January 28, 2021, 12:00
Sociological Studies: Overview
From Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, Vol. 3. 1999: Academic Press.
University of Toronto
- A state of normlessness in society, most commonly occurring during periods of dramatic social change.
- Dependency Theory
- The theory that under the capitalist system, economic development can take place in one country only if another country is kept underdeveloped, thus accounting for the widening economic gap between developed and underdeveloped nations.
- The belief that a social pattern is best understood in terms of the regular functions that it serves in a given society.
- Noninstitutionalized Violence
- Violent actions that are carried out by individuals or groups acting independently without coordination or normative regulation.
- Political conflicts aimed at changing the regime of a whole society.
THE TOPICS of this encyclopedia -- violence, peace, conflict, and war -- are all common objects of sociological research, though not equally so. Peace, for example, is infrequently the main theme of articles or books, whether one defines the term narrowly (as the mere absence of organized warfare) or broadly (as societywide harmony resulting from the prevalence of justice).
Violence, on the other hand, is a matter of widespread research and refers predominantly to the actual use or immediate threat of hodily injury as a form of intimidation. The sociologists who devote the most attention to the study of violence tend to be those who focus on its manifestations at the individual level or at the level of small groups, such as criminal gangs. Fewer analyze organized, institutionalized violence (warfare) and, among those few who do study war, there has been more interest in studying revolutions and other internal struggles than international wars. Finally, conflict is one of the main topics of sociology and therefore it will be our main topic in this article. Of the countless types of conflict, most do not involve warfare or even violence, but occur as everyday struggles between parents and children, say, or industrial firms and unions. Such battles often constitute the main objects of sociological research, though we shall devote less attention to these mundane conflicts here than to the more violent military activities. However, before addressing any empirical research along these lines, let us briefly review the major theories that inform sociological scholarship in matters of peace, conflict, and violence.
Although rather few social theorists have sought to explain those conditions that are here termed peace, a great many have discussed a comparable condition that they call social order. For present purposes, we will not be amiss if we read the term social order as a synonym for peace in its broader definition: as societal harmony.
The most influential book on social order is Talcott Parsons's early masterpiece The Structure of Social Action, which outlined the framework for a generation of sociologists who called themselves "functionalists." Although not many sociologists today base their research on functionalisiji, most of them still do accept Parsons's account of how social order is maintained. He depicted this condition of societal integration (without calling it "peace") by contrasting it to the "war of all against all" that, according to Thomas Hobbes, is the natural condition of humankind in the absence of government. Parsons asserted that the primary theme of social theorists has been the effort to explain how social order is possible: In view of the infinite variety of goals toward which people may hypothetically aspire, how do they generally manage to curb their impulses; arrive at consensus; coordinate their joint activities, and produce orderly, stable, harmonious groups?
To Parsons, the key to social order was "normative regulation." In a well-ordered society individuals supposedly acquire their personal goals, as well as certain norms and values, by "internalizing" rules upheld within their social group, thereby minimizing conflicts-perceived incompatibilities between their wishes and the expectations of others. When functionalist theorists try to explain why a certain group emphasizes one particular value over other possible values, they usually argue that it contributes usefully to the maintenance of the group as a whole. And when functionalists have to explain violations of societal norms (such as criminal practices or individual unauthorized use of violence) they usually refer in the first instance to the inadequacy of the rule-breaker's upbringing or "socialization."
Socialization research is useful for explaining variations in degrees of personal, individual cooperativeness that we would recognize as peaceable behavior. To understand the maintenance of cooperative interaction as a system, however, social researchers must deal with social institutions and organizations. Each organization is structured by rules that are generally observed during peaceful interactions, and societies offer institutional mechanisms for handling infractions of those rules. At the societal level, the most conspicuous of these mechanisms is the legal system, which resolves disputes, judges who is responsible for blameworthy actions (crimes or "torts"-actions that inadvertently harm others or their interests), and imposes punishment or restitution for damages.
Preindustrial societies may not have formal laws and systems of law enforcement, but they do have other institutions of social control, such as the practice of convening village elders who are authorized to administer justice and restore peace to a community.
At the international level, legal institutions are not well developed. There are international laws, which are created through treaties between states, as well as recognized by custom. There are also a few law-making international bodies, such as the European Parliament, but these institutions are not as well-recognized as national legislative systems. The United Nations General Assembly, for example, cannot be regarded as a world parliament, for its decisions are not binding, and there are limited mechanisms of enforcement. There is a world court (the International Court of Justice), but countries are often able to ignore its decisions. An International Criminal Court is being created and will judge serious personal offenses such as war crimes. When all these international institutions become well-established, they will be the most important means of protecting peace, just as law-enforcement institutions at the local level are the most important ways of keeping peace in a neighborhood or province. You and I do not get into fist-fights about noisy parties or broken contracts; we complain to the police or go to court instead. In the same way, international law can become the main institution replacing warfare in the century ahead.
It was Parsons and the other functionalists who called sociological attention to the legal system and the other institutions that maintain social order. Today, even though functionalism has been almost abandoned, its account of social order still prevails, since no alternative sociological account of order been proposed that is markedly more satisfactory. However, its theoretical critics have long accused functionalists of portraying harmony and equilibrium as the usual state of human affairs and therefore focusing too little attention on conflicts. The main critics of functionalists tend to prefer one of the several versions of conflict theory, all of which pay particular attention to the great difficulty of fitting together the many contradictory objectives that may exist in any group.
