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Research Note: Durkheim's Taxonomy of Collective Violence

NCJ Number
John Rankin
Date Published
June 2012
16 pages
This paper summarizes and interprets Durkheim's taxonomy of collective violence, with a view toward using his theory and typologies as an initial framework for a sociological paradigm for the analysis of collective violence.
Durkheim's taxonomy of collective violence is structured in terms of six typologies that constitute a significant contribution to the development of a sociological paradigm for the analysis of collective violence. First, the scope of Durkheim's approach is evident in his focus on two types of violence, homicides and suicides, which are considered endemic to societies, since they persist at relatively low levels and reflect the devaluing of human life, either one's own or that of another person. Second, this devaluing of human life becomes epidemic when homicide and suicide reach high rates, to the point of becoming an epidemic in collective consciousness. Durkheim also develops a typology of four kinds of "collective effervescence," which pertain to the strength of the degrading of human life. These include a "collective effervescence," which involves group rituals that sustain collective consciousness that devalues human life; "creative effervescence," which fosters the value of individuals within one's own belief system but not those outside of that system; and a chronic "morbid effervescence," in which all restraint against the devaluing of human life leads to an actual destructive mortal effervescence" in which the collective consciousness advocates both homicide (killing others) and giving up one's own life (suicide). At this point, a society has a consciousness that embraces both homicide and suicide as the societal collective norm for behavior. Some caveats to this paradigm for collective violence are discussed. 18 references