Randall Collins – Violence as emotional dominance: Micro-sociological causes


One of the great contemporary sociologists/social theorists working in the United States, Prof. Randall Collins, gave a talk earlier this year as part of the Cardiff University Distinguished Lecture Series.  Here he offers a engaging précis of his microsociological approach to the question of violence, explored in detail in his book-length treatment of the topic from 2009. No time to offer criticisms now but I may get a chance over the Christmas break.  The microsociology of Christmas shopping (emotional dominance, forward panic, tension, and the violence of buggies banging against tired ankles etc) awaits.

Violence as Emotional Dominance: Micro-sociological causes.

Emotional dominance of one’s opponent is the key to what happens in violence-threatening situations.  The main emotion observed in such situations is confrontational tension/fear, and this makes most violence blustering and incompetent; most physical damage happens after one side establishes emotional dominance. Hence most successful violence looks like an atrocity. We will consider what causes emotional dominance; prolonged struggles over dominance and their pathways to “forward panic” overkill against defeated victims; stalemates in which emotional dominance is never established and the contest winds down; and emotional stalemates resulting in prolonged war of attrition.  Micro-sociological evidence incorporates visual images and close observation of emotional expression, time-sequences of events, subjective phenomenology, and physiological correlates. Practical advice is suggested for dealing with violent situations.

Randall Collins is Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology at University of Pennsylvania. He was President of the American Sociological Association from 2010 to 2011.  Among his publications are Violence: a Micro-Sociological Theory (2008) Interaction Ritual Chains (2004); Macro-History: Essays in Sociology of the Long Run (1999); and The Sociology of Philosophies: a Global Theory of Intellectual Change (1998).

Economy and Society Summer School, 12-16th of May 2014, Blackwater Castle, Cork

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** applications opening Janurary 2014 **

Tom Boland of WIT has asked me to post this call for applications for the Economy & Society Summer School, which will be held in the beautiful Blackwater Castle in Cork.  The school is aimed primarily at doctoral students from across the social sciences, and offers a unique and intensive week of theory, reading, thinking and discussion for up to 30 students.  It is an excellent event, and space, for developing your own thinking and research, and students can also earn credits (5-10 ECTS, 3-6 American Credits), where relevant.  The site with all of the details on the programme, requirements and application etc is HERE.  The blurb is below:

Doctoral candidates from across disciplines in business and social sciences need to address both economy and society. Clearly, the economy shapes society, and economic institutions are irreducibly social. Furthermore, in an increasingly interdisciplinary academic world, sociology, anthropology, politics, geography and history on the one hand, and organisation studies, management, marketing, finance and economics on the other can indeed be mutually illuminating. Thus, this summer school is oriented to the contemporary social science concern with the economy and the turn towards the social in the broad range of economics and business. Bridging the gap between these paradigms and developing a new language to address the intersections of economy and society is a vital contemporary concern.

To some, the economy appears as a sort of autonomous assemblage of law-like forces; supply, demand, labour and capital, and yet it can be concretely investigated through more micro phenomena such as offices, factories, companies, entrepreneurship, internationalisation, networks or cultural practices such as consumerism, leisure and credit. Furthermore, historical perspectives suggest that there is a complex and often surprising lineage in the emergence, transformation and consolidation of money, private property and markets. Another concern is the subjective experience of economic processes, for instance, the trials of job-seeking and ‘selling yourself’, the experience of indebtedness, poverty or social mobility. And in the quest to make a contribution, researchers examining these phenomena look to a broad set of theorists and researchers from across the social sciences, a selection of which will be presented in detail in the summer school reading groups.

The most important political ideas in the last century are liberalism and socialism, both of which are economic philosophies; these paradigms dominate public debate and politics. The main activities of the contemporary state are economic management; taxation, regulation and providing social services. Furthermore, many areas of social and personal life have become suffused with economic logics; we work on ourselves, our families and our relationships; there is a marketplace for ideas, for love and for friendship; we ‘consume’ media history and politics. While there is much to critique in the injustices, excesses and absurdities of the ‘economy’, it is first of all necessary to understand it interpretatively. Since Weber’s ‘protestant ethic’ thesis, it is clear that in modern society one of our highest values, our most important institutions and primary markers of identity is work. Paradoxically, a gulf has opened between economic practices and social norms, even as society has increasingly taken on the market principle.

The Economy and Society summer school aspires to help early stage researchers strengthen and widen their theoretical basis in ways that allows them to position their work amongst broader discourses, extend and sharpen their understanding of their theoretical and empirical practices and to contribute to their formation as independently-minded academics. In this way we hope to offer a space to move beyond the narrowing of fields and hair-splitting discourse of some contemporary research.

Organisers: Tom Boland, Ray Griffin and John O’Brien – Waterford Institute of Technology,
 In collaboration with Kieran Keohane, Colin Sumner and Arpad Szakolczai – University College Cork

Special Issue: Emotions & Power

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Just a quick note to announce that a special issue of the Journal of Political Power, edited by myself and Prof. Helena Flam, is now available online. The theme of the special issue is emotions and power, and the issue contains some new and exciting social science research addressing these two concepts from a variety of perspectives. We have chosen eight papers that address both concepts, emotion and power in a variety of settings, including education, work organizations, social movements, politics, ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, rhetoric and in comparisons in the conceptualization of some core concepts between ‘the West’ and ‘the East’. The diversity of subjects and approaches in evidence in the papers testifies both to the ubiquity of power and emotions in all areas of social life in general, and the importance and illumination gained from exploring these concepts together. The list of contributions, with links, is below. There are a handful of free access eprints to my introduction still available, but the rest of the articles are behind a paywall for now. If anyone wants me to email one or other of the papers just PM or leave a comment.

Heaney, J.G. (2013) ‘Emotions and power: a bifocal prescription to cure theoretical myopia’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 355–362.

Flam, H. (2013) ‘The transnational movement for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation as an emotional (rule) regime?’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 363–383.

Simpson, A.V., Clegg, S.R., Freeder, D. (2013) ‘Compassion, power and organization’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 385–404.

Barbalet, J., Qi, X. (2013) ‘The paradox of power: conceptions of power and the relations of reason and emotion in European and Chinese culture’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 405–418.

Wettergren, Å., Jansson, A. (2013) ‘Emotions, power and space in the discourse of “People of the Real World”’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 419–439.

Baker, S.A., Rowe, D. (2013) ‘The power of popular publicity: new social media and the affective dynamics of the sport racism scandal’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 441–460.

Martin, J. (2013) ‘A feeling for democracy? Rhetoric, power and the emotions’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 461–476.

Zembylas, M. (2013) ‘Memorial ceremonies in schools: analyzing the entanglement of emotions and power’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 477–493.

Procter, L. (2013) ‘Emotions, power and schooling: the socialisation of “angry boys”’, Journal of Political Power, 6(3), 495–510.