Conflict theorists point out that we can find as much conflict as harmony or peace in society. In contrast to functionalists, they do not suppose that it is often easy to reconcile the opposing interests in situations of conflict. Here we shall discuss three influential variants of conflict theory: those initially elaborated by Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber. We shall also pay attention to a few more recent scholars who have continued to draw on their insights.
Karl Marx's famous views contrast sharply with the functionalist views described above, for he viewed history as shaped by the process of class conflict. Social classes are groups of people who confront similar life circumstances because they have a similar relationship to the means of production. For example, some classes consist of people who own factories or land, while other classes consist of workers, who have nothing to sell except their own labor. Marx (1818-1883) did not endorse the functionalist notion that a common set of values guides all members of a single society in the direction of mutuality. On the contrary, when harmony seemed to prevail in a particular society, it meant to Marx that the workers probably were unaware of their own true interests, for a full grasp of reality would impel them to struggle against the social class that was exploiting them.
Marx not only recognized that conflict was a basic part of social life; he even joined the workers in their struggle against the owners, expecting it to culminate in a revolution that would usher in a new social order to supersede class conflicts. Though he certainly did not minimize the suffering that accompanied violent conflict, he regarded it as frequently necessary for human advancement and therefore as a struggle to be fought and won-not avoided, suppressed, or papered over with pacifist or religious rhetoric.
The 20th century has been the age of Marxism. Billions of human lives have been shaped (or ended) by policies carried out in his name. After the breakdown of communist regimes, intellectuals of the 21st century may be less receptive to Marxism than those of the 20th. Nevertheless, some elements of his theories have so deeply penetrated the discourse of social science that his influence will continue for a long time, even among persons who do not consider themselves Marxist.
Marx recognized that social injustice kills more people than bullets or bombs. For that reason he regarded the mere absence of war as an inadequate objective. In fact, he preferred war (revolution) over an unjust peace-at least whenever, by revolting, the oppressed classes can improve their long-term prospects and create peace with justice. In this respect, Marxism probably offers a useful corrective to the facile imagery of the functionalists, whose thin concept of `social order" may mistakenly portray a situation as peaceable when in fact oppressed people are docile only because they have too little power to defend their own interests.
However, Marx the theorist has been dead for more than a century, and obviously history has not turned out as he had predicted. Other theorists have revised his ideas in a number of ways but even their revised predictions have rarely turned out as expected. Contrary to Marx's theory, for example, workers in capitalist countries have not become constantly more impoverished; their standards of living have actually improved. Moreover, communist revolutions have not taken place in advanced industrial societies, as he expected, but only in countries that were just beginning to industrialize. Had the Bolshevik revolutionaries acted in accordance with Marx's vision of the future, they would not have attempted to capture the Russian state and create the Soviet Union, which had only a small industrial working class. However, their leader, V. I. Lenin, adapted Marxism to suit his more urgent ambitions. Drawing upon a small point in Marx's Capital, he elaborated his own theory of imperialism.
In Marx's day each European capitalist country dominated overseas colonies as sources of raw materials for its industries and as markets for its finished products. Lenin took this observation as a basis for his theory of imperialism, arguing that any capitalist country always had to keep increasing its overseas holdings to maintain a constantly expanding market and opportunities for foreign investments. The capitalist countries, competing for imperialistic control of those colonies, would engage in warfare among themselves. By looting the colonies they might even be able to raise the living standards of workers in their own countries and postpone the day when profits would vanish and angry workers would carry out the communist revolution that Marx had predicted.
Lenin's theory of imperialism enabled Marxists to defend their doctrine for a long time, despite unexpected circumstances. This theoretical revision recast the class struggle as a struggle between nations that differed in terms of their class structure.
When most colonies gained formal independence after World War II, their people initially expected to become rich by developing industries of their own. As this hope dwindled, the theory that seemed best to explain their problem was "dependency theory"-a conflict theory that bore a strong resemblance to Lenin's theory of imperialism. Thus according to dependency theorist Andre Gunder Frank, many of the former colonies remained in much the same economic relationship to their European capitalist rulers as before gaining political independence and, indeed, were not `developing" economically but actually "underdeveloping"-going downhill. Their only prospect of improving their circumstances depended on their escaping from these exploitive economic relationships and regaining control of own systems of production and distribution.
Dependency theory became popular in the socialist countries, for it allowed the Soviets, for example, to claim that they were offering support to poor countries all over the world by providing them with the weapons and aid they needed to liberate themselves from the capitalist nations.
By the late 1970s, however, many of the "underdeveloping" countries had become disillusioned with their socialist allies, who for their part were clearly falling behind in the competition against capitalism. Moreover, some of the former colonies (such as Singapore and Hong Kong) that had retained close ties to capitalist societies had become extremely prosperous instead of "underdeveloping" as predicted. By the time the Soviet Union abandoned Marxism, dependency theory seemed largely discredited among those in the socialist bloc who had drawn on it as a rationale for the maintaining the defensive wariness and militarism that constituted the Cold War.
By then, however, dependency theory had changed somewhat in the West, where it still remains influential as a theory of international conflict. It has been absorbed into an approach called world system theory, which bears somewhat less resemblance to Marx's original writings. Where dependency theory began by portraying relationships between pairs of countries-one in the capitalist center, the other a former colony in the underdeveloped "periphery"-world system theory portrays all the nations of the planet as constituting a single interdependent system, all experiencing the effects of an increasingly globalized market. Moreover, world system Lheorists deny that the socialist bloc had remained unaffected by this global capitalist market. And finally, although world system theory predicts
nothing comparable to Marx's revolution of industrial workers, it does anticipate that international relations will continue to be marked by conflict and even violence. The world system approach is probably the most influential version of conflict theory today.
