Robert Jackall
Class of 1956 Professor of Sociology and Social Thought, Williams College; HFG grantee
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | back to TOC

A Guide to the Syllabus

Rationale and Organization | Although this course can stand on its own as an introduction to studies on violence, it is also designed to serve as a foundation for subsequent courses as part of a "cluster" of courses on violence. The course assumes a 14-week semester, with meetings twice a week, for a total of 28 classes. These are numbered consecutively. The readings are organized by class numbers (1-26), with readings ordered within a class according to the syllabus. There are no readings assigned for the final (27-28) classes. The reading list is ambitious and designed for superior students. There is an abundance of readings and perspectives provided. Instructors should tailor the readings as they see fit.

Discussion Points | The course is meant to proceed through a combination of lectures and discussions. The discussion points for each section posed below are meant only as general guides. Depending on instructors' and students' interests, each section can take a number of different directions.

Part I: The Primal Roots of Violence

The course begins with a consideration of violence in animals and with a look at the connection between human biology and violence.

Class 1: Are violence and aggression inextricable parts of non-human animals' biological make-up? How strong are the arguments made by Wrangham and Peterson and Lorenz for biological predisposition toward violence among primates and other animals higher on the evolutionary scale? What cautions do the materials from de Waal pose to the theses of Wrangham and Peterson and Lorenz?

Class 2: Are human beings captive to genetically determined neurobiological forces that shape their predispositions toward violence? How strong are the arguments offered by authors in the Masters and McGuire volume to substantiate the thesis that neurotransmitters, like serotonin, definitively shape human behavior in regard to violence? What is your appraisal of the overview offered by Miczek et al. for the importance of biological influences on violence?

Part II: Understanding the Universality of Violence and the Fascination with Violence

This section aims to provide a broad overview of different approaches to considering violence.

Class 3: What are the philosophical and political assumptions behind Arendt's essay on violence? Delineate them and provide a critical analysis of her thinking.

Class 4: Assess Weber's argument that modern societies are, ultimately, held together by force. Comment as well on his distinctions between the ethics of ultimate ends and the ethics of responsibility or consequences. What is "meaning" from a sociological perspective? What can we learn about violence from the representations of violence as suggested in the readings in the volume edited by Howlett and Mengham, and in Fraser? What accounts for the fascination with violence throughout human history?

Part III: Types and Meanings of Violence

This three-fold section has two purposes. First, it provides a broad typology of important kinds of violence. Second, within each general type, it offers a range of materials to stimulate discussion about the extraordinary range of meanings that violence has in different societies and in different historical contexts.

Institutionalized and Ideological Violence

Classes 5 & 6: From the readings presented here, delineate the range of subjective meanings of violence to warriors in different historical and social contexts. In particular, how does ancient and traditional warfare differ from that in medieval times from the perspective of the warrior? How do both differ from modern warfare? According to Jünger and Gray, what are the appeals of battle? Against the backdrop of the readings from Theweleit and Broyles, assess the following proposition: War represents for men the consummate arena in which to define male identity.

Class 7: What are the special characteristics of civil war? How do civil wars differ from other wars in their meanings for warriors?

Class 8: What are the characteristics of industrialized violence? How does it differ from the violence of warriors? What is the meaning of such violence to its participants, both perpetrators and victims? What are some of the larger sociocultural meanings of such violence for Western civilization?

Classes 9 & 10: What are the characteristics of racial and ethnic violence? How does it differ from the violence of warriors and industrialized violence? Construct a range of types of ethnic and racial violence. Are there differences across these types in the extent and degree of violence? If so, what accounts for these differences? At what point does racial and ethnic violence become "genocidal?" What characterizes such violence in the minds of those committing it? Comment on the nature of symbolic ethnic/racial violence, as in Mazon's work. What are the characteristics of pogroms?

Classes 11 & 12: What are the characteristics of violence rooted in otherworldly orientations? Working with the materials provided, describe the worldview of those engaged in holy wars. Describe the worldview of the religiously motivated inquisitor. Finally, describe the worldview of those engaged in millenarian religious sects.

Class 13: Marx and Engels, Fanon, and Sorel each present different, though related, political ideologies justifying violence. Analyze and assess each of these ideologies. Comment in particular on the notion, found in all three selections, that violence purifies the social structure. Comment on the nature and meanings of violence during popular uprisings as described by Rudé and Froissart.

Class 14: How do assassination and terrorism affect societies, ancient and modern? What social and institutional factors account for the rates of political murder, or attempted political murder, in modern societies?

Class 15: What psychological characteristics do despots, ancient and modern, seem to share? What social structural differences make modern despots more fearsome than those in ancient times? Compare the reigns of terror of Stalin and Robespierre both from their own perspectives and from those of their victims.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | back to TOC

© 2011 || The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation