Addressing Violence and Power within Societies
“The problems of violence may be cardinal to a proper
understanding of political life, yet the concept of violence remains elusive and often misunderstood”.
Scientists are asked to explain, define and describe the object of their studies, make questions and give answers helping people to be less scared about the various “world mysteries”. In social sciences, to define, to give an objective, almost scientific, brief description of something, is always a challenge. Nevertheless social scientist are in charge of explain, define and describe as well as their fellows. The tendency is to operate a sort of categorization of the main key concepts of social sciences, applying a scientific scheme that pushes to extract the core meanings from those concepts and then to express them in terms of pure objectivity. In this way concepts become universally understandable so they contribute to the enrichment and enlargement of knowledge. This procedure belongs to the human nature, it has been taken in consideration since the most ancient time when early philosophers questioned about the way of thinking, perceiving and defining the “cosmos”. Human beings are used to simplify, objectify and categorize the reality in order to be able to relate themselves with all the surrounding. Today neuroscientists talk about taxonomy, explaining in few passages how our brain works. «For instance, if you hear purring and feel fur rubbing against your leg, your brain knows to associate that sound and feeling with the fluffy four-legged object you see at your feet – and to group that whole multisensory chunk under the heading of “cat.” What’s more, years of cat experience have taught you that it makes no sense to think of a cat as if it were a piece of furniture, or a truck, or a weather balloon. In other words, an encounter with a cat carries a particular set of meanings for you – and those meanings determine which areas of your brain will perk up in the presence of a feline.» The particular brain mechanism described above summarizes the process through which we attribute a meaning, categorize, label and classify the reality. So, if it works with a cat should it be the same also when we face more complex objects of reality as, for example, Violence? Yes, it is possible to answer that the physiological mechanism should be the same, however, trying to capture those kind of concepts, as for example the Violence one, requires much more efforts and caution. In social sciences Anthropologists are the ones who have put much attention in avoiding the “definition traps” while examining concepts as the one of violence that, they state, are embedded in the cultural and social contexts of the societies under study. Moreover they warn scholars not to underestimate the complexity and pitfalls that lie behind the attempt to define a key concept as the one of Violence, which is fundamental in several social sciences but also increasingly present, and sometimes misperceived, in the everyday life.
Violence as a slippery concept.
«No one engaged in thought about history and politics can remain unaware of the enormous role of violence has always played in human affairs, and it is at first glance rather surprising that violence has been singled out seldom from special consideration [...] violence and it arbitrariness were taken for granted and therefore neglected; no one questions or examines what is obvious to all.» Well, this is not completely true, fortunately, although the issues that emerge from investigate the definitions of Violence are really numerous, there are still some places in the academic dimension where to question and examine controversial concepts as the one of Violence. Nancy Sheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois accurately give us a taste of the present difficulties in their compendium, Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology, where, introducing the contents, they...