Does society exist without people

violence

Michaela Christ

To person

holds a PhD in sociology and heads the Diachronic Transformation Research department at the Norbert Elias Center for Transformation Design & Research (NEC) at the European University of Flensburg. [email protected]

Violence is the subject of numerous scientific disciplines and, depending on the definition, includes very different phenomena, practices, social, political and economic constellations and conditions as well as their respective causes and consequences. [1] Self-harming behavior, i.e. practices in which one and the same person inflicts pain and suffers it, is viewed as violence, as is military conflicts in which tens of thousands or millions of people are involved. Events that end after a few seconds, such as an insult, groping a woman in passing or a slap in the face for a child, are explored as violence as well as those that develop and change over years, decades or even centuries. These include, for example, the blood revenge, which in northern Albania is still based on the traditional code of ethics and conduct Kanun is practiced; Feuds between hostile families, clans or organizations, such as those carried out by various criminal organizations of the Mafia or subcultural groups such as the "Hells Angels"; Conflicts such as the Middle East conflict, which has been going on for 70 years, or the conflict between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region, which has been simmering for a similar long time, as well as the two world wars; or many variants of the so-called new or hybrid wars, which do not know any fronts in the real sense and in which the boundaries between combatants and civilians are fluid.

But violent events cannot only be characterized in terms of their duration and the number of people involved. The spaces in which violence takes place in a social and geographical sense are also extremely different - starting with the home as a specific place and as a space in which domestic or domestic violence occurs: between (spouses) partners, parents and children or Siblings, in short, between people who are connected by a social relationship. The majority of military conflicts nowadays take place in cities and urban areas, so that most of the victims of these conflicts die in buildings. Even large territories are examined by historians in particular as areas of violence or zones of violence because of their changeful history and as the sites of numerous violent conflicts through to wars.

Last but not least, the protagonists of violent events receive attention in science. In the field of research on the Holocaust and National Socialism, the historian Raul Hilberg coined the triadic conceptual constellation "perpetrator, victim, spectator" in 1992. [2] In the meantime, there is a large number of research papers on these three groups as well as on helpers, not only from a historical, but also from a sociological and (social) psychological perspective. The so-called perpetrator research was able to develop into an independent, dynamic field of research within Nazi research.

The relationship between the individual and society is explored in theories of violence of varying scope and with different degrees of abstraction, more precisely between the ability of people to use violence and processes of social order formation. Structural relationships that have emerged over centuries, such as capitalist, heteronormative or colonial and post-colonial economic and life styles, are analyzed with regard to the violence, their preconditions and consequences in the context of violence research.

After all, there is still some debate about how violence comes into the world. Do social conditions lead to violence or is it due to human nature? Are there biological predispositions to violent behavior? Which neurobiological processes can be detected in the brain of violent people and which hormonal changes in the body? And how are these to be related to the realm of the social? Is violence, like others, a form of social action that people can choose and therefore also bear responsibility? Does the representation of real and fictional violence in the media - regardless of whether it is used to convey information or entertainment - promote an affinity for violence? Does it have a deterrent effect or does it have a deadening effect? Is violent behavior an expression of social deficits, and are perpetrators to be found above all where there is poverty, neglect, abuse, school failure or unemployment? Is this kind of questioning itself possibly produced by belief in a certain social order, which is based on the opposition between normality and deviation and aims to discipline certain groups of society through the suspicion of violence?

Like the list above, these questions are only a fragmentary excerpt from the catalog of research topics by researchers on violence. Violence as an object of research is understood differently depending on the discipline and is thematized in the context of very different problems and topic complexes as well as with different scientific objectives. For example, the question of violence as a social practice is primarily a sociological one, and the question of the legitimacy of violence is a classic subject of political theory. [3] As a result, this means that contemporary violence research is so diverse that priorities must be set for the following overview.

What is violence

Violent action is a form of social action and thus omnipresent and contingent at the same time, that is, possible at any time, but also possible at any time in another way. [4] A society without violence does not and never has existed. According to the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, there will never be such a thing. [5] Less radical cultural pessimism feeds his argument than the insight into the social organization of modern societies, which, according to Bauman, cannot do without violence, that is, without coercion. [6]

The double meaning of the word "violence" is suspended in Bauman's argumentation. In German it is imprecise not only because, as already indicated, qualitatively very different facts are referred to, but also because, unlike in other languages, both legitimate state violence and the illegitimate violence of the deed can be meant: [7] While in French or English between violence and pouvoir respectively power is differentiated and thus the illegitimacy or legitimacy of the action or the respective order is addressed, there is a "semantic ambivalence" [8] inherent in the German expression. Legitimate violence in German is usually only recognizable through compound words such as "Staatsgewalt", "Separation of powers" or "Monopoly on violence". These, in turn, clearly point to the close proximity of power and violence.

