bureaucracies as animated spaces where violence, whether physical, structural, or symbolic, manifests in everyday bureaucratic practices and relationships. The articles span geographic contexts (e.g., United States, Canada, Chile, Eritrea) and topics (e.g., migration, extractive economies, law and sociolegal change, and settler colonialism) but are bound together in their investigation of the violence of the administration of decisions, care, and control through bureaucratic means.
Family Violence in Soviet Russia
The article gives a systematic assessment of legal attitudes toward family and domestic violence in Soviet Russia to examine whether the incidence of family violence remained as high as it was in the pre-revolutionary period, whether forms of family violence changed due to the new regime and new legal categories, and whether and how the new gender regime (i.e., the proclaimed equality of women and men) influenced the state of family violence in Soviet Russia. The analysis reveals that the Soviet state used the concepts of “hooliganism” and “family-domestic crimes” as the legal frameworks to deal with family violence while the concept of the “problem family” was employed to suggest prevention policies against domestic violence. The article also addresses the problem of continuity in social and criminal policies of Russia within the current application of “traditional values” and explains why this concept is consistent with the Soviet past.
My aim in this article is to move the problematic of violence and its role in politics to a historico-ontological plane. I propose a perspective that breaks with the dominant subjectivist concept of human violence and its metaphysical foundations, which fail to distinguish this concept from that of aggression. According to this perspective, we are already in the field of violence in our everyday social existence, regardless of our personal choices or intentions, the sources of which are systemic. The ontological essence of this systemic violence lies in the fact that it is not external to human subjects but is engraved in their very social being by penetrating into the discourses, practices and frames of mind that make up their historical disposition, which makes it in many instances harder to escape than subjective violence. What I call from this ontological perspective the 'violence of closure' has the effect ultimately of suppressing the possibilities of social being open to human beings in their given historical situation, by normalising the existing way of social and political existence, and closing them off to alternatives. I argue that to this violence of closure must be opposed the violence of dis-closure, which, in its various particular intellectual and practical forms, can open up human social existence to its repressed possibilities.
The Case of Northern Ireland
This article examines the concept of violence in contemporary political theory focusing in particular on the possibility of rethinking the relationship between violence and democracy. Rather than seeing democracy and violence as contrasting concepts, it argues that democratic societies have always been founded on the basis of violent engagement at some level. And, of course, the modern state has always claimed the legitimate use of force as a key ingredient in its authority. The article contends that many contemporary democratic discourses have lost sight of the integral relationship between democracy and violence. Indeed it is frequently the case that discourses of democracy are couched in ethical terms as the obverse of violence. Ironically, this trend is often most apparent where societies are either making a transition to democracy or where a process of conflict transformation is taking place. The limitations of these approaches for our understanding of violence and democracy will be outlined in this article through an examination of contemporary political developments in Northern Ireland.