Course: soc 398 Sociology of Violence & Nonviolence

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COURSE: SOC 398 Sociology of Violence & Nonviolence

MEETS: T & Th 2.00- 3.15

WHERE: Ortega 109

INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Christine Rack

Office: #1084 Sociology / Social Science Building (SSCI) 1st floor

Hours: Tues. 12.30- 2.00

or by appointment

Phone: 277-5714/ email


This course is part of a cluster of developing courses in Peace Studies. The idea of studying peace, as opposed to war and other types of individual and collective violence, is fairly recent. At the end of the 1800'5, an international movement for world peace was vibrant and strong. Courses in world peace were springing up in school curricula, even elementary schools. It seemed like world peace was around the corner. But then we passed through the most violent century on record. In fact, 75% of all people killed in war during the last millennium were killed in the 19005, a death rate escalating far faster than population growth. By the 1920'5, the world peace movement had receded.

Peace studies got another breath of life in the 1950's and '60'5. In part, this was because of the realization that a full-scale nuclear war would devastate the planet and leaves no "winners-" The idea of "containment," sanctions, and the "MAD" policy (Mutually Assured Destruction), brought forth scholarship on avoiding all-out war in favor of diplomatic negotiations and "mediation" designed to get the best deal without going to war. Conflict

resolution, game theory, and negotiation were studies and written about in universities and the military. With the fall of our only real threat, the Soviet Union, BY PEACEFUL MEANS, peace advocates again thought that we were on the verge of a new dawn: international law, the world court, and the UN seemed to offer places to negotiate instead of military defeat. However, in 1999 15% of the US budget in devoted to the military and the US alone contributes more than one third to the total world military spending ($261 billion in FY1999). This US spending is approximately $1000 per US citizen. By contrast, our total diplomatic/ foreign affairs budget (including the State Department) was only $65 per person in 1999.

This is discouraging to those people working for peace. Advocates for peace are frequently considered "hopeless idealists" because they fail to account for the facts of continuing investment in war, war-making, and overwhelming violence in the world. But peace advocates would say, "give peace a chance." It hasn't often been tried.

Why THIS course?

This course will analyze group level violence. We will look at sources, dynamics, and consequences of violent and nonviolent action undertaken to achieve social goals. The course will focus on types of collective violence committed by terrorists, rioters, militia groups, revolutionaries, police and other governmental agents contrasted with nonviolent action undertaken by protest, strike, civil disobedience, media campaigns, and legal means. We will examine the individual, structural, historical, and cultural context that shapes collective

behavior toward violent or nonviolent methods for achieving group aspirations. We will assess the relationship between the collective means (violent/nonviolent) and the ends (achieve/resist social change), especially as

these are affected by economic globalization.



The course will introduce students to the field of peace studies and conflict analysis. Students will be introduced to a vocabulary to describe the relationship between violence, peace and justice, and some ideas about how they work together or

don't. Differing goals, situations, and power levels all affect the strategies one may use to resolve conflicts & challenge injustice Students will achieve an ability to discern these differences.


Students will lean a vocabulary and theoretical frame with which to analyze collective violence and nonviolence. We will mostly focus on the ways to understand the two as rational means to ends. We will then use these analytical tools to look at various kinds of collective violence and nonviolence pathways to the same goals.


We will consider the kinds of issues over which people today are using violent and nonviolent collective action, and the means available for violent and nonviolent collective strategies made possible in the new millennium.


Students will grow in their sensitivity to personal, cultural (e.g., media and friends), and societal messages that support violence or nonviolence. Sociology holds this fact as central to the discipline societal context has an extraordinary influence over individual and group beliefs, motivations, and behavior. We will increase our perception of the ways that this happens.

  1. READ & ATTEND: Reading ahead means that we can more intelligently discuss the material in class. Therefore, read the assigned material before the class during which it is scheduled for discussion. Attendance is required and will be reflected in the participation portion of your grade. The reason for missing class will not affect the grading; that is, I will not discriminate between classes missed for a “good” reason from “mental health” absences. I will also bring short articles, videos, etc. and ask student volunteers to read/view them and give a quick report to the class about the material. These short reports will also contribute to your participation grade. Students should attend class whether or not they have completed the Reading Report for that class.

  2. QUIZZES/ TESTS: There are three take-home quizzes and a final exam covering limited areas of the course content. I reserve the right to add or subtract from this number depending on the flow of the class.

  3. CULTURE WATCH JOURNALS: All students will be responsible for keeping a journal through which to track and analyze how media & groups of people (culture) affect our perspectives on violent vs. nonviolent responses to conflict. There should be at least one entry per week, but situations worthy of note probably happen daily. Journals will be checked three times during the semester and will be graded as OK or SKIMPY or INADEQUATE. A list of suggested questions to ask oneself is below.

  4. RESPONSE/REFLECTION: Students will write a short paper (approximately 5 pages) reflecting on their experience/ learning in this course. This paper is due by the last class period (December 5).

  5. STUDENT REPORTS: Students are responsible for a short oral report and a brief written report analyzing the violent/ nonviolent tactics used by groups of people to either initiate or impede social change. The primary analysis will use the theoretical frames used by Barkan & Nagler, a brief history of the issues under contention, and an assessment of the usefulness of violent vs. nonviolent tactics to the goals of the group.


Barkan, Steven & Lynne Snowden (2001). Collective Violence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Nagler, Michael (2001). Is There No Other Way? Berkeley: Berkeley Hills Books

Roy, Arundhati (2001). Power Politics. Boston: South End Press.

Fisher, Roger & William Ury (1981/1984) Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.


40% 3 Quizzes & Final

15% Attendance & Participation

15% Journals

15% Student Reports

15% Response/Reflection Paper
Directory: ~rack

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