[URBANTH-L]REV: Wurtzburg on Anderson, _Cultural Shaping of Violence_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Wed Oct 19 21:46:07 EDT 2005

[a new book review from The Anthropology Review Database]

Anderson, Myrdene (ed.)
2004. _Cultural Shaping of Violence: Victimization, Escalation, Response_.
Notes. 330 p. ISBN 1557533733. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University

Reviewed by Susan Wurtzburg <susan.wurtzburg at utah.edu>, Gender
Studies Program, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

     Cultural Shaping of Violence offers insights about violence from social
scientists, government employees, and social workers. The chapters focus on
different types of violence and on diverse cultural settings from around the
world. The majority of these individually-authored contributions are of high
caliber which, coupled with their ethnographic focus, results in a cohesive,
perceptive publication.
     Chapter one is jointly authored by the editor, Myrdene Anderson, and
Cara Richards, both anthropologists. This introduction explains the division
of the book into five sections and presents their general themes. I found
this discussion interesting but I also feel that it would have been
strengthened with the addition of the numbers of women, children, and men
affected by different types of violence around the world, proving this book
covers an important topic, often neglected by anthropologists in the past.
     The first section includes six chapters focusing on violence directed
toward women and children, who in many societies are particularly vulnerable
to abuse (e.g., Wurtzburg, 2000). In chapter two, Linda McDonald, an
educational psychologist, presents first hand accounts of the violence that
affects American urban children in inner-city schools and communities. Their
words provide strong testament of their daily trials, but would have been
improved both by more intensive analysis of the results, and by more
suggestions about how to promote change in these bleak situations. This same
critique can also be applied to the following contribution by Anna Richman
Beresin, which examines violence during school recess periods. She applies
an innovative argument to explain her data, but I remain unconvinced that
children who are not immediately compliant with instructions to end their
playing "reflect a stance not of defiance, but self-imposed structure" (p.
     Chapter four is based on interviews with children in Northern Ireland.
Linda J. Rogers, a developmental psychologist, provides heart-breaking
excerpts from conversations with nine- and eleven-year-old boys about the
violence that they experience in their lives. Roger's discussion is truly
insightful, and also anticipates little future improvement in the context of
most schools' limited resource allocation for child counseling.
     The final three chapters in this section shift to a consideration of
women and domestic violence. Chapter five, by Cathy Winkler, an
anthropologist, intermeshes accounts of her research into women's
kidnappings, sexual assaults, and subsequent marriages in a rural Guerrero
town in Mexico, with her personal trauma surrounding her rape as a U.S.
graduate student. While some aspects of this juxtaposition were insightful,
my overall feeling is that this combination does not belong here. I also
have concerns about the ultimate effects of this personal disclosure both on
the author and on her friends and colleagues. For both ethical and scholarly
reasons, I would have preferred Winkler to focus her chapter solely on her
Mexican fieldwork, leaving her personal matters for non-fieldwork accounts.
     The following chapter by anthropologist Sarah Hautzinger presents none
of these ethical issues: she writes about masculinity and domestic violence
in northeastern Brazil. This a straightforward account of fieldwork
conducted at an all-female police station and a favela, or slum. She
considers the narratives of favela men and explores local concepts of honor
and how they affect partner abuse.
     Jon D. Holtzman, an anthropologist, ends this section, discussing
domestic violence among Sudanese Nuer immigrants in the Midwestern USA.
These people are familiar to anthropologists from the well-known work of E.
E. Evans-Pritchard (1940, 1951). More recently, world citizens have become
aware of the genocidal attacks waged against these and other indigenous
groups by government-backed militia (e.g. Doctors without Borders web site).
Holtzman provides a strong contribution with his discussion of how
immigration has added new stresses to Nuer gender structures.
     The second part of the book moves on from violence against women and
children to a focus on social means for regulating aggressive behavior. Five
authors provide these chapters, beginning with Wade C. Mackey's work arguing
that "the social father may be an invisible prophylactic in minimizing
violence within his community" (p. 67). His thesis rests on correlations and
although he briefly acknowledges that "correlation does not demonstrate
causality" (p. 70), nonetheless it is this weak evidence that he uses to
