Guns, Violence, and Identity among African American and Latino Youth

By Deanna L. Wilkinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Processes and Contingencies
of Violent Events

Research suggests that violent situations occur under specific relational, social, and physical conditions (Anderson, 1990; Anderson, 1994; Anderson, 1999; Fagan & Chin, 1990; Miethe & Meier, 1994; Oliver, 1994). These situational contexts offer some type of facilitating features where violence is likely to be tolerated, if not expected. Most theories of criminality hold that a facilitating environment with a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of agents of social control are necessary conditions for violent behavior (Cohen & Felson, 1979; Hindelang, Gottfredson, & Garofalo, 1978). However, these theories fail to account for the interactional dynamics between actors and observers in these settings.

Several important factors of violent situations must be examined in order to explain why some actors choose to be violent in some situations and not in others. An event-level analysis must identify which factors are needed for an encounter between two parties to result in a violent outcome. For example, the victim-offender relationship significantly affects the type and sequential process of violent situations. Each actor's perception of a situation, both in terms of threats and risks, also were important. Perceiving a personal threat or identity challenge, as discussed in Chapter 8, sets up a number of contingencies that actors typically address through the use of violence. For adolescents, peer group involvement and support for violent events further accounts for individual-level participation in those events. Peers often act as co-producers (or at least cheerleaders) in many violent situations.

Violent events among young males in the inner city by and large are public performances with multiple participants and observers. According to a symbolic interactionist framework, the focus of event analysis should be on the interactions between and across actors in specific socio-cultural contexts. Indeed, the findings presented in TABLE 8-1 through TABLE 8-8 illustrate how frequently violent events involve collective definitions of the situation by multiple actors. Heise (1979) states:

A definition of the situation identifies the setting and relevant

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