Georg Simmel (1858-1918) was a German social theorist whose ideas were imported to the Chicago School of sociology by one of his former students, Robert F. Park. Later Simmel's ideas about conflict were systematized and promoted by Lewis A. Coser.
Simmel held that both conflict and cooperation are present in all human relationships. He analyzed what he called "the web of conflict"-the interdependence of cooperation and conflict. For example, whenever the conflict between two groups increases, one of the effects is usually to increase solidarity and cooperation within each of those groups. Modern society brings people into amazingly complex relationships because of the multiple groups to which we belong. We may be allies in one situation but opponents in another.
Though Simmel did not call it so, he introduced the concept of "cross-cutting cleavages"-a notion that other sociologists often use when trying to explain why conflict increases or decreases. For example, pluralist theorists claim that democracy is more stable in societies where people experience numerous cross-cutting cleavages. Democracy is unstable in polarized settings where a person's opponents on one issue tend to be her opponents on all other issues as well. Suppose you and I belong to different ethnic communities, each of which has its own language, religion, cuisine, and economic traditions. Our conflicts are likely to be intense because when we discuss almost any topic, you and I may disagree.
On the other hand, suppose you and I are on opposite sides of a dispute today in our committee meeting but we know that tomorrow we will be singing together in the same glee club or playing on the same soccer team. With this ambivalent relationship, we are likely to criticize each other only mildly, if at all. Whenever many people in a society are in such social structures that produce many ambivalent relationships, the prevailing spirit tends to be one of tolerance and moderation, making it easier to find a democratic compromise.
Simmel had only limited influence on political theorists, but quite a lot of influence on scholars studying ethnic conflict-a topic that was the special preoccupation of Robert F. Park and his fellow sociologists of the Chicago School during the first decades of the 20th century. The comparative weakness of Simmel's position among political theorists may have resulted from a weakness in his analysis: his tendency not to distinguish very clearly between conflict and violence. Though he was correct in noting the impossibility of eliminating conflict from social life, it is a mistake to conclude that the elimination of violence from society is also impossible. Societies differ considerably in the frequency with which their members resort to personal violence and their states resort to warfare. Some sophisticated modern societies have not experienced a war for several hundred years and, according to ethnographers, in some preindustrial societies (e.g., the Mbuti pygmies and the Semai) even personal acts of violence have been rare. Methods of managing conflict vary in countless nonviolent ways, ranging, say, from Amerindian ritual meetings in a sacred sweat lodge to billion-dollar lawsuits between huge corporations. Professional peace researchers all emphasize the distinction between conflict and violence. The whole objective of their discipline is to improve social institutions so as to enable people to wage their inevitable conflicts in noninjurious ways. The main shortcoming of Simmel's theory may have been its failure to hold that up as a realistic objective.
Lewis Coser's (h. 1913) work was so closely related to Simmel's that we need not try, for present purposes, to distinguish sharply between their approaches, except to note that Coser has distinguished more clearly between conflict and violence. Like Simmel, he has shown that frequently conflict has positive effects for a social group that undergoes it. For example, it can provide a safety valve in times of increasing tension, while at other times it stimulates innovations.
Unlike many other conflict theorists, however, Coser acknowledges that not all conflicts are based on genuinely contradictory interests. Often he judges that a particular conflict is "nonrea1istic" -i.e., carried on as an end in itself. Even revolutionary violence can be based more on a group's sense of its own identity than on its material interests.
On the other hand, conflicts within a group sometimes reestablish unity and balance to that group. For example, Coser suggests that the main explanation for the absence of a bitter class struggle in North American society is that its workers participate in so many varied groups that have smaller-scale conflict among them. The workers do not store up their energy for use in one single, highly divisive struggle.
Both Simmel and Coser add subtle extra dimensions to our understanding of conflict. However, neither of these writers offers a systematic theory that has proved particularly useful in predicting the outcome of situations fraught with potential conflict. So far, we do not
have any abstract sociological theory that predicts whether a conflict will destroy the internal relationships of a group or result in the positive outcomes that Coser, in particular, likes to envisage.
Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German scholar with whom Simmel was personally acquainted, but the two men approached their research in dissimilar ways. Whereas Simmel looked for universal, abstract generalizations about human relations, Weber grounded his observations on detailed studies of specific historical cases.
Weber also differed even more significantly from Marx, some of whose conclusions he specifically tried to disprove. However, many sociologists have mistakenly exaggerated the differences between Weber and Marx, whose views actually coincided in a number of ways. For example, Weber recognized conflict in all the societies that he studied and believed that people can generally be counted on to pursue their own interests. Unlike Marx, however, he saw groups as forming on the basis of a varied combination of interests, some of which were symbolic, not material-which meant that not all intergroup conflicts could be reduced to class struggle. People who occupy high statuses on the basis of their education, religion, ethnicity, or culture sometimes go to great lengths to maintain their prestige and to keep their social distance from other groups whom they regard as their inferiors. While Marx would have been unable to explain the upsurge of race riots and nationalistic wars of secession in the late 20th century, these events might not have surprised Weber at all.
Weber did not consider that the only important interests are material ones, for he attributed some major social conflicts to ideological differences instead. In distinction to Marx, Weber also believed that ideas often had independent causal impact on historical outcomes. For example, to a considerable extent he attributed the rise of capitalism in Europe to the unique system of values and religious doctrines held by Calvinists.
