|JOURNAL OF HUMAN RIGHTS VOL.1, NO.4 (DECEMBER 2002), 559-569
Taking proactive steps to prevent violence
VINCENT N. PARRILLO
Utilizing the analogy of violence to a volcano, with its seething preconditions that ultimately lead to an eruption, this paper applies negotiated order theory to an analysis of violent outbreaks in 1992-93 in Los Angeles and numerous German cities, but not in Chicago, New York, or Dresden. Such theoretical considerations as assumptions, perceptions, power relationships, social structure, communication, and interaction strategies emerge as pertinent considerations. Despite different cultures and histories, similar patterns in Germany and the United States are found, suggesting one possible means of proactive steps to prevent violence.
Ethnoviolence is a fairly new term for a centuries-old global phenomenon. Coined by Howard J. Ehrlich (1973, 1990), it refers to violence intended to harm an 'other' who represents a group against which the attacker is prejudiced. Throughout world history we can find widespread examples of brutality against people because of their race, religion or ethnic background. With an increasing global homogenization of culture, a growing interdependent global economy and a communications technology that makes national boundaries irrelevant, the continuance of ethnoviolence in the emerging 'new world order' seems contradictory. Recent ethnoviolence in Kosovo, Bosnia, India, Macedonia, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Rwanda and elsewhere seem almost anachronistic in these modern times, but they have been a brutal reality Today's violent episodes may be similar to past ethnoviolence, but that is hardly comfort for the victims or for a generation that considers itself more sophisticated and tolerant than earlier cohorts.
Another form of violence is race riots. Sometimes these too are instances of ethnoviolence, such as the vicious street mayhem perpetrated by Know-Nothing mobs against Irish and Germans in the mid-nineteenth century or by native-born US workers against Chinese in the late nineteenth century Sometimes such riots are not manifestations of ethnoviolence but acts of defiance growing out of minority frustration, as occurred in Miami in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1992. Although the causes and circumstances may be different, this paper suggests some common elements also exist that allow for comparable proactive strategies.
In many ways, violence is like an active volcano. Neither type of eruption is inevitable, but both occur as a result of a set of pre-existing conditions, usually unnoticed by the untrained observer. Volcanologists, however, are keenly aware of the fiery heat hidden beneath the calm exterior and by their knowledge, measurements and calculations not only can predict an eruption, but also give a fairly accurate time line. Social scientists cannot be as precise, but their analyses of past patterns of human activity yield information about the probability of certain outcomes under various conditions.
In the case of the volcano, we can do little against the powers of nature except to stay out of
Journal of Human Rights
ISSN I 475-4835 print/ISSN 1475-4843 online © 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DO1: 10. 1080/[475483021000031380
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out of the way. In the case of violence, however, knowledge is power. If we know the pre- existing conditions that trigger the fury, perhaps we may be able to prevent it. Certainly, numerous studies have provided useful, post-mortem insights into the conditions that led to outbreaks of violence in cities, prisons and elsewhere (e.g. Baldassare 1994, Gale 1996, Useem et al. 1996). Moreover, any student of social conflict understands that conflicts may be defused or re-channelled through negotiation. Such a process may lead parties to identify common ground, redefine interests and gain new sympathy for each other's viewpoints.
Is it thus possible to harness our knowledge about past conflicts as well as the basic steps in conflict resolution to develop an approach against that violence before it occurs, instead of ameliorating a situation after conflict occurs? This paper does not purport to offer any sweeping solution for preventing violent outbreaks, but it does examine whether, under certain circumstances, a proactive negotiation approach can alter those pre-existing conditions to avert the eruption.
Typically, social analysts utilize negotiated order theory to explain conflict resolution within a variety of organizations, such as corporations (Nathan and Mitroff 1991, Ross and La Croix 1996), government (Basu et al. 1999), hospitals (Currie 1999), and schools (Hogelucht and Geist 1997). No matter where the locale, this theoretical formulation emphasizes the conditions affecting participation in any negotiation (Corbin 1991).