Speaking to Bauman, all efforts to eradicate violence are, above all, fighting against unauthorized violence. The hope for a non-violent society, however, is based on the idea of ​​the monopoly of violence. A society without violence is by no means one without coercion, but one in which only authorized coercion exists - a society "in which the monopoly of force is no longer controversial". [9]

Violence is, this is also expressed in Bauman's considerations, not an ontological or pre-social category, but a normative, moral and ethical one. Some deliberate harm to a person is considered violence, while others are not. What is interpreted, understood and referred to as violence is subject to specific temporal, social and cultural conditions and orders.

This can be seen in the example of the changeful history of torture. Today there are various international human rights treaties outlawing torture. For example, the UN Convention against Torture was signed by 160 countries. This does not mean that there will be no more torture. Amnesty International reported torture in 141 countries in 2014 and suggested that the actual extent was significantly higher. [10] Nevertheless, the international treaties prohibiting torture define it as illegitimate violence, even though it is carried out by members of state institutions. That was not always so.

In the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, torture was by no means considered to be illegal violence. It was used as an instrument of the search for truth both in the context of lawful secular criminal proceedings and in ecclesiastical inquisition processes. The embarrassing questioning was by no means intended to punish those who were subjected to it. It was a means of gaining information on the basis of which a judgment could be made, and thus part of a "new legal culture" that developed throughout Europe from the 12th century. [11]

While torture today generally aims at destroying the world relationship of the tortured, the perspective of those to be tortured was different in centuries past. It was based on the idea of ​​an absolute truth that could be brought to light through pain against the will of the subject. "The infliction of pain was seen as a way to the truth because pain could suppress the will and reveal the language of the body." [12] This does not mean that those who were tortured at the time did not suffer from torture or were severely traumatized by it would have been. However, intention, conceptions of the body and the subject as well as social and legal systems differed considerably from today's. With the change in these ideas and orders came increasing criticism and finally the ban on torture towards the middle of the 18th century.

In the meantime there are some signs of a gradual relativization of the internationally widely shared, albeit not universally realized, rejection of torture and thus also of an expansion of what could be added to the spectrum of authorized or legitimized violent practices within the scope of the monopoly of violence.

In particular in the course of the debates about the manner in which the "war on terror" should be conducted, during the term of office of US President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009 not only seriously was concerned about the permissibility of torture practices as a means danger prevention - keyword waterboarding - is discussed, but also applied. And it currently seems that the dispute under US President Donald Trump could be fueled again. In other contexts, too, the possibility of using "extended interrogation methods", as torture is sometimes called, is considered as so-called rescue torture in exceptional cases. [13] In Germany, for example, the discussion in connection with the kidnapping and murder of the banker's son Jakob von Metzler in 2002 developed along the lines of the question of whether future victims could be saved if there was an opportunity to deal with the alleged perpetrators differently.

The fact that the legitimacy of torture is being discussed again leads violence researchers to assume that modern societies are currently experiencing a paradigm shift with regard to how to deal with fictitious or actual threats, and they are discussing this as a transformation from a rule of law to a preventive state. [14]

Describing something as violence, Zygmunt Bauman writes, "does not include any new information about the description of the crime; rather, it includes information about the speaker's decision to question the perpetrators' right to coercion, and it speaks to the perpetrators in addition, the right to decide which words should be used to describe their deed ". [15]

An example of the normatively bound definition of acts of violence from the recent past, in which the right to coercion was not only questioned collectively, but also made punishable by legal changes, is rape in marriage. This did not exist in Germany until 1997 - at least not as a criminal offense. Here the normative, social constructivist dimension of what violence can be called and punished accordingly is clearly evident: the same act was subject to considerably different evaluation criteria, depending on whether the people involved were married or not. It was precisely not the infliction and suffering of pain or the compulsive nature of the practice of violence that was decisive for the assessment, but the more so the social context in which it was exercised.

It took almost three decades of social disputes, legal-political debates, alliances of women politicians across parliamentary groups and numerous feminist interventions before Section 177 of the 1997 Penal Code was reformed. [16] Since then, rape and sexual assault are no longer only punishable outside of marriage. They are also seen as gender-neutral acts of violence. It is no longer just women and girls who can become victims of rape, but men and boys as well, and women and girls are also considered perpetrators in the current version of the legal text. Diverse social transformations have gone into this change in the law. Among other things, changes in the gender order, the change in the concept of sexual self-determination and of marriage as an institution that should no longer automatically be accompanied by man's power of disposal over women were significant for the reformulation of the paragraph. [17]