support his causal conclusion. For example his information that "as
illegitimacy rates [in 50 states of the USA] increased, so did murder rates"
(p. 69) is used to demonstrate that illegitimacy (and lack of a father)
causes murderous behavior. However, the majority of social scientists would
likely suggest that this indicates that negative social outcomes (including
parental disinterest and murders) result from similar socioeconomic deficits
(e.g., poverty, limited educational opportunities) rather than focusing on a
single overarching causal "lack of fathers." On the other hand, if Mackey's
thesis is correct, then there is hope that many of the world's social
problems can presumably be solved simply with an adequate infusion of
     Chapter nine is also written by an anthropologist, Nicole Sault. She
"examines how godmothers act to reduce the severity of violent encounters
among men in a Zapotec village of southeastern Mexico" (p. 82). Sault's work
here and in earlier publications (e.g., Sault, 1985) contributes to the
growing anthropological research dealing with gender in the Oaxaca region
(e.g., Chiñas, 1973; Stephen, 1991). An important aspect of this particular
research is its demonstration that "women can be more than victims or
spectators" (p. 93).
     The following contribution by Claudia Fonseca turns to a South American
slum community, and how gender plays a role in physical violence. Fonseca's
Brazilian ethnographic study dates to the 1980s. She explores how the
concept of honor is articulated by men and women, and how violence and
gossip enforce compliance with these social norms.
     Chapter 11 moves northward to Colombia, focusing on Bogotá citizens'
experiences and explanations for violence, in the early 1990s. Myriam Jimeno
's conclusion is that Colombians were not desensitized to the abusive
behavior that they observed, although they did devise means for coping with
high levels of hostility.
     The final contribution in this section turns to another regulatory
mechanism: Violence, or the threat of violence, can create a society where
friendliness, congeniality, and politeness are the norm. And, as we will
show, these norms for politeness and anger-suppression can in turn foster
violence by driving conflict below the surface, depriving people of the
opportunities to work out their differences, and ultimately leading to a
full blown explosion when one person has gone too far (p. 119).
     The underlying research was conducted in the southern USA by two social
psychologists, Dov Cohen and Joe Vandello. Cohen has devoted considerable
time over the years to exploring white men's conceptions of honor and
appropriate reactions to what they view as provocation (e.g., Cohen &
Nisbett, 1994; Cohen et al., 1996). This work contributes to our
understanding the high murder rates in Louisiana and Mississippi, and
provides some cultural context as well as recognizing the endemic poverty
and social deprivation of the Mississippi delta.
     The third section examines institutions that enforce social norms
within communities, including some critique of how these institutions at
times may work to perpetuate socially inequitable norms. The first chapter
focuses on the San Francisco police and is written by two departmental
advisors, Stephen J. Lutes and Michael J. Sullivan. They examine how
American political and legal processes have impacted police considerations
about violence.
     Chapter 14 moves to reflection on the history of anthropological ideas
about warfare. Barton C. Hacker discusses this field of study, which only
achieved full anthropological recognition in the 1960s, and includes an
extensive list of historic references.The following chapter by Eyal Ben-Ari
specifically focuses on "metaphors of soldiering in a unit of Israeli
infantry reserves" (p. 165) allowing Ben-Ari to examine how members of the
reserve forces view their military activities. Similar considerations by
military recruits are presented by Rhonda J. Moore, who looks at the role of
violence in the formation of US Marine Corps identity.
     Chapter 17 examines how the American media has portrayed the
Palestinian people and how this imagery encourages the American public to
rely on stereotypes to inform their understanding of the Arab-Israeli
conflict. Nada Elia suggests that: in keeping with the culture of the 
Hyperreal, where the illusion has greater currency than reality, all 
those who do not fit the stereotype of 'The Palestinian' are denied 
authenticity, and the suicide bomber becomes the sole representative 
of his/her people (p. 189).
     The final two chapters in this section deal with decolonization in the
Pacific Islands (Katerina Teaiwa), and a consideration of women in the
Middle East (Nada Elia). Both focus almost exclusively on external
influences (by the West) and the resultant harm to local populations.
Ironically the authors neglect to pay sufficient heed to activism by local
citizenry, thereby contributing to colonization of these regions, although
the authors claim that they are working against it. I would have preferred a