Two concepts – structural context and negotiation context – address this concern, with the latter referring to the characteristics of the immediate setting that directly affect the present negotiation (Strauss 1978, Maines 1982). Structural context refers to the larger transcending circumstances in which the negotiation takes place, not just the limited organizational setting (Strauss 1978). Moreover, as Clarke (1991) explains, both national and international issues (cultural, economic, governmental, historical, political or scientific) can affect the structural conditions pertinent to the phenomena under study Thus we view one's participation in any negotiation as individual communication protecting or promoting interpretations of social reality created by the external conditions and the specificity of that moment (Strauss 1978, Geist and Hardesty 1992, Geist 1995).
Applying negotiated order theory to large-scale intergroup processes in society rather than to conflict resolution within organizations does present problems. However, that does not mean this perspective needs to be confined within the physical boundaries of an organizational setting, any more than legal definitions of the workplace are in sexual harassment cases where the alleged incident occurred off-site. For example, Klinger (1997) examined the role of negotiated order in police responses to deviance in the community while on patrol. Recognizing that the environment Strauss (1978) noted as a particularly salient feature for negotiations in organizations can actually extend to wherever organizational practices occur, Klinger observed, “Compared to other organizational settings, the environment (the community police district] is particularly salient in police patrol work because officers are boundary personnel who are utterly immersed in the environment of the districts they patrol” (1997: 387).
Expanding the context of negotiated order in the community a bit further, this paper explores the role of negotiated order in the interactions of certain US city government organizational leaders with their minority constituents as a factor in preventing outbreaks of violence. I suggest that the emphasis of negotiated order theory on the perceptions, relationships and communication within an organizational social structure are also viable within a community social structure, if we
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focus on the interaction strategies, interpretations and individual communication that occur (Clarke 1991, Klinger 1997).
Kim (1988) helps guide us in this approach with the suggestion that “the specific social context in which an intercultural encounter takes place provides the intercultural communicators with specific role relationships, expectations, and behavioral norms and rules” (1984: 19). In addition to exploring the circumstances that shape communicative interaction, the interaction itself requires attention.
Negotiated order theory thus directs our attention to the interplay between social structures or social orders and individuals' patterns of participation within these structures. Structure and interaction cannot be separated, for both play a vital role in the negotiating of a social order (Strauss 1978, Eisenberg and Riley 1988, Corbin 1991). Geist and Hardesty (1992: 3) maintain that “every instance of communication bears a dual relation to the structure as it is experienced and interpreted by each member”. Similarly Maines (1978: 494) stresses the importance of examining both structure and interaction:
Structures themselves are in process. They are conditions which direct conduct and limit options; but they change, are subject to differential interpretations, and with respect to any concrete instance of behaviour they may 'appear' or 'disappear,' as it were.
Maines argues that since the negotiated order “perspective refuses to view structure as something which is divorced from interaction, it undoubtedly is a good deal more representative of what goes on in the world” (1978: 495). In this sense, intergroup relations are part of the ongoing and changing social structure whereby various groups perceive and communicate multiple, coinciding and contradictory realities of appropriate behaviour.
Hewitt and Hall (1973) suggest that sometimes the order rests on the common fund of subcultural “problem definitions” that derive from the “possible” cures – in other words, the quasi-theories that exist there at that time. Quasi-theoretical explanations provide the basis for groups to take or avoid action in problematic situations. This selective perception and social construction not only serves to explain disorder but also sets the terms by which people judge the degree of progress achieved in eliminating the problem. Thus expectations about the future course of problems are identified.
Day and Day (1977) imply that order results from power relationships or a dialectic process giving semi-structure to the situation. They emphasize the possibility of the underdog mixing in and getting “real” power because of situational needs. Such an approach considers the informal structure operative only at the lower levels. Actually, the “informality,” in the sense of renegotiation of meanings that involve all members, operates at all levels and in all situations, based on fluid definitions of construction of problem-cure.
Frequently, all levels in the hierarchy of authority will use informal mechanisms to maintain stability because the institutionalized myths place strain on the formal structure (Meyer and Rowan 1977). Two interrelated devices are (1) decoupling (minimizing formal control and integration, maximizing informal mutual adjustment and human relations) and (2) the use of good faith and confidence (the assumption that things are as they seem).
