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