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The Tradition of Violence in the United States: A Multidisciplinary Survey (November 2014): Theory

By Scott Gac


Measured by the number of new volumes, theoretical explanations for violence—books that seek to understand the origins and ever-changing definitions of violence—are the site of the most controversy in the field.  Clearly, no one has yet solved the puzzle of Americans and violence.

Though the approaches and explanations of violence are many and varied, three themes (structural, cultural, and medical) emerge from among the new theories.  Structural explanations focus on economic or political factors.  Authors who locate violence within a particular cultural milieu foreground ways of thought and reaction that for generations have favored violence over other responses.  In the past two decades, violence has been increasingly framed as a medical condition.  Here, biological and personal descriptions of the origins of violence are shaped by authors in psychology, psychiatry, and military studies.  As a whole, twenty-first-century readers are flooded with new ways to theorize the history of violence in the United States.