The definition of violence is one that might best be described as it is at Dictionary.com; i.e.; a violent act or proceeding. There are other definitions to be sure, however, the definition used herein is the one that most constitutes the premise of the question is violence socially constructed? Since the question, in this specific space, directly refers to whether I agree, or disagree, with the view that violence is socially constructed, I would have to say that I most vehemently agree that it is.
One need only look as far as the local newspaper to discern that America (as an example) is a very violent country. Constant reports of innocent (and not so innocent) bloodshed is broadcast on the nightly news, reports of murders, slayings, and violence in all its forms are abundant in nature. America is a nation of violence and its leaders adhere to that culture with the same tenacity as its citizens do; oftentimes placing its military forces in a leading position against countries and regimes deemed not viable. Such actions are constantly justified as America's duty. One recent expert wrote that a country's willingness to violence is primarily "bound up with cultural expectations, meanings and identities" (Gorringe, 2006, p. 118).
Another study determined that the substantial variations in conflict are found across regions, and these variations result in different kinds of impacts (Barron, Sharpe, 2008)L their study determined that there should be a fair amount of importance place on the role of local factors in driving conflicts and suggested that approaches to peace should be tailored to local conditions.
The Barron and Sharpe study bring to light an interesting point. If violence is based on social constructions, would that not also mean that a country such as Costa Rica, would be very violence prone?
One seldom hears of Costa Rica sending its troops into harms way in order to promote democracy (or any other ideal), yet the citizens of Costa Rica face a landscape that according to UNODC has most of the buildings in San Jose wrapped in barbed wire and "the number of private security guards per 100,000 inhabitants is the highest in Central America (UNDC, 2007, p. 82). The question that could be asked in this situation is whether a culture of violence actually translates into violence at a higher rate than a culture of non-violence does? One study determined that Costa Rica might not be the only anomaly. The study showed that even though crime and violence vary significantly from country to country "low crime rates do not necessarily reduce fear and vice versa" (Huhn, 2009, p. 788). Huhn suggests that there is more to violence than just current social constructions. He says that to "answer questions of why Costa Rican identity is in crises over the discourses on violence and crime, and conversely why there is a specific discourse on violence and crime on the basis of identity and tradition, the historical perspective is crucial (p. 788). If what Huhn believes is true, is true, then the question is whether a country can change its stripes, or is it always going to have a social construction geared towards (or away from) violence?
A study completed in 2008 studied regions that stayed away from interstate or intra-state armed conflicts and compared the rates of violence there to countries such as the Great Lakes region of Africa or the Middle East that retain high patterns of armed violence and found that "important aspects of international politics tend to be regional rather than fully global or exclusively national" (Tavares, 2008, p. 110). The Tavares study also determined that regions feed off of each other and tend to either be more violent in aspects as regions, or less violent.
A finding such as that would tend to bolster the argument that social construction does lead to violence, and in some cases leads regions to be less violent.
Referring back to the Barron and Sharpe study, one could say that social construction of violence can depend mightily on who is defining the violent action. They determined that limitations to the definitions of violence have meant that key questions of the levels, forms, impacts and causes of the various forms of violence, and the ways such forms are related, remain unanswered (Barron, Sharpe, 2008). Gorringe would likely agree with that assessment. He asked the question when does revenge become and offence to be avenged and when does liberatory violence become oppressive? (p. 120).
Other studies have also asked similar questions and the results have been interesting; some have found that surveys to construct subnational measures of conflict can assist in explaining the differences found in country's use of violence (Justino, 2005; Barron, Kaiser, Pradhan, 2004; Kalyvas, 2008).
One of the regions that seems to have always been a hotbed of violence is the Middle East. Israel is one of the areas in the Middle East that came about due to violence and perhaps that is one of the reasons why Americans share such a close affinity with that nation; both countries were founded by a people searching for religious freedom, and both were countries that were willing to use violence in order to maintain that freedom. Both countries display a social construction based on violence. One recent article states that the relative peace currently enjoyed by Israel has "been achieved, Israelis can plausibly argue, through their own hard-nosed measures" (Ephron, 2010, p. 45).
Those hard-nosed measures included building a barrier between themselves and their enemies, but it also featured a 2006 war in Gaza that killed many more Arabs than it killed Israelis. However, it is just one more example of the Israelis social acceptance for the need of violence, at least in some cases.
The question could be asked whether violence has to come to pass if a country has been socially constructed to accept and believe that such actions are acceptable; and one might look again at the Israelis and Palestinians. As one expert wrote "during the most crucial moment of the 2000 Camp David summit…Yasir Arafat argued with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton about whether a Jewish temple preceded the Muslim shrines on the Jerusalem site known as the Temple Mount…their failure (to resolve conflict) led to the bloodbath of the Second Intifada" (Aluf, 2011, p. 70).
A recent report that could shed some light on whether violence is socially constructed concerned the repatriation of families during Columbian civil unrest. According to the author of the report, Nora-Christine Braun "the struggle for an appropriate social order for Columbian society is not only fought out violently; in addition, non-violent means are employed to call into question and to (re)construct social orders" (Braun, 2009, p. 455). Braun followed the efforts of Columbian society to attempt to transform itself into a peaceful situation from the midst of civil unrest.
The fighting there between rebel and government forces had made it necessary for many families to flee their homes in search of safety.
According to Braun "it was part of a power game between the protagonists in the armed conflict, and on the other hand, it comprised strategies of resistance of the victims of war against the social orders that the warring parties tried to impose on them through violence" (p. 460).
On the one hand you had members of the rebels and government forces that were seeking to achieve their goals through violence, while on the other hand you hand families and a number of peaceful members of society who wished to live in peace, working their fields and jobs in relative safety. What Braun discovered was that society (at least in this case) was able to transform itself through peaceful means over those who were seeking to employ violence to achieve their objectives.
As Huhn discovered; "because of the prevalence of fear of crime and political trends, it is most likely that all political factions will fuel the talk of crime rather than take an unpopular step and call for sober-mindedness" (p. 809). Could it be that simple? Can social construction include leaders who would actually call for peace and peaceful processes over violence? That would be an interesting study or situation to observe.
A number of recent studies have determined that regional organizations can have an influence over conflict resolution, management and prevention (Diehl, Lepgold, 2003; Pugh, Sidhu, 2003; Graham, Felicip, 2006). If those studies are reliable then perhaps society can change its stripes based on outside influences, however, it would seem that changing the stripes of a country that has violence interwoven throughout its society (and has since it was first created) would take some herculean efforts on the part of those groups.
Since it can be said that it would take those type of efforts to change a country's mindset; the answer to the question about violence being socially constructed is an obvious yes, it can be. At the same time, peace also can be socially constructed,…