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Durkheimian Theory of Violence Epidemiology

NCJ Number
John S. Rankin
Date Published
7 pages
This paper outlines the features of Durkheim's theory of collective violence, which the author believes can be the basis of a framework for integrating criminological theory about collective violence with research that focuses on community or interpersonal patterns of violence.
A "worst case" violence syndrome is suggested as an example of Durkheim's multidimensional approach and as a hypothetical model of collective violence in the United States in the 20th century and likely in the near future. The core of Durkheim's theory of collective violence involves three primary states of a society in a worst-case syndrome of collective violence. One state is "normative endemicity." Durkheim reasons that every society (individuals interacting with other individuals within a particular geographic area) has an inherent tendency toward violence as individual and collective interests collide. This conflict is managed through a society's law and morality, which generally aims to discourage and deter individuals from harming one another as they attempt to meet their own needs at the expense of others in the society. Durkheim's theory posits a second state of a society that is labeled "anomic epidenicity." This refers to a progressive instability in a society as customary law and morality erodes in the face of rampant individualism driven by repressed primitive instincts of lust, fear, and aggression in the pursuit of personal safety and individual advancement. Rationality, the common good, and the collective needs of the society become secondary to the advancement of the interests of individuals and like-minded segments of a society (gangs, mobs, cults, etc.) that serve only the interests of its members. The third state identified by Durkheim is the "worst case" scenario, which is characterized by hatred and disgust for the existing order that narrows to a "single craving to destroy or to escape from reality" (what is perceived as intolerable). Methodological strategy and policy implications are discussed. 11 references