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Character Contests and Violent Criminal Conduct - A Critique

NCJ Number
Sociological Quarterly Volume: 26 Issue: 3 Dated: (1985) Pages: 419-431
L Athens
Date Published
13 pages
Goffman's theory of violent criminal behavior, which is based upon the complementary notions of 'character contest' and 'stake in conventional institutions,' is relatively unique in that it makes problematic both the violent criminal act and actor.
However, the explanation Goffman's work provides is inadequate for three major reasons. First, mutual consent among the conflicting parties to use violence to settle their dispute rarely occurs in violent criminal acts. Secondly, the meanings with which most violent criminal acts are imbued are different from that of a character contest. Finally, violent people cannot be distinguished from non-violent ones merely on the basis of whether or not they have a stake in conformity. Thus, a more accurate and adequate theory of violent criminal behavior that takes into account both the nature of the violent criminal act and actor is needed. The outlines of such a theory are briefly described. (Author abstract)


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