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Panel 35. New significations of violence in contemporary cities


  • Sérgio Adorno Department of Sociology and The Center for the Study of Violence, University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)


Violence is certainly not a new phenomenon. But its meanings have varied overtime and in different social and cultural organizations. The etymology of the word is associated with power, vigor, potency, and the use of physical force in intensities that do not respect limits or agreed upon rules. It refers to such disparate phenomena such as wars and revolutions, hate crimes and intolerance, delinquency and crimes against persons and against property, domestic violence, conflicts in the relations among classes, genders, and ethnicities, in addition to grave violations of human rights, including genocide, torture, and restrictions to civil and public liberties. Violence involves states as well as different actors.

Given its relevance in the contemporary world, different forms and manifestations of violence have attracted the attention of distinct sociological schools. One of the most influential explanations associates violence and modernity. The theses of Max Weber and Norbert Elias in this regard, including their theoretical variants, are well known. They elaborate on the “internal pacification” of modern Western societies due to the force of the historical process that resulted in the legitimate state monopoly of coercion. Many people, citizens and rulers, have believed that social inequalities have diminished due to the force of progress; street demonstrations and collective protests were considered legitimate in a democratic order that could do without police repression; and interpersonal violence would be less and less common given the advances in the promotion of equality of genders, races, ethnicities and generations, and appeal to religious and political tolerance.

But in fact, this was not what happened. New scenarios ended up weakening the supposed explanatory power of the Weberian and Eliasian theses. Throughout the twentieth century, world wars, political revolutions, state coups, authoritarian regimes, terrorism, and organized crime followed each other causing millions of deaths, disappearances, forced migrations and all sorts of violations of human rights. Moreover, a real explosion of conflicts in the realm of civil and private relations resulting fatalities got entrenched in the everydayness of contemporary cities.

The proposal of this panel is to discuss the polysemic meaning of the violence happening in contemporary cities marked by fragmentation, heterogeneity, and the massive use of new digital technologies that put into contact people who don´t know each other, blurring social and cultural boundaries that used to be rigidly marked. The intention is to explore at least two scenarios.

  • Global tendencies suggest that new forms of violence in contemporary cities come with hatred, intolerance, and cruelty that disrupt fundamental human rights. What are their meanings in the era of a crisis in the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence but also of the expansion in the agenda of human rights?
  • In contemporary cities, violence also acquires a ludic or performative dimension expressed in contemporary aesthetics in literature, film, and visual arts under the form of fights and sports, sexuality, and the competitions that frame everyday life. What are the meanings they articulate and how do they interact with everyday life in these cities?

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