In the past, violence research has been concerned with predicting why certain individuals are more disposed to violence than others. One consequence of this approach has been the development of theory and policy that view violence as a homogeneous behavior, and that overlooks potentially important variations in the motivations, behaviors, and characteristics of adolescents involved in violent acts. This variation exists not only between individuals, but within individuals over time.
Violence theory and research have paid little attention to these meaningful differences in the forms of violent acts among teenagers. Violence research often has failed to acknowledge its heterogeneity and the likelihood that different forms of violence have different motivations and are a response to different conditions and circumstances. Empirical research shows teenagers are involved in a wide range of violent acts. Meaningful distinctions go beyond the simple “expressive violence” and “instrumental violence” and seek to locate violence within a framework where motivation interacts with social context to produce a violent act.
Violence research has rarely addressed the specific conditions and interpersonal dynamics that channel such dispositions into violent events (Luckenbill & Doyle, 1989). Few studies have examined the contexts, antecedents, or interpersonal dynamics of violent events among adolescents or young males in the inner city, especially the mechanisms that escalate personal disputes into assaults or homicide, nor have there been studies that have located these events within specific neighborhood, school, or other social contexts. Such an approach seems necessary to explain the increase in violence and fatalities among young males in general and the concentration of lethal violence in urban areas (Fingerhut, 1993; Sampson & Lauritsen, 1994). The social and cultural landscape of inner city neighborhoods described by Anderson (1990, 1994), Sullivan (1989), Canada (1995), Decker and van Winkle (1996), and others provides further support for research focused on “situated transactions” (i.e., the interactions between people within specific places).
Violence research has increasingly adopted an event-based approach to explain violent interactions among people (Cornish 1993, 1994; Felson, 1993; Felson & Steadman, 1983; Katz, 1988; Luckenbill, 1977; Luckenbill & Doyle, 1989; Oliver, 1994; Polk, 1994; Sommers & Baskin, 1993).