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Posted: September 6th, 2023

Approaches to writing about violence

We have encountered three basic (overlapping) approaches to writing about violence in this course: historical (e.g., Hobsbawm or Du Bois), philosophical (e.g., Arendt or Wolff), and social-scientific (e.g., Nepstad or Skocpol). What kind of approach do you find to be the strongest or most compelling, and why? Discuss with reference to at least one representative of each approach.

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The historical approach to writing about violence, exemplified by historians like Eric Hobsbawm and W.E.B. Du Bois, emphasizes the importance of contextualizing violent events within their historical and social contexts. This approach seeks to understand how past events have influenced the present and how they may continue to do so in the future. The strength of this approach lies in its ability to provide a rich understanding of the complex social and historical factors that contribute to violence. However, it may struggle to provide insights into the underlying causes of violence, particularly those that are more abstract or philosophical in nature.

The philosophical approach to writing about violence, exemplified by thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Robert Paul Wolff, focuses on the moral and ethical dimensions of violence. This approach seeks to understand the reasons why people engage in violence and to explore the philosophical and ethical questions that arise from violent acts. The strength of this approach lies in its ability to provide a theoretical framework for understanding violence and its moral implications. However, it may struggle to provide concrete solutions or practical insights into how violence can be prevented or reduced.

The social-scientific approach to writing about violence, exemplified by scholars like David Nepstad and Theda Skocpol, emphasizes the importance of empirical research and data analysis in understanding the causes and consequences of violence. This approach seeks to identify the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to violence and to evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies for preventing or reducing violence. The strength of this approach lies in its ability to provide concrete insights into the root causes of violence and to identify evidence-based solutions. However, it may struggle to provide a comprehensive understanding of the social and historical factors that contribute to violence.

Each approach to writing about violence has its own strengths and weaknesses. The historical approach provides a rich understanding of the social and historical context of violence, the philosophical approach offers a theoretical framework for understanding the moral implications of violence, and the social-scientific approach provides empirical insights into the root causes of violence and potential solutions. Depending on the research question and the scope of the study, each approach can provide valuable contributions to the field of violence studies.

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