Weber did not minimize the phenomenon of power and social domination. However, when a social group was able to dominate a subordinate group, he believed that this was often because the subordinates believed that they should obey the dominant group. Power is the ability to coerce others to do what they may not want to do, but power does not always have to show its violent basis. Often the subordinate regards the power as legitimate and obeys it willingly, in which case power manifests itself as "authority" instead of naked coercion.
Authority relations are necessary aspects of many different kinds of groups, including business firms, families, and (especially) states. To Weber, the state was always at bottom a structure of domination, and its domination rested on its ability to coerce-by the use of weapons, if it came to that. Indeed, a defining trait of the state was that it possessed a monopoly on the legitimate use ofviolence within a particular area. However, Weber also emphasized the dependence of state officials on rituals and conventions (e.g., robes and wigs for judges, flags and marching bands for prime ministers) by which they overawe the public and pump up their own legitimacy. Indeed, when the state has to resort to overt violence, its legitimacy may be vanishing and a rebellion may be in the offing.
In the Germany of his day, Weber was a politically active centrist who never supported the Marxist revolutionary goal of ultimately abolishing the state. Re seemed to suppose that every society needs a government for the maintenance of its social order (we might say `peace") and that, to keep the peace, every government needs to use violence, at least occasionally. Ironically, we can see this apparent contradiction-that peace requires violence, while it also opposes violence-as an illustration of Simmel's main point: conflict (or even violence) is a necessary and inevitable component of all social life, including harmonious social life.
Weber is perhaps second only to Marx as an influence on other sociologists. Perhaps the most influential exponent of Weber's views is Pandall Collins (b. 1941). Collins's own research has been organized to match Weber's concerns. Like Weber, Collins became interested in the ups and downs of large societies over lengthy periods of history. Unlike Weber, however, he has tended to explain their growth and decline primarily in military or geopolitical terms. He has noted that there are inherent logistical difficulties in the maintenance of a huge empire with military threats on its borders. The degree of difficulty varies according to the geography of the terrain, such as mountain ranges and seacoasts, but ultimately the sheer distance makes it impossible to maintain an empire after it has come to cover too wide an expanse. Indeed, Collins (who is capable of thinking like a general) became one of the very few social analysts who correctly predicted the break-up of the Soviet Union, and his reasoning was based on the observation that as an empire it had become militarily overextended. Having read numerous historical studies of other empires, he predicts that Russia will continue to crumble into smaller states over the next century or more.
We have considered four "classic" sociological approaches: the Parsonian version of functionalism and the conflict approaches of Marx, Simmel, and Weber. Each of these grand theories has its followers among contemporary scholars. Indeed, every sociologist needs to know about these "grand theories" because they provide a framework within which various traditions of scholarship are located. Most sociologists identify with one of these traditions, and by publicly identifying themselves along these lines, they tell us something about the unexpressed presuppositions about conflict that inform their own work.
On the other hand, ideally theories ought to be "falsifiable"-specific enough to yield concrete hypotheses that empirical research can disprove or provisionalW uphold. To some extent, Marxism fulfilled this ideal, for as we have seen, few of Marx's predictions have come true, and his followers either have had to abandon his theory or revise it so as to derive predictions different from his own. Even so, Marxism will continue to influence much scholarly research on conflict in the future. Unlike Marxism, however, the other theories that we have considered are not concrete enough to yield many falsifiable predictions, though that fact does not make them irrelevant to contemporary research. Like Marxism, the writings of Weber and Simmel constitute general frameworks within which to interpret various outcomes more or less plausibly.
On the other hand, empirical researchers do not necessarily depend on these grand classic theories, for many of them work instead with "middle-range" theories, addressing questions that are relatively specific to particular problems and issues. From this point on we shall focus on some of these middle-range accounts of violence.
It is sometimes useful to distinguish between noninstitutionalized and institutionalized manifestations ofviolence. The noninstitutionalized forms include such events as rapes, barroom brawls, homicides, riots, and terrorism. The institutionalized forms include a society's coercive system (e.g., the police and jails) and warfare. Under the heading "war" we may also include all the organized activities that are required for the preparation and waging of violent conflict-e.g., an arms trade, the routine maintenance of a military apparatus; and propaganda to whip up public support for military action. Since more sociological research has been devoted to the noninstitutionalized forms of violence, let us consider it first.
Homicide, rape, and wife-battering are examples ofnoninstitutionalized violence: ordinarily they are carried out by individuals acting independently. It is theoretically possible, for course, for these activities to be planned and organized and, when they are performed in that way, we might consider them institutionalized. For example, the mafia is a criminal organization that sometimes orders its "hit men" to murder a specific person. Ifape, too, is occasionally carried out as an organized act of war, as happened in Bosnia during the early 1990s and during World War TI, when numerous foreigners were imprisoned to serve as "comfort women" for the Japanese troops. Nevertheless, those who perpetrate the vast majority of homicides, rapes, and acts of domestic violence do so without any planning and certainly without being ordered by a superior officer to do so. For that reason, sociologists tend to consider such acts as `noninstitutionalized"-indeed, as forms of deviant behavior. The study of deviance has been a major subfield within sociology for many years.
Scholars have proposed a variety of theories to account for deviance-actions that violate norms. Deviant behavior ranges from such minor infractions as slurping soup in public to serious ones (e.g., embezzling funds or even serial killing). Violence is only a small part of the wider spectrum of deviance, albeit probably the most serious part. Sociologists often explain noninstitutionalized violence in terms of the same theories by which they explain, say, narcotic use, prostitution, or car theft. Let us consider three theories in this connection: anomie, cultural transmission, and social learning theories.