Additionally, negotiated order theory is a useful approach for examining intergroup relations because it emphasizes the multi-dimensional nature of negotiations. The perceptions or theories of all persons involved in the negotiation play a vital role in the working out of the negotiation. As Kleinman (1982: 312) explains:
All negotiators have implicit theories of negotiation – ways they conceive of the negotiation process – which they bring to the negotiation arena. Actors' assumptions, whether they become
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explicit or not during the negotiation, do not remain independent of the process, but rather have real consequences for it.
Consequently, using the framework of negotiated order theory enables us to recognize the significance of individual actors who are in association with one another (Maines and Charlton 1985: 302).
Intervening conditions are defined as the broad and general conditions bearing upon action/interactional strategies. These are conditions that facilitate or constrain action (Strauss and Corbin 1990: 104). Conditions may influence the extent to which negotiations occur and are successful. For instance, if both groups are satisfied with the present conditions, then there may be few negotiations. Minorities may view the rules as reasonable and fair and therefore abide by these rules, whereas if either group is not satisfied with the present order of discipline, there may be more negotiations that are aimed at changing the present condition(s) to more desirable condition(s). For instance, if local officials do not interact with the group consistently, group members may grow irritated and resort to social disruption as a means of negotiating a change in this particular condition. Thus, by articulating various intervening conditions regarding communication and acceptance between officials and radical or minority groups, we may gain an understanding of why negotiations are unsuccessful, as well as an understanding of the conditions both parties believe are part of an order of fairness.
Negotiated order also places emphasis on temporality in terms of consequences (Maines and Charlton 1985). Consequences of negotiations cannot be understood outside the temporal or historical context of negotiation. As Maines and Charlton maintain, “It has never been a contention of the negotiated order perspective that every set of negotiations will have major consequences” (1985: 300). They contend that if consequences are regarded as ‘conditions’, then it becomes easier to envision those consequences (e.g. no change) as creating conditions for negotiations in the future. For instance, official reaction to the threat of ethnoviolence may differ in nature and/or hold different ramifications if it is the first versus the third time that officials must address it.
Furthermore, negotiated order appropriately focuses our attention on communication as the central process in organizing (Eisenberg and Riley 1988). The process of negotiating order in any arena necessitates communication to control, resist or encourage change. Interestingly, as patterns of negotiating develop in the form of strategies for accomplishing or resisting change, they also may become counteractive or insidiously give the appearance of control (Grist 1995). By considering whose preferred order is negotiated, we direct our attention to the power and politics of negotiating discipline. In so doing, we learn how groups may have very different theories of what issues are at stake concerning action and what they see as successful communication practices for negotiating resolution to the conflict. As Corbin (1991) maintains, multiple viewpoints of actors must be taken into account in order to gain a more accurate and richer understanding of the phenomenon under investigation.
Utilizing this framework, this paper compares the rioting in Los Angeles after the 1992 Rodney King verdict with the non-violence in New York City and Chicago at that time, and suggests that the latter two cities can serve as role models for actions taken to prevent race riots. Also, their approaches parallel actions taken by an asylum hostel director in Dresden to thwart its becoming a target of skinhead extremists in the midst of ethnoviolence occurring elsewhere in Germany at that time. This by no means suggests that German skinheads (an extremist group committing criminal acts of injustice against minority members) are the same as the rioting public in Los Angeles (minority members rioting against an unjust verdict against minority members).
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Rather, our concern is the context within which a group, regardless of its motivation or raison d’être, opts not to commit violence while similar groups are doing so. However, these similar initiatives – taken in different cultures with different histories, on different scales and involving different kinds of groups with differing motives – did achieve similar successes and they merit further investigation.
