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Part V - Representations and Constructions of Violence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Louise Edwards
University of New South Wales, Sydney
Nigel Penn
University of Cape Town
Jay Winter
Yale University, Connecticut
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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Bibliographical Essay

Like so much cultural and social history, the history of criminal violence tends to be written from national perspectives. Moreover, while the subject is increasingly popular, much of the work remains in the language of the country dealt with. Some sections of Emsley, Clive ’s Crime, Police and Penal Policy: European Experiences 1750–1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) address criminal violence. Bessel, Richard, Violence: A Modern Obsession (London: Simon & Schuster, 2015) focuses mainly on the twentieth century and addresses the violence of wars as well as the shifting sensibilities to, for example, forms of sexual abuse. Bessel concludes that in the West there is generally less tolerance towards all forms of violence. The shifting attitudes in Europe towards the most violent of crimes, murder, is to be found in Spierenburg, Pieter ’s wide-ranging A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008).

For England criminal violence and culture are explored extensively in Sharpe, James, A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England (London: Random House, 2016). For the shorter period of this volume see Emsley, Clive, Hard Men: The English and Violence since 1750 (London: Hambledon, 2005) and Wood, John Carter, Violence and Crime in Nineteenth-Century England: The Shadow of Our Refinement (London: Routledge, 2004). Wiener, Martin J., Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness, and Criminal Justice in Victorian England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) focuses particularly on male violence towards women and the sometimes contrasting attitudes of the courts and at least some of the populace. While it seems probable that the Victorians moved increasingly towards a critical view of violence, they also celebrated violent anti-heroes such as Mr Punch and Sweeney Todd, an area vividly explored in Crone, Rosalind, Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century London (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012). Unfortunately the excellent work by Dominique Kalifa remains untranslated; his L’encre et le sang: récits de crimes et société à la Belle Époque (Paris: Fayard, 1995) is especially significant for this topic.

British gangs have been well covered by Davies, Andrew, The Gangs of Manchester: The Story of the Scuttlers, Britain’s First Youth Cult (Preston: Milo Books, 2008) and City of Gangs: Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013), but the best work on the French apaches remains largely in French, notably Perrot, Michelle ‘Dans le Paris de la Belle Époque, les “Apaches”, premières bandes de jeunes’, in her collection Les ombres de l’histoire: crime et châtiment au XIXe siècle (Paris: Flammarion, 2001). The violent criminal and semi-criminal groups of southern Europe are better served with significant English-language volumes such as Wilson, Stephen, Feuding, Conflict and Banditry in Nineteenth-Century Corsica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) and Dickie, John, Blood Brotherhood: Camorra, Mafia, ‘Ndrangheta: The Rise of the Honoured Societies (London: Sceptre, 2011).

Bibliographical Essay

Prior to the 1960s, the vast majority of writing about film violence was confined to empirical effects research, whose goal was to find causal connections between viewing of violent content and subsequent behaviour. Even after its mid-twentieth-century institutionalisation as an academic discipline, film scholarship has often treated violence as a secondary concern, which for a long time left a gap in the research literature that seems all the more obvious when one considers how other humanities disciplines, such as literary studies and anthropology, often privilege violence as a primary mode of signification.

However, since the millennium an upsurge in film violence scholarship has created an ongoing discourse among scholars about the role it plays. Three of the classic works that helped push this dialogue forward are Alloway, L., Violent America: The Movies 1946–1964 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1971), Fraser, J., Violence in the Arts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974) and Atkins, T. R. (ed.), Graphic Violence on the Screen (New York: Monarch Press, 1976).

There are a number of fine anthologies, histories and overviews. For general, concise overviews of the subject, see Kendrick, J., Film Violence: History, Ideology, Genre (London: Wallflower, 2009) and Prince, S., ‘Graphic Violence in the Cinema: Origins, Aesthetic Design, and Social Effects’, in Prince, (ed.), Screening Violence (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000). Anthologies that offer a wide variety of perspectives include Slocum, J. D. (ed.), Violence and American Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2001); Prince, S. (ed.), Screening Violence (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000); Schneider, S. J. (ed.), New Hollywood Violence (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004); Sharrett, C. (ed.), Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999); Barker, M. and Petley, J. (eds.), Ill Effects: The Media/Violence Debate (London: Routledge, 1997); French, K. (ed.), Screen Violence (London: Bloomsbury, 1996).

For histories of film violence, see Prince, S., Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1968 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003); chapter 2 in Kendrick, J., Film Violence: History, Ideology, Genre (London: Wallflower, 2009); chapter 1 in Prince, S., Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998); and several relevant sections in Schechter, H., Savage Pastimes: A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2005).