Anomie refers to a state of "normlessness" in society-a condition that occurs most frequently during periods of dramatic social change. The great French sociologist Emile Durkheim explained that anomie occurs when old institutions are no longer functioning in a stable way and people no longer can count on receiving the expected rewards for conforming to expected standards. Robert K. Merton later formalized Durkheim's theory
and tried to show how it might explain various dissimilar responses, some of which would be considered deviant. During an economic crisis, for example, unemployment may reach high levels, while there may be insufficient public funds or political will to pay adequate unemployment or welfare benefits. In other words, the goals toward which people have been taught to aspire (e.g., to achieve prosperity by holding a well-paid job) do not correspond to the institutionalized means that are actually available and the norms by which people are supposed to compete.
When this frustrating situation arises, people may respond in a variety of ways. Ideally they continue to conform to society's standards, despite the difficulties, by trying harder to get ahead while following the rules. Analysts of violence are particularly interested in two of those deviant types, whom Merton called respectively innovators (those who adopt illegal or disapproved ways of reaching success, such as robbing banks or cheating in business) and rebels (who withdraw allegiance to the existing social system, which they consider unjust, and seek to rebuild society along different lines). Both of these types may (but do not necessarily) resort to violence. Rebels and innovators are mainly social outsiders rather than mainstream members of society. They are portrayed as marginalized people in periods of upheaval when large populations are having to migrate or adapt to a societal crisis after old relationships have broken down and before stable new ones have developed.
Anomie theory sometimes seems to fit empirical reality, but sometimes not. Take terrorism, for example. Often the terrorist is not a marginalized social isolate, but a leading member of some cult or political group whose members are collectively estranged from the wider society, whether or not they ever have been individually excluded from mainstream society. Indeed, a terrorist often comes from a rather privileged background and might have become a prominent person in mainstream society. This is true of many political assassins, who think of themselves as guerrilla warriors and revolutionaries. In their own way, terrorists of this sort are self-sacrificing idealists; it is just that the ideals they espouse are contrary to those shared throughout the wider society. Sociologists can explain little about them in terms anomie theory, but do better by applying an alternative theory of deviance, subculture theory, also known as "cultural transmission theory."
Cultural transmission theory occupies a place in sociology that is just as distinguished as the anomie framework, against which it stands in sharp contrast. Anomie theory portrays society as culturally rather uniform; its members uphold a common set of goals and institutionalized means, though these may be in some temporary disarray. Cultural transmission theory, on the other hand, sees most societies as comprising disparate groups that uphold their own distinctive cultures. When a person conforms to one of those `subcultures," he or she may automatically appear to be a deviant from the perspective of people in most ol the other subcultures. To mention only one example, some years ago, hundreds of American followers of a religious fanatic, Jim Jones, committed suicide and murdered their own children at their compound in Guyana, all believing that they would gain immortality by doing so. None of these people were social isolates; all of them were avid conformists to a subculture that was deviant from the standpoint of most nonmembers. According to cultural transmission theory, the more one is integrated into such a deviant subculture, the more likely one is to live by its standards, even when those standards are antisocial vis a vis other groups. Thus the same processes of affiliation and conformity explain how one person may become a terrorist, while his brother or sister becomes a pool shark or stamp collector: by associating with a group of terrorists, billiard players, or stamp collectors, as the case may be.
If cultural transmission theory is almost incompatible with anomie theory, it is entirely compatible with social learning theory. In fact, any attempt to explain the mechanism by which subcultural groups influence their members will probably point out that people tend to imitate the social behavior that they see around them. This is the core principle of social learning theory, an explanatory model that informs much of the research conducted by social psychologists. It is based on the principle that people do not usually invent their behavior independently, but try out for themselves actions that they have seen; when they selectively choose to copy the behavior of another person, that person is sometimes called a "role model." Social learning theory has been applied in ways that go beyond any envisaged by cultural transmission theorists.
Emile Durkheim specifically tried to base his research on social facts-objective conditions in the society-just to show the unimportance of imitation (social learning) as an explanation of social behavior. His book Suicide proceeds by ruling out a variety of possible explanations of suicide before positing his own alternative explanation. One of the theories that he attempted
to refute is the notion of "contagion"- the direct imitation of exemplified behavior. He acknowledged that there are many instances when a given suicide seems to have been influenced by familiarity with another preceding suicide, but he denied that the outcome can be explained by the simple process of suggestion. Instead, he promoted the assumption (which has been widely held ever since by sociologists) that the act must be attributed to some structural features ol the person's social world. It was Durkheim, of course, who developed the notion of anomie as an element in his own theory of suicide.
This structural emphasis is the subject of a renewed debate, as some sociologists have come to deny that Durkheim had a sufficient basis for rejecting the theory of contagion. Statistical evidence shows that violent acts are often imitated. Abusive parents were almost always abused as children themselves. Moreover, a well-publicized suicide or homicide ends to be followed in the region exposed to the publicity by a rash of subsequent suicides or homicides a week or so later. Famous fictional events seemingly can have similar effects. Additional evidence along these lines comes from epidemiological research on the effects of television violence, which suggests that an increase of televised violence, witnessed by children, is followed by an upsurge in the frequency of violent crimes a few years later when the initial cohort of children exposed to these actions reach adolescence and young adulthood. The case of South Africa is taken as evidence to that effect, for that country adopted television several years later than most other societies. Its upsurge in violent crime shows on graphs as a curve similar to that of other countries, except several years off-schedule-a delay that has been attributed to the preceding delay in television exposure. This conclusion is not accepted by all sociologists, many of whom continue to emphasize the structural factors that they claim lie behind and actually explain all the apparent influences of simple suggestion or contagion that give rise to violent actions.