The US experience
One thing we learned from the US riots during 1964-68 was how quickly they could spread from one city to another, induced at least in part from television coverage. Certainly, the videotaped beating of Rodney King by four white police officers and their subsequent trial received extensive television exposure. The not guilty verdict was the catalyst for a massive eruption of violence in Los Angeles in 1992, the five days of rioting resulting in 58 deaths, 4000 injuries, 11,900 arrests, and damage ranging as high as US$1 billion (Facts on File 1992). At this time, however, despite a few sporadic incidents, no widespread violence, arson or looting occurred in Chicago and New York, even though both also contained large groups of poverty-stricken people of colour angered by the verdict. The important question is, why did not rioting also occur in these cities?
The race of the cities' mayors apparently had no relation to what happened. Two of the nation's three largest cities had black mayors at the time – Thomas Bradley in Los Angeles and David Dinkins in New York – while a white, Richard M. Daley like his father before him, was mayor of Chicago. Immediately after the verdict, Mayor Bradley went on television and made an impassioned appeal to the citizenry to remain calm. Mayors Daley and Dinkins acted differently, each striving to keep the peace through the communications network they had previously cultivated. Obviously, Mayor Bradley's appeal went unheeded, and none of the pundits suggest his words had the opposite effect of triggering the LA riot. No one is at a loss to suggest reasons for the rioting (see, for example, Baldassare 1994). Most of these explanations deal with the pathologies of poverty: squalid living conditions, frustration, alienation, anger and family disintegration. Scant explanation was offered, however, for non-rioting in Chicago and New York, where such conditions also existed. I suggest that much of that explanation not only lies in the proactive steps taken in these two cities and not in Los Angeles, but also provides an insight into what happened in Dresden – or, more correctly what did not happen in Dresden while occurring in other German cities.
What happened in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City prior to April 1992 could be the subject of an entire book. Owing to the limitations of this paper, however, I will briefly state the most essential facts. In Los Angeles, Mayor Bradley and his police chief Daryl F. Gates, were barely on speaking terms with one another, so there was virtually no cooperative effort to reach out to the community. Robert W. Stevenson reported in the New York Times on 6 May 1992 that frustration was building in the South-Central district over police treatment of Blacks and steadily declining access to mainstream economic opportunities. Mayor Bradley had actively sought to improve the city's economic well-being by attracting corporate investments, in basically a top-down approach. However, his emphasis on the larger picture and less on the neighbourhoods, coupled with his frequent photo appearances with the white and corporate establishment, led to the perception that he was remote from, and less identifiable with, the minority communities (Baldassare 1994).
In New York, Mayor Dinkins had acted after a racial disturbance in the Crown Heights section
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in August 1991. Together with Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, Police Commissioner Lee Brown and others, he developed stronger communication with neighbourhoods throughout the city. Equally important, he and his aides were a continual, visible presence in city neighbourhoods, learning first hand about problems from the residents, and acting promptly on their complaints (i.e. chasing away prostitutes or drug dealers, putting a crossing guard at a dangerous intersection which children crossed on their way to and from school). The mayor also kept lines of communication open to activists. In a similar vein, the police commissioner sought to improve police-community relations, and once held an all-day seminar on the subject with 300 members of the clergy.
When the verdict was announced, Mayor Dinkins and his aides worked the phones, several churches stayed open all night, and youth workers walked the streets. The police set up a hotline to deal with rumours and fielded thousands of calls in the next 24 hours. The mayor was highly visible, going to many neighbourhoods, condemning the verdict, urging restraint and allowing angry New Yorkers to vent in his presence, but warning that violence would not be tolerated. He met with 125 community and religious leaders, and urged television news directors to use caution in their broadcasts. He and other city officials met with students and other young people at Gracie Mansion (the mayor's residence) to allow them to speak their minds and vent their frustrations, and to thank them “for not jumping on the train” to violence, according to a New York Times editorial on 6 May 1992. Mayor Dinkins, like his predecessor John Lindsay in 1968, succeeded in reaching out to his black constituency and preventing the urban violence engulfing other US cities.
Similarly, Chicago Mayor Daley had worked hard since his first election in 1989 to develop open communication lines with his minority constituents. Through his appointments and a multi-pronged approach involving numerous city agencies and departments, his administration had developed a positive reputation and drawn praise from numerous minority leaders as one that not only cared, but was willing to take action where and when it was needed. After the verdict, Mayor Daley and his aides also worked the phones and got out into the neighbourhoods, urging calm and taking precautionary steps against violence. He also held town meetings and gripe sessions to let people vent their anger and frustration.