greater focus on the highly positive, proactive local movements. For
example, in Polynesia, several strong initiatives against domestic violence
have been launched in the past decade (see Fiji Women's Crisis Centre web
     Section four examines the history of culturally-specific types of
violence. This focus on historically-informed ethnography is initiated by
Glenn Smith, who introduces carok (a violent attack). This form of assault
is only found on the island of Madura, which is located northeast of Java,
in Indonesia. The Madurese have suffered a long history of exploitation by
outsiders, combined with conscription into the Dutch militia. Smith suggests
that these two factors provide some explanation for the ongoing prevalence
of carok, and its importance to Madurese identity.
     Exploitation by outsiders also figures in chapter 21; Bartholomew Dean
recounts how an Amazonian Peruvian Indian group, the Urarina, experienced
and continue to experience economically-exploitative debt peonage by
non-Indians. The Urarina tell elaborate stories about the violence that they
experience from outsiders, which historically has included "forced labor
conscription, rape, disease, concubinage, and abusive treatment at the hands
of outsiders" (p. 216).
     Community violence by one segment of society against another is also
the focus of Charles V. Trappey's discussion of Taiwanese gangs. He
investigates the puzzle of why Taiwan's increasingly affluent society is
host to rising numbers of gang members who are ever more violent. The study
is interesting, but I was less convinced by his application of mathematical
data to his work, since the numbers do not seem to contribute additional
insights to the analysis.
     Frank M. Afflitto looks at the case of Guatemala, where Amerindian
peoples (mainly Mayans) suffered decades of mistreatment through
state-sponsored terrorism. In the early 1990s, he interviewed 80 Guatemalans
about their experiences and understanding of violence. Documentation of the
Guatemalan atrocities is an important human rights task, but Afflitto's
analysis does not provide much new ethnographic insight to supplement the
insider accounts already available (e.g., Menchú, 1984; Montejo, 1987,
Wilkinson, 2002).
     Glen A. Perice's chapter also examines governmental abuse of citizens.
In this case, analysis concentrates on political violence in Haiti through
the eyes of a small number of informants.
     Chapter 25 is written by Gila Safran Naveh about Romanian political
prisoners. She describes recent Romanian history and explains how political
"prisoners underwent a process of so called cultural 're-education' and
'rehabilitation' and were transformed, by means of brutal torture into
equally ruthless torturers" (p. 262).
     In the next chapter, the analysis moves back to South America and a
consideration of Colombian violence by Mario Fandino. He applies various
models from the social sciences to further understanding of social changes
in the past century.
     The book concludes with a final section, which consists of a brief
account of Saami life ways, and an epilogue, both written by Myrdene
Anderson. Anderson has worked with the Saami of Norway since 1972 so her
insights into their generally peaceful life ways is well informed, and
provides some balance to the highly violent events depicted in earlier
chapters of the book. In the epilogue, Anderson ties the volume together and
suggests additional avenues of research for the future.
     In conclusion, I heartily endorse this volume, and encourage
anthropologists and others with an interest in violence to read all of it.
Cultural Shaping of Violence could be used productively in an undergraduate
or graduate anthropology course.

     Chiñas, Beverly 1973 The Isthmus Zapotecs: Women's Roles in Cultural
Context. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
     Doctors without Borders / Medecins sans Frontieres.
     Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1940 The Nuer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
     Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1951 Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
     Fiji Women's Crisis Centre www.fijiwomen.com
     Menchú, Rigoberta 1984 I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in
Guatemala. Ed. Burgos-Debray, Elizabeth, trans. Wright, Ann. London: Verso.
     Montejo, Victor 1987 Testimony: Death of a Guatemalan Village.
Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.
     Sault, Nicole 1985 Baptismal sponsorship as a source of power for
Zapotec women in Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of Latin American Lore 11: 225-243.
     Stephen, Lynn 1991 Zapotec Women. Austin: University of Texas Press.
     Wilkinson, Daniel 2002 Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror,
Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
     Wurtzburg, Susan J. 2000 "Battery." Routledge International
Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge, Vol. 1, edited
by Charis Kramarae and Dale Spender, pp. 101-103. Routledge, New York.

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