This debate mirrors another long-standing debate concerning the relative independence of culture, as distinct from social structure, in shaping social behavior. Structural analysts tend to look for objective facts and to regard as incomplete those explanations based on modeling, imitation, cultural habits, or tradition. Those who, on the other hand, argue that cultural explanations are in themselves sufficient or compelling usually defend their reasoning by appealing to Max Weber. It was Weber whose explanations (in contrast to those of Marx and Durkheim) sometimes referred to cultural factors, as when, for example, he attributed the rise of capitalism in part to the culture of Calvinism. (Of course, Weber also offered many structural accounts as well.)
Besides the unorganized acts of individuals we must also consider certain spontaneous activities carried out by larger groups, especially by a crowd, such as riots. These unplanned, unorganized acts of group violence tend to be studied, not by specialists in deviance, but by sociologists who specialize in collective behavior. As in the studies of deviant behavior, early theorists tended to portray violence as the irrational doings of isolated, "atomized" individuals. There is a substantial early literature, for example, attributing social strife mainly to "mass societies"- those societies in which numerous members live unsettled lives because the old institutions have been disrupted and populations uprooted from traditional rural settings. "Mass society" theory was used, for example, to explain totalitarianism in Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.
There are cases that seem to fit this model, but perhaps more cases that do not. Charles Tilly, for example, has focused on the many acts of unplanned, noninstitutionalized violence that are better seen as political acts than as irrational acts of deviant or frustrated individuals. He has shown that the people who carry out these political acts usually are not isolated "atoms" in a "mass society," but people with considerable influence in their own communities.
Social movements are emergent group phenomena that have a longer duration than the single events constituting collective behavior. Social movements vary in specificity; some aim only to change a particular law, for instance, while others seek to change a general value of the society. A social movement is usually a self-limiting phenomenon that surges for a few years, then subsides. However, if movement activists are unable to change public opinion or official policies in their direction, they may turn to violence. Terrorism, for example, is usually performed by the extremists within a social movement. A social movement may even become institutionalized and turn into a revolution. Let us consider next such institutionalized forms of violence.
Much of the violence that takes place in a modern industrial society is officially authorized, even normatively prescribed, by the wider community. Consider
the police and prison guards, for example. Although law enforcement officers are supposed to use the minimum amount of violence required for restraining criminals, they are trained and equipped to use weapons, whereas private citizens are not legally entitled to engage in `selfhelp" by apprehending thieves or dangerous criminals. Justice is to be imposed by the state, not by individual vigilantes. Indeed, a police officer who needs to use violence on behalf of the public is, in fact, obligated to do so, rather than allow the criminal to escape.
A similar obligation may be imposed on other citizens as well in times of war. If the state goes to war, it may conscript citizens for military duty and require them to go into battle and shoot to kill, though generally those soldiers are personally very reluctant to do so. Those who actually kill are usually tormented psychologically for a long time thereafter. As Colonel Dave Grossman has shown in his book On Killing, in times past when warfare was conducted in face-to-face battles, most soldiers actually aimed over the head of their enemies so as to avoid killing them, even if this increased their own chance of being killed. In recent wars, however, soldiers have been more ready to kill, largely because their weapons land far away and the killer does not witness the effects of his own action.
Any civilian ma)' refuse to obey the order to kill by declaring himself a `conscientious objector," but many states (including some that are otherwise democratic) do not legally permit anyone to refuse conscription and may imprison anyone who tries to avoid that "duty." Thus we see again that violence is normatively regulated-"institutionalized." Warfare is not the act ofindividual buccaneers with a penchant for violence. It is a social institution.
Researchers usually define a war as an armed conflict that has resulted in the death of 1000 or more people during a single phase. In the final decade of the 20th century, there have been 35-45 wars going on around the world during any given year. However, there is no reason to believe that war is a necessary institution in all possible societies. Slavery and dueling also have been widely practiced social institutions in times past but have been abolished, as war may also be abolished some day. Warfare is an extreme method of conflict resolution to which societies resort if they cannot resolve a seemingly intolerable conflict. When an enforceable system of international law becomes established, nations may go to court to seek justice instead of using war as a "self-help" measure. For the present, however, we must consider warfare at two different levels: as internal war (mostly "civil" war) and as international war.
Sociologists have devoted a good deal of attention to accounting for revolutions, a form of warfare that takes place within a society, though it may be supported by an outside interest or nation. (We sometimes speak of proxy wars" that are fought internally but virtually at the behest of a foreign state, which may even supply and train the guerrillas.)
Internal wars come in many variations, probably the most common being civil wars: conflicts between two or more different factions within a single society, all of which either seek to gain control of the state apparatus or to separate a portion of the country as an independent state. During the late 1990s, all the wars that were going on were civil wars; that is, not one war was being waged between the governments of two different countries. (This is a departure from past patterns; in general, during the past two centuries about 70% of all wars have been international in scope.) Some civil wars, especially those in which the combatants represent different ethnic groups, result in genocide-attempts to exterminate a whole ethnic group. (This can happen in international wars too, as in World War II when the Nazis tried to kill all Jews and Gypsies.) Alternatively, the objective may be to expel all members of a particular community, as happened during the war in the former Yugoslavia, when the perpetrators called their racist policy ethnic cleansing. Here we shall consider the two main types of internal war in the late 20th century: revolutions and wars of secession.