In essence, Mayors Daley and Dinkins exercised sensitive leadership and careful police preparedness after the verdict but long before that they had embarked on a series of communication and interaction strategies that lessened the remoteness of the power structure and generated instead a negotiated reality of shared understandings. As the flashpoint of the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial neared, Chicago and New York leaders were sitting on a cooler volcano than were Los Angeles leaders.
The German experience
As the reunification of Germany faltered during economic setbacks in the early 1990s, the unrealistic expectations of East Germans were dashed. At first they had thought they would almost immediately live the comfortable lifestyle of the West Germans, a viewpoint encouraged by Chancellor Helmut Kohl. However, closed factories and a high unemployment rate adversely affected many adults, while a changed school system and elimination of communist-sponsored, after-school youth programmes alienated some of the young people. Scapegoating of non-German minorities became commonplace and spread into western Germany as the economy stagnated.
Adler (1996) found that, although xenophobia and ethnoviolence were increasing in the 1980s
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and 1990s, their dramatic acceleration after the unification of Germany bolstered theoretical arguments of social change as responsible for this upsurge. Moreover, she added, the immigration statistics suggested that not the actual size of the foreign population (real group threat), but the perceived number of foreigners (threat fostered in the political culture) could be held responsible for the increased violence.
Germany's policy toward asylum seekers, written into its constitution, became another rallying point for right-wing extremists. At that time foreigners who entered the country seeking asylum were entitled to welfare benefits until their cases were adjudicated, a process that usually took two to three years. After this length of time, after this public expense, after whatever acculturation had occurred – particularly among the young – nine of ten asylum cases would be rejected and the individuals or families deported. In 1992 alone, Germany took in some 440,000 asylum seekers, far more than the rest of Western Europe combined, and its resources and generosity were wearing thin (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 1993).
So, with the dramatic rise in asylum seekers and refugees throughout Germany, with the loss of structure and security in the east, and with the alienation of youth, especially in the east, feelings of anxiety and resentment led to a rise in ethnoviolence. At first the right-wing violence was directed against the asylum seekers' hostels, but then it spilled beyond. Ethnoviolent crimes escalated from 246 in 1990, to 2,462 in 1991, and to 4,587 in 1992 (Donfried 1993).
The greatest proportion of violent incidents took place in eastern Germany. Two of the most dramatic and sustained assaults against refugee centres took place in the east (Hoyerswerda in September 1991, and Rostock in August 1992). In each case, skinheads, cheered by local residents, waged a five-day assault on a refugee hostel and its inhabitants, while the police failed effectively to intervene. As a result, the violent attacks achieved their desired ends, as the foreigners were evacuated from the neighbourhood.
In an October 1992 report, Helsinki Watch sharply criticized the German authorities for having permitted explosive situations like these in the first place:
The federal government] disregarded warnings that East Germany was too burdened by its own problems to take on responsibility for asylum seekers and assigned asylum seekers to the east long before the necessary infrastructure had been created. In their eagerness to reduce the strain on West Germany by transferring asylum seekers to the East, the German government failed to make a realistic assessment of the ability of local authorities to protect foreigners. (Helsinki Watch 1992)
Of the 2,285 acts of right-wing violence in 1992, 90% were directed against foreigners, not only asylum seekers and refugees, but also long-term foreign residents of Germany (Donfried 1993). For example, on 23 November 1992, a firebombing attack of a Turkish apartment in the northern city of Moelln killed two little girls and a grandmother. In May 1993, extremists struck again in Solingen, killing five Turkish women and children, The wave of violence in 1992-93 – during which 17 foreigners died – brought Germans to the frightening realization that this rampant xenophobia reflected much more than the random vandalism of a minority of alienated youth (Parrillo 2003:124).
