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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

19 - Non-bodily violence: robbery


What was the motive behind it? What made it worthwhile to me? I strongly wanted to get even with society for the wrong which I felt it had done me. This spirit of revenge, instilled into me by the years of suffering and ill-treatment behind prison walls, pervaded my whole nature … I left prison with a feeling of bitterness and of hatred in my heart… Almost every man with whom I came in contact while in prison expressed that same feeling… He was “going to get even” and “make somebody pay” for his punishment and suffering.

(Davis, 1922: 148–9)

There was an almost magical transformation in my relationship with the rest of the world when I drew that gun on folks. I always marveled at how the toughest cats on those street corners whimpered and begged for their lives when I stuck the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun into their faces. Adults who ordinarily would have commanded my respect were forced to follow my orders like obedient kids.

(McCall, 1995: 101)

Western popular culture and social science have tended to conflate material goods with selfish individualism. But except under the most desperate circumstances – and sometimes even then – the principal meaning and function of goods and money are to constitute social relationships. This has been most cogently demonstrated by studies of “gifts,” but also by research on eating, raiding, marriage, ritual, and political economy (e.g., Komter, 2004; Lévi-Strauss, 1961/1949; Malinowski, 1922; Mauss, 1925; Polanyi, 2001; Sahlins, 1965; Veblen, 2007/1899). People want and use money and goods primarily to share, give, exchange, flaunt, conspicuously consume, or measure success and achievement. Material goods mediate relationships. Research on the social-relational meaning of goods and money has focused primarily on giving and sharing initiated by the giver, exploring the moral motives and social-relational aims of giving. But the motives and aims of the taker are similarly moral and relationship-constitutive, even when the taker takes violently.

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