The poetics of film violence has only recently been explored and it challenges many of our preconceptions regarding how film violence ‘works’. See chapter 3 in Bacon, H., The Fascination of Film Violence (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Prince, S., ‘Beholding Blood Sacrifice in The Passion of the Christ: How Real Is Movie Violence?’, Film Quarterly 59.4 (2006), 1122; S. Prince ‘The Aesthetics of Slow-Motion Violence in the Films of Sam Peckinpah’, in Prince (ed.), Screening Violence (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press), pp. 175–204; Cook, D. A., ‘Ballistic Balletics: Styles of Violent Representations in The Wild Bunch and After’, in Prince, S. (ed.), Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

The recent rise of extreme violence and torture porn has led to a new emphasis in the scholarship, which can be seen in Kerner, A. M., Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11: Horror, Exploitation, and the Cinema of Sensation (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015); Horeck, T. and Kendall, T. (eds.), The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to Europe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011); Middleton, J., ‘The Subject of Torture: Regarding the Pain of Americans in Hostel’, Cinema Journal 49.4 (2010), 124; G. Murray, ‘Hostel II: Representations of the Body in Pain and the Cinematic Experience in Torture-Porn’, Jump Cut (Spring 2008),; Brottman, M., Offensive Films (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005); Gormley, P., The New-Brutality Film: Race and Affect in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (Bristol: Intellect, 2005); Black, J., ‘Real(ist) Horror: From Execution Videos to Snuff Films’, in Mendik, X. and Schnedier, S. J. (eds.), Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking beyond the Hollywood Canon (New York: Wallflower, 2002).

There have also been a number of intriguing works that have interrogated the audience’s relationship to film violence and its inherent fascination. See Bacon, H., The Fascination of Film Violence (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); McGowan, T., ‘A Violent Ethics: Mediation and the Death Drive’, in Bégin, R. (ed.), Figures de violence (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2011); Donovan, B. W., Blood, Guns, and Testosterone: Action Films, Audiences, and a Thirst for Violence (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2009); Goldstein, J. H. (ed.), Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Bok, S., Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998); Hill, A., Shocking Entertainment: Viewer Response to Violent Movies (Luton: Luton University Press, 1997).

Bibliographical Essay

Media violence remains one of the most hotly debated topics in media, communication and cultural studies. For example, the extent, if any, to which media violence affects or influences viewers has provoked numerous qualitative and quantitative studies. Some argue there are no or very few discernible causal effects, while others posit significant and specific impacts. While questions about the impact of media violence regularly recur, other topics have also been investigated. For a helpful collection of essays on the relationship between media and violence see Kay Weaver, C. and Carter, Cynthia (eds.), Critical Readings: Violence and the Media (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 2006). This includes a range of voices, exploring theories, productions, representations and audiences. There is related and extensive literature regarding portrayals and receptions of violence in film (see Kendrick’s bibliographical essay to Chapter 28 in this volume).

There is a broad diversity of scholarly analysis of media representations of violence. For comprehensive and critical overviews, from different perspectives, see James Potter, W., On Media Violence (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1999); Carter, Cynthia and Kay Weaver, C., Media Violence (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 2003). Mitchell, Jolyon P., Media Violence and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) considers not only the role of journalists and producers, but also the responsibilities and responses of audiences.

Critical reflection and narrative descriptions in the numerous memoirs or autobiographies of journalists and photographers who covered conflict include: Gellhorn, Martha, The Face of War (London: Granta Books, 1998 [1959]); Keane, Fergal, Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey (London: Penguin, 1995); McCullin, Don, Sleeping with Ghosts: A Life’s Work in Photography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1999); Simpson, John, The Wars against Saddam: Taking the Hard Road to Baghdad (London: Pan MacMillan, 2004). More critical analysis of journalistic coverage is to be found in Knightley, Phillip, The First Casualty: From the Crimea to the Falklands: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Mythmaker, 3rd edn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004) and Seaton, Jean, Carnage and the Media: The Making and Breaking of News about Violence (London: Allen Lane, 2005).

There is also growing scholarly literature relating to media, conflict and war. See, for example, the journal Media, War and Conflict (Sage, from 2008). Some focus on a single conflict or geographical area, while others on various wars. These include: Thompson, Mark, Forging War: The Media in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina (Luton: University of Luton Press, 1989); Hallin, Daniel, The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam, rev. edn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Tumber, Howard and Palmer, Jerry, Media at War: The Iraq Crisis (London: Sage, 2004); Carruthers, Susan L., The Media at War, 2nd edn (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Broader themes are considered in Roach, Colleen (ed.), Communication and Culture in War and Peace (London: Sage, 1993).

Increasingly, scholars agree that many different kinds of violence appear in the media. This has led some to analyse issues relating to form and content. Representative texts include Gunter, Barrie and Harrison, J., Violence on Television: An Analysis of Amount, Nature, Location, and Origin of Violence in British Programmes (London: Routledge, 1998); Barrie Gunter, J. Harrison and Wykes, M., Violence on Television: Distribution, Form, Context and Themes (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003); on the effects on an audience see Barker, Martin and Petley, Julian (eds.), Ill Effects: The Media/Violence Debate (London: Routledge, 1997); on how different viewers interact with what they see, Schlesinger, Philip et al., Women Viewing Violence (London: BFI, 1992) and Gunter, Barrie and Wober, Mallory, Violence on Television: What Viewers Think (London: John Libbey, 1988). Others interrogate commonly held beliefs about media violence, e.g. Potter, James W., The 11 Myths of Media Violence (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003).