Finally, the government acted to ameliorate the situation. The ministers of the interior of the federal government and of the states created a set of measures to combat the ethnoviolence, including the creation of special police units, assignment of undercover agents to infiltrate extremist groups, and placement of emergency phones in asylum seekers' residences. Moreover, the government engaged in a series of actions to limit the number of asylum seekers entering the
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country. It also banned four extreme-right groups: the Nationalist Front, the German Alternative, the Alliance of German Comrades, and the National Offensive, in late November 1992. In addition, the government outlawed the sale, manufacture and distribution of materials from at least five neo-Nazi rock bands whose songs advocated violence and racism, as well as banning their broadcast on radio or television.
Dresden: a case study
Yet in the midst of the 1992-93 violence, one asylum hostel in Dresden – a beautiful city in eastern Germany with a population of 470,000 – was never attacked. This situation was hardly the result of fortuitous happenstance. Unlike the smaller East German cities of Hoyerswerda, Moelln, Rostock and Solingen with a large, young, working-class population and high unemployment rates, Dresden was more economically viable because it benefited from its lure as a tourist attraction. Still, Los Angeles was a major tourist destination also, yet it erupted, suggesting city size and tourism are not satisfactory explanations for nonviolence. Notably, an active neo-Nazi group existed in Dresden and, as I learned from its members during a 1993 visit to Dresden sponsored by the US Information Agency, the temptation for copycat firebombing was admittedly strong.
Anticipating his site as a probable target, the proactive steps taken by that hostel's director to prevent ethnoviolence were an example of applied sociology at its best. Ali, the Pakistani who ran the hostel that was ‘home’ to 50 asylum seekers, never took a sociology course nor read a sociology book, but his initiatives offered a textbook example of negotiated order theory.
Ali ran an experimental non-profit hostel unlike others that were privately run and usually exploited the Ausländer (foreigners). The building was a modest, one-storey structure built of cinder block with a stucco facing, with a cellar used primarily for storage and cooking, and surrounded by a cyclone fence about three feet high. The interior was a series of small rooms, with Spartan furnishings, where people slept and maintained some privacy. The largest room served as a lounge for everyone, where a portable TV set offered some entertainment. A small games room provided children with some other diversions.
Each individual received a daily food carton, its contents reflecting each person's religious convictions about diet. For example, the box might contain an apple, a large turnip, a small loaf of bread, rice, coffee, cereal and some packaged foods. Separately, meat or fish would be provided, and the guests (mostly families) would cook their own meals using the stoves and ovens in the cellar. The day's provisions were hardly lavish, but sufficient and nutritious. Of the half-dozen asylum hostels I visited, this was by far the best in quality in all aspects, a fact reaffirmed for me by the Board of Directors of Ausländerrat Dresden, the parent organization that oversaw 38 organizations working with foreigners.
When the firebombings against other asylum hostels and the physical attacks on their residents began in 1992, Ali embarked on a bold plan to prevent his place from enduring a similar fate. He had already involved people in the neighbourhood in the hostel's well being, seeking donations and community involvement. So, his place was not an alien presence in the midst of an otherwise homogeneous neighbourhood, as was the case elsewhere.
Now though, Ali launched a daring initiative. Through the local police, he learned the names and addresses of the skinhead leaders in his area so he could invite them into the facility. The police warned him against such action, arguing one could not reason with radicals. Further, they
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argued, allowing these radicals inside provided an opportunity for immediate vandalism or knowledge about prime target areas for a future attack on the facility When Ali insisted he would invite them in anyway, the police asked to maintain a presence in the building when the skinheads visited. Ali not only rejected their request, but also insisted that the police be stationed nowhere within view of his facility, to which the police reluctantly agreed.
Utilizing faith and confidence, Ali held a firm belief that his interaction strategy would work: that through open, direct communication he could alter perceptions and attitudes. He wanted his potential attackers to see for themselves they had nothing to resent, that they were far better off than the poor, displaced victims residing in the hostel.
