Violence and Crime in Nineteenth Century England: The Shadow of our Refinement

Wood, J. Carter (2004). Violence and Crime in Nineteenth Century England: The Shadow of our Refinement. Routledge Studies in Modern British History, 1. London, UK: Routledge.

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Abstract

Why does violence seem to haunt modern civilization? Can violence "speak", and if so, what can it tell us? Where do our attitudes toward violence come from? This book examines these questions by considering a critical period in the evolution of attitudes toward violence. Using the English experience, it explores the meanings of violence through an accessible mixture of detailed empirical research and a broad survey of cutting-edge historical theory. It critically investigates the concept of the "civilizing process" and asks readers to rethink their own views of violence. Nineteenth-century social upheaval changed attitudes toward class, gender, suffering, public space and state power, leading to new understandings of violence. Adherents of emerging "civilized" views confronted a "customary" mentality with different views of violent behaviour. That encounter saw the "invention" of violence as a social problem that was seen to threaten a nascent culture of refinement. The author critically examines this process, and the customary mentality of violence is given particularly close attention. The complex and dynamic interactions between civilization and custom are revealed through topics such as streetfighting, policing, sports, community discipline and domestic violence. Although customary notions eventually faded, this book shows how the nineteenth century established enduring patterns in views of violence. Violence and Crime in Nineteenth-Century England will be essential reading for advanced students and researchers of modern British history, social and cultural history and criminology.

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