Several authors have reflected upon how violence entertains and how news media are commonly drawn towards spectacularly dramatic forms of violence. Bok, Sissela, Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998). Scholars have reflected upon violence as a form of communication for several decades. See Schmid, Alex P. and Graaf, Janny de, Violence as Communication: Insurgent Terrorism and the Western News Media (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1982). Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, more studies were produced reflecting upon the relationship between terrorism and media. These include Joseph, S. Tuman, Communicating Terror: The Rhetorical Dimensions of Terrorism (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003) and Norris, Pippa et al. (eds.), Framing Terrorism: The News Media, the Government, and the Public (New York: Routledge, 2003).

A recurring concern is about the impact of media violence upon youngsters. See, for example, Edward, L. Palmer and Dorr, Aimee (eds.), Children and the Faces of Television: Teaching, Violence, Selling (New York: Academic Press, 1980). Some become more polemical or advocate changes in policy or practice, such as Grossman, Dave and DeGaetano, Gloria, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence (New York: Crown, 1999). Some argue that representing violence is necessarily morally problematic or dangerous. From this perspective, viewers need to be inoculated or protected. David Buckingham critically describes this view in Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003).

In Violence, Peace and Peace Research’, Journal of Peace Research 6.3 (1963), 167–91, Johan Galtung argues the need for an ‘extended concept of violence’. Distinctions are now made between the role of different media in making violence visible and invisible, such as domestic violence, that often takes place behind closed doors against women and children. Structural violence, as considered by Farmer, Paul in Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), is also often overlooked.

Several writers argue that what is shown and what is not shown has implications for how audiences react to representations of violence. See Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Picador, 2003); Moeller, Susan D., Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death (New York: Routledge, 1999); Taylor, John, Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998); Boltanksi, Luc, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Finally, some scholars do not confine themselves to contemporary examples from the so-called modern or Western media, as many of the issues raised by the phenomenon of violence in the media are by no means new. Consider for example Enders, Jody, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory and Violence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999) and Raskin, Richard, A Child at Gunpoint: A Case Study in the Life of a Photo (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004); and for a study drawing on a range of international examples from different periods see Mitchell, Jolyon, Promoting Peace, Inciting Violence: The Role of Religion and Media (New York: Routledge, 2012). Many studies described above illustrate the value of developing a more nuanced approach, demonstrating that violence in the media is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, which merits creative, critical and thoughtful engagement.

Bibliographical Essay

Recent scholarship on the intersection between memory and violence has highlighted the centrality of religion and its role in how violent events are remembered. This is a key theme in Shawn Landres, J. and Baruch, Oren (eds.), Religion, Violence, Memory and Place (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006). Religious understandings of space and place are central to these discussions as they argue that memory and violence are often fused with religious frameworks. Scholars have also explored the role of religion and violence in relation to reconciliation and human rights, for example Scott Appleby, R., Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).

While the literature on religion and remembering violence is significant but not voluminous, there is a vast body of literature on physical memorials to the Holocaust, with Young, James E. providing perhaps the definitive overview in The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), alongside texts such as Linenthal, EdwardPreserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (Princeton: Columbia University Press, 2001). Projects such as the Stolpersteine ( in Europe, as well as other memorials and museums, provide places for physical, embodied and emplaced memory. Studies of Holocaust memory and memorialisation have provided some important avenues for greater understanding of traumatic memory in the aftermaths of violence. Vital works include Laub, Dori and Felman, Shoshana, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (New York: Routledge, 1992), Caruth, CathyTrauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), Santner, Eric, ‘History beyond the Pleasure Principle’, in Friedländer, Saul (ed.), Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution’ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 143–54, Levi, Primo, If This Is a Man (London: Abacus Books, 1987) and Hoffman, Eva, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language (London: Heinemann, 1989).

A central aspect of memory and violence needing further exploration is gender. Scholars have made compelling cases for focusing on gender in visual representation of violence. This is significant, given a dominant mode of remembering violence is through the visual, particularly in film and photographs. Ulrike Weckel’s analysis of depictions of women in films documenting the liberation of concentration camps in 1945 and 1946 is notable: Gender & History 17.3 (2005), 538–66. Griselda Pollock argues for the power of dominant cultural scripts of feminine suffering, which circulate at the expense of historical and political analysis through the continued use of a particular photograph taken during the Holocaust; and Nancy Miller examines how two photographs of Kim Phuc (known as the ‘Napalm Girl’), taken in 1972 and 1995, publicly function as gendered narratives of American national history in the context of the Vietnam War; see two chapters in Prosser, Jay (ed.), Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis (LondonReaktion Books, 2012), pp. 6578 and 147–54.

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