On the designated day 11 skinheads entered his building. Ali spoke to them and explained everything about the hostel's operations and mission. He escorted them through every part of the facility, so his visitors could see for themselves the Spartan conditions under which the 50 inhabitants lived. His visitors realized, as one commented later; that the daily food rations were far less than enviable. They learned of small daily hurdles that the asylees faced just to survive. For example, any kind of healthcare required a medical slip from a social worker, but since no social worker visited the place, the Ausländer had to go to the social services office in the city centre to get it. However, they had no transit cards to get there, and when they – or their children – were sick, this situation rendered their securing health care a highly limited reality. In emergencies, a staff member would transport them, but otherwise they received virtually no healthcare at all.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment during the skinheads' visit was Ali's success in putting a human face on the asylum seekers. The children presented hand-made welcome cards to the visitors, and sang a song for them. The adults told of their travails before reaching Dresden, their problems now that they were living here, and what hopes/dreams/plans they had for their future and that of their children. As might be expected, no empathetic replies were forthcoming from the visitors and some clearly looked with disdain at these foreigners. But, and it is an important but, they did listen and it obviously had some effect, for that house was never attacked.
Summary and conclusion
What can we learn from these separate events occurring in different cultures with different histories, thousands of miles apart from one another? In all four cities the complexity of intervening variables negates any simplistic commentary or comparison. Nevertheless, there are some intriguing parallels that warrant both discussion and further investigation.
This paper has two premises. The first is that certain preconditions (the volcanic heat below the surface) need to exist before violence can erupt, and if these conditions can be ameliorated, then violence will not occur. The second is that negotiated order theory can offer an explanation about intervening conditions that can facilitate or constrain action. New York and Chicago did not experience violent outbreaks when Los Angeles did, and Dresden's asylum hostel was not attacked when dozens in other German cities were attacked. Although the specific actions were different, those escaping the violence shared a common link. In each instance, leaders made an effort to construct a reality in which informal communication within the formal structure would affect perceptions and cooperation (Strauss 1978, Geist and Hardesty 1992, Geist 1995). Their approach was one of direct access and interaction, unlike the German and US cities that were victims of violence, where officials relied more on a top-down approach through the layers of
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bureaucracy, making themselves more remote from the people, and thus less able to restrain any violent tendencies,
The dichotomy of views that Maines (1978) and Hewitt and Hall (1973) speak about is, without question, a critical element in intergroup discord. The challenge has always been to find a way to bridge that gap of differential interpretations to eliminate the resulting conflicts. Attempts to eliminate problems only through the formal structure usually have limited success, and may even exacerbate the situation, as the US experience with forced busing illustrates. The almost total reliance of Los Angeles officials on the machinery of city government to deal with minority problems, and that of the German government on processing routinely the growing numbers of asylum seekers, while ignoring the infrastructural needs and the rising xenophobia of its citizenry, eventually led in both places to violent outbreaks of such intensity that they shocked the world. Moreover, when it comes to violence, reliance on the formal structure has typically been one of reaction to violent outbreaks, not any proactive effort to prevent the violence before it occurs.
Those proactive steps taken in Chicago, New York and Dresden may not be the only reasons violence did not occur. However, clearly a correlation exists between the interaction strategies employed and non-violence in those places compared with the non-existence of such strategies in Los Angeles and many German cities and their resultant problems with violence. When authorities utilized informal mechanisms to maintain stability (Meyer and Rowan 1977), they also succeeded in eliminating at least some of the conditions that make violence more likely
Perhaps not all ethnoviolence can be prevented or contained through interaction strategies. In some places – such as in the Balkans, Northern Ireland and the Middle East – the distrust, even hatred, is so entrenched – sometimes for generations, even centuries – that it seems almost unsolvable. However, virtually every expert in the field of conflict resolution speaks of various interaction strategies to build trust and to see the other side's perspective (Augsberger 1995; Schellenberg 1996). So, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the utilization of interaction strategies that emphasize open, good faith communication within the structure before the situation degenerates into violence may, in effect, stop that violence from even occurring. Certainly there are lessons to be learned not just from the Los Angeles riots, as Mark Baldassare (1994) has so effectively informed us, but also from those locales where the riots did not occur. The ‘whats’ in the non-violent cities are worth knowing so they can be diligently applied to prevent any future Watts-type violence elsewhere.
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