Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Criminology

Violence Explained? A Review of Theoretical Explanations of Violent Behavior

Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Criminology

Violence Explained? A Review of Theoretical Explanations of Violent Behavior

Article excerpt


There is a large body of theories and research on violence and aggressive behavior in the social sciences, mostly coming from psychology and sociology. Psychologists in most cases tend to focus on individuals in face-to-face interaction and neglect large scale conflict between people and groups. Psychologists focus on how mental processes impact individual propensities for violence. Psychologists are often interested in the association between learning, intelligence, and personality and aggressive behavior. Sociologists, on the other hand, mostly focus their analysis on the social structure to explain how violent behavior of an individual or group may be socially and culturally embedded. Broadly speaking, some theories provide general or macro level explanation while other theories provide specific or micro level explanation of violence. These theories primarily try to answer questions relating to the ?why' and ?how' of violence in an abstract fashion. In the following pages, these theories have been explained in detail.

Theoretical Perspectives on Violence

Over the course of the last 50 years or so, two major strands of research on violence have developed in socio-anthropological and psychological studies, namely the etiological research and ethnographic research. The etiological research has gone to the extent of claiming that there are definite and identifiable causes of violence. Abbink (1999) asserts that there are predetermined paths to violence but rules (in every society) limit its exercise. Various types of motives or causes of violence have been identified (Abbink, 1999). Prestige as a motive for violence, initially undervalued though, was later considered important. Vayda (1961) proposed the notion of competition for resources as reason for violence to which Helbling added that this analysis needed addition of demographic variable, i.e. population density affects the rate of occurrence of factions, feuds, wars etc. (Helbling, 1999).

Scholars have developed criteria or benchmarks for developing theory, especially general theory, of violence. The criteria range from five conditions/objectives (Tittle, 2009) to four conditions (Eisner, 2009: 44) for the development of a general theory of violence. Based on his criteria, Tittle (2009: 72) believes that there are at least seven general theories of violence attempting to explain the socially disapproved violence: ?social learning, general strain, self, social support/coercion, social integration/social control, self-control, and control balance' (Tittle, 2009: 72). In contrast, Eisner (2009: 41) identifies three major theoretical approaches to violence: ?a theory of the judgment and decision-making processes operating in the situations that give rise to violence; a theory of the evolutionary processes that have resulted in universal cognitive and emotional mechanisms associated with violence; and a theory of the way in which social institutions structure violence by selectively enhancing its effectiveness for some purposes (i.e. legitimate use of force) and controlling other types of violence (i.e. crime)' (Eisner, 2009: 41).

For academic purpose, we could divide discourses on violence in two broad groups, viz. the general or macro theories of violence and specific or micro theories of violence. With respect to the former, some of the most wellknown theories of violence are ?Interactionist theory' (Collins, 2009), 'Evolutionary theory' (Eisner, 2009), ?Situational action (moral) theory' (Wikström and Treiber, 2009), and ?Rational Choice theory (Nagin & Paternoster, 1993; Matsueda et al., 2006). These theories contribute towards our understanding of characteristics of offences and the individuals who carry them out. Furthermore, these theories also shed light on the nature of social relationships and social process that contribute towards germination of violence (Tittle, 2009: 61). These theories have been explained in detail. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.