The term revolution is often used in reference to any drastic social change affecting a whole society, including ones that are not violent, such as the industrial revolution. Although our attention here will focus on violent revolutions, it would indeed be a major mistake to suggest that all extreme changes of a political system result from the use of violence. Historians have greatly underestimated the number of successful nonviolent revolts using such tactics as boycotts, strikes, and other organized campaigns of civil disobedience that have overthrown a regime or made it unable to govern. The most famous example occurred when, by protesting for many years, Mohandas K. Gandhi and millions of his followers forced the British crown to grant political independence to India. However, Gandhi did not succeed entirely, for, against his wishes, the Muslim faction was allowed to secede and form Pakistan.
Sometimes an armed revolution succeeds or fails so quickly that very little blood is shed in the bid for power. Thus a handful of revolutionaries may capture the center of state power and eliminate the officials in a swift coup or putsch. At the other extreme, a revolution may begin as an unorganized popular rebellion at the grassroots of society-a circumstance that is more likely to result in large-scale violence. This was true, for example, in the case of the French Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy in 1791.
Still, spontaneous rebellions do not always become violent, and we see examples of peaceable revolutions in the astonishing changes that took place throughout eastern Europe as the year 1989 was drawing toward a close. In one country after another, crowds filled the streets, calling for the communist rulers of their countries to resign. Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union, refused to send troops to crush these rebellions, as some of his predecessors had done. Lacking Soviet support, the rulers of these regimes acquiesced and left office with very little blood being shed, except in the case of Romania.
Several sociological studies of revolution were partially confirmed by the revolutions of 1989. One was Theda Skocpol's book StaLes and Social Rcvolution, which emphasizes this: Revolutionaries do not deliberately "make a revolution." Revolutions happen-often surprising Lhe people who start them and whose original goals were far more limited than the outcome. Certainly all Eastern Europeans were astonished by the easy collapse of the communist regimes. However, some of Skocpol's generalizations do not fit the 1989 cases. She claimed that revolutions take place only in agrarian societies and are led by peasants, not city-dwellers. (This was not the case in 1989.) Further, revolution can come only when (a) the state breaks down and no longer can repress revolts and (b) peasants rebel against the landowners. An ordinary, reasonably effective state can repress rebellions and can undertake the necessary reforms in time to prevent peasant uprisings. However, in the three cases that she studied, the French, Chinese, and Russian Revolutions, the state was facing a variety of other threats simultaneously, which made it weak and ineffective. These events precipitated Skocpol's three cases of revolution, which led to the development of modernized states that (in her opinion) were too effective to be susceptible to revolution thereafter.
In 1989, effective repression was not even attempted, except in Romania. The eastern European rulers had not attempted any reforms and they did not try to use their armed forces to put down the protests. However, earlier that year the Chinese rulers had crushed a nonviolent, student-led protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Neither the Soviet Union nor the eastern European communist regimes emulated that example. Had they even threatened to do so, perhaps the peaceable revolutionaries would have stayed indoors and their countries would still be socialist. Or perhaps not.
Wars of secession are internal wars in which the objective of at least one faction is to separate their country into two or more states. In the late T990s, approximately half of all the wars going on around the world have been wars of secession, such as the wars in Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, and Chechnya. In addition to these actual wars, dozens of separatist movements were going on (e.g., in Quebec) for which it was impossible to estimate the probability that war would result. Most separatist movements are easily repressed or simply never win enough support to matter. Eventually the remainder also usually fail, but only as a result of military defeat.
Robert Schaeffer has described the typical outcome of movements that successfully accomplished their goal: secession, which was based upon the presumed right of every "people" to "self-determination." Nationalists learned this notion from western politicians-especially Woodrow Wilson and V. I. Lenin, two men who otherwise agreed about almost nothing. Later, their respective successors, Franklin D. Roosevelt andJoseph Stalin, who shared a dislike for colonialism, encouraged independence movements to secede from colonial empires, though neither of them would countenance independence movements in most of the areas that their own countries dominated.
Schaeffer described two waves of partition: those in the British colonies, which were divided along ethnic lines, and those carried out by the victorious nations after World War II: Germany, Korea, China, and Vietnam. Since the downfall of communist regimes in 1990 there has been another wave of secessions such as those in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The timing enables us to establish the remarkable accuracy with which Schaeffer predicted the course of subsequent partitions.
An all-too-frequent outcome is that secession generates refugees and leads to bloodshed, the most dramatic case being that of India in 1947, where nearly one million were killed in the fighting. In all the cases that Schaeffer studied, partition separated families, disenfranchised minority populations, and deprived them of the right to vote. Often the new laws created second-class citizenship, curtailing minority language or religious rights. In his cases, and in others as well, the newly divided states have usually found themselves in worse financial circumstances after partition than before, though occasionally one of them benefits while the other suffers.
Though partitions are carried out in order to resolve conflicts, the actual effect is usually to turn those internal conflicts into inter-state conflicts. Conflicts previously limited, thereafter continue indefinitely as full-scale wars. The conflicts in Northern Treland, Israel, North and South Korea, and India-Pakistan illustrate the virtually interminable nature of these struggles. During the Cold War the newly divided states also found it necessary to ally either with the Soviet Union or the United States, and their conflicts became part of the global nuclear war plans. With this consideration, we arrive at last at the topic of international warfare.
