Book Review: Violence and Nonviolence: Pathways to Understanding

Date01 September 2005
Published date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Violence and Nonviolence: Pathways to Understanding, by Gregg Barak. Thousand Oaks,
CA: Sage, 2003, 341 pages.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016805282759
One often hears the expression, both in the media and in everyday conversations, that a
particular crime was an act of “senseless violence.”It is frequently used as a way of character-
izing an act (causing injury or death to someone or damage to something) when there is not
any readily apparent reason or rationale as to why it has occurred.
Gregg Barak’s book disputes the notion of senseless violence. He sets out to explain, in
this comprehensive work on the subject of violence and nonviolence,that there are rationales
and contexts for the three types of violence he considers: interpersonal, institutional, and
structural. He does this by suggesting the “reciprocal relationships of violence and nonvio-
lence” be viewed as two sides of a “violence/nonviolence coin” (p. 7). As he makes clear in
his introduction, a better understanding of both violence and nonviolence will lead to “a more
enlightened approach” to social problem issues that are related to violence not just at the
interpersonal level but also at the institutional and structural level.
The book is divided into three parts, each with three or four chapters. The first part is a
comprehensive description of types of violence. In this section, Barak pulls together an
impressive array of research and writings on the three types of violence introduced in his
opening chapter. Although the three—interpersonal, institutional, and structural—are pre-
sented in discrete chapters, he goes to some length to show how they are “interactive and
reciprocal.”So, for example, both family violence and school violence may be primarily seen
as institutional (in the sense that they are types of violence produced in certain institutional
forms, such as the family or educational system), but there clearly is an element of interper-
sonal violence in the way partner abuse and bullying (or worse) are perpetrated. Similarly,
postcolonialism as a form of structural violence that emerges over time has significant impli-
cations for both institutional and interpersonal forms of violence across several generations.
It is worth noting that the author makes good use of text boxes to present examples of all three
forms from both the media and popular literature throughout this section of the book.
The second section of the book, titled “Pathways to Violence,” moves from descriptions of
violence to presentations of a “reciprocal theory of violence,” followed by an exploration of
institutional and structural pathways of violence, such as the influence of the media on vio-
lence and forms of sexual violence. It is in chapter 5, possibly the most important one in the
book, that he lays out his ideas about a reciprocal theory of violence and nonviolence. Barak
begins with a survey of different theoretical perspectives on violence, considering psycho-
logical, anthropological, and sociological approaches. These include life course models, the-
ories of social control, and social development. He concludes that at interpersonal, structural,
and institutional levels, three important commonalities emerge in terms of pathways to both
violence and nonviolence: first, the impact of those things that lead toward either violence or
nonviolence are cumulative—themore of these there are, the more likely violence or nonvio-
lence will come about; second, the overlapping of pathways (cultural, familial, etc.) will lead
to more or less intense expressions of violence or nonviolence; and last, that relations cross
232 Criminal Justice Review

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