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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

18 - The Social Construction of Violence and Personal Harm

from Section VI - Making a Killing


Conceptions of violence

The term ‘violence’ is rarely found in statutory definitions, although, as we saw in our exploration of violence in the public order context, the Public Order Act 1986 provides an exception (see Chapter 6). Violence, however, is a concept which informs and underlies the practice of criminal law. For example, robbery is treated more seriously than theft because it involves the use of direct force. Violence is hidden in other ways. Road traffic offences exist in part to protect people from injury, yet until the emergence of ‘road rage’ they were never perceived as being connected with the stereotype of violent behaviour; academic studies of criminal law routinely ignore road traffic offences. This academic sidelining, as though the issues raised were inherently less interesting than the intellectual challenge of theft of a wild anemone or criminal damage of a greenhouse, reflects their wider marginalisation from issues of serious concern.

As the next two extracts emphasise, violence has to be viewed as historically, culturally and situationally contingent: it does not define itself. As Cotta argues, ideas and images of violence are contested and changing. Perceptions of violence are affected by changes in ‘space, time and field’. We live in an era of intensive communication and increased mobility, which has rendered ‘space’ less fixed. Into this continuous and continuing space, the concept of ‘time’ has become compressed so that news is conveyed almost contemporaneously.

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Further reading
,Crown Prosecution ServiceViolence Against Women Crime Report (CPS 2008).
Hoyle, CarolynNegotiating Domestic Violence: Police, Criminal Justice and Victims (Oxford University Press 1998).
Hoyle, Carolyn and Sanders, Andrew, ‘Police Response to Domestic Violence: From Victim Choice to Victim Empowerment’ (2000) British Journal of Criminology 40.
Natarajan, Mangai (ed.) Domestic Violence: The Five Big Questions (Ashgate 2007).
Romito, PatriziaA Deafening Silence: Hidden Violence Against Women and Children (Policy Press 2008).
Stark, EvanCoercive Control: The Entrapment of Women in Personal Life (Oxford University Press 2007).
Walklate, SandraWhat is to be Done About Violence Against Women? Gender, Violence, Cosmopolitanism and the Law’ (2008) 48(1) British Journal of Criminology39–54.