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).