When we turn to the topic of international warfare, we encounter a peculiar paradox. World War II killed more than 50 million persons and, hypothetically, an unlimited World War III, using all the weapons that will still be available in the early 21st century, could destroy the entire human population and most other species. Yet sociologists have written almost nothing on the subject of global war.
In an unusual effort to explain the strange silence of his colleagues on this topic, the British scholar Anthony Giddens blames the 19th-century sociologists who are still inordinarly influential in the thinking of their successors. Giddens notes that for the circumstances in which we live now, traditional social theory (especially of the liberal or socialist type) has not prepared us, who live in a world of nations.
Both the socialist Marx and the liberal Durkheim anticipated a future in which, after the disappearance of social classes, there would be global unity. Of the 19th-century classical theorists, only the mildly nationalistic Weber came close to comprehending the growing power of the nation-state and its inherent reliance on territoriality and militarism. Moreover, according to Giddens, all of these social analysts conceived of industrialism as a pacific force that would unify the world through interdependent economic exchange. None of them anticipated the technological dangers of modern science, the horrific weapons, or the cultivated aptitude for cruelty that would be perfected during the 20th century. Their intellectual heirs therefore observe the key events of their own period with a detachment that comes of lacking a language by which to capture ongoing experience.
Michael Mann also has analyzed the indifference of sociologists toward issues of warfare with an argument similar to Giddens's, for he too believes that the nation-state has turned out to be more crucial than the "foundmg fathers" of the discipline expected. A nation-state, he argues, is not an ethnic state, but a citizen state. Regardless of nationalistic mythologies, the modern state is not an organization of people united by culture or a common genetic background. Instead, membership is defined on the basis of citizenship-a status that has been won only slowly by the middle classes, then the lower classes and women, who are still mostly preoccupied with domestic issues.
Mann does not promise that democratizing foreign and military policy would necessarily put an end to warfare, since he shows that public opinion is sometimes extremely militaristic. The middle class, for example, was remarkably enthusiastic about engaging in World War I. No social class is capable of supervising geopolitics, in his view. On the other hand, he does not suggest how geopolitics should be supervised.
Many other scholars are more confident than Mann that the spread of democracy is likely to usher in a far less violent period of history than can be found in the record of past centuries. There are two reasons for this conclusion. First, well-established democracies virtually never go to war against other democracies. They do go to war against nondemocratic states and, of course, nondemocratic states go to war against each other. Since there is a great upsurge in democratic governance around the world, we can reasonably expect that all states will eventually be democratic and that this will curtail or even eliminate warfare, especially if the internal democratization is matched by the strengthening and democratizing of international institutions.
A second reason for expecting democracy to reduce violence comes from research showing a U-curve in violence when we compare countries according to the strength of their states. Mark Cooney has shown that lethal conflict tends to be high where state authority is absent (mostly preindustrial states), low where states are present but where power is not centralized (in democratic states), and high again in very centralized states (which he describes as authoritarian or totalitarian in nature). In general, centralized states perpetrate violence against their own citizens by oppressing them for any act of political disobedience. Cooney cites research by R.J. Rummel, which estimates the number of people killed by the state per year per 100,000 population between 1900 and 1987. The communist states averaged 520 such deaths; the other totalitarian state (i.e., Nazi Germany) averaged 400; the authoritarian states averaged 210; and democratic states averaged only 10.
If we take a lesson from these impressive findings, it should be this: scholars who are committed to finding ways of reducing violence should dedicate themselves to the study of democracy and to discovering the most promising ways of establishing democracy in societies where it does not exist.
Much additional work needs to be done along these lines, but the present consensus of researchers points out one special prerequisite for the maintenance of democracy within a nation: the existence of a strong, independent civil society. By this term they mean the institutions of a society that exist independent from government-what are often called in western societies "nongovernmental organizations" or "NGOs." Totalitarian societies are notable for the way they have controlled all kinds of groups. Even private associations such as stamp collectors' clubs and prayer groups had to be registered and approved by the government, if not actually conducted under the auspices of the ruling party. This meant that individuals who shared some common interest or political value could not meet and discuss issues. Naturally, this limitation made it extremely difficult for dissenting groups to form that might offer a real challenge to the dominance of the political party or dictator in power.
The importance of nongovernmental organizations has long been recognized by political sociologists who have studied the prerequisites for democracy. What is somewhat new is the growing recognition by peace researchers that democracy is extremely important for the maintenance of peace and the protection of human rights. This recognition means that the encouragement of non-governmental organizations is therefore a vital aspect of peace-building.
Black, D. (1993). The social structure of right and wrong. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Collins, R. (1986). The future decline of the Russian empire: An application of geopological theory. In R. Collins (Ed.), Weberian sociological theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cooney, M. (1997). From warre to tyranny: Lethal conflict and the state." American Sociological Review, 62, 316-338.
Coser, L. (1959). The functions of social conflict. New York: The Free Press.
Durkheim, E. (1 951). Suicide. New York: The Free Press.
Frank, A. G. (1970). The development of underdevelopment." In R. I. Rhodes (Ed.), Imperialism and underdevelopment: A reader. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Grossman, D. (1995). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. Boston: Little, Brown.
Lipset, S. M. (1994). The social requisites of democracy revisited. American Sociological Review, 59(1), 1-22.
Mann, M. (1987). War and social theory: Into battle with classes, nations and states. In C. Creighton & M. Shaw (Ed.),