It's a Small World After All?: Reflections on Violence in Comparative Perspectives

Wood, John Carter (2003). It's a Small World After All?: Reflections on Violence in Comparative Perspectives. In: Godfrey, Barry; Emsley, Clive and Dunstall, Graeme eds. Comparative Histories of Crime. UK: Willan Publishing, pp. 36–52.



Historians’ growing interest in comparative perspectives on violence raises several methodological and conceptual questions: some are common to violence history more generally, while others are brought into sharper relief by cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies. This essay surveys the existing state of comparative violence history, considers some pertinent issues in the expansion of comparative approaches, and points to particularly rich opportunities for fruitful cross-cultural analysis.

The essay is organised in three parts. Part one addresses the disciplinary issues raised by cross-cultural violence history: as historians raise the scale of their inquiries (in moving beyond traditional, largely national boundaries) they confront more directly wider debates about violence, particularly those informed by evolutionary-biological, psychological and anthropological perspectives. It considers the utility of—and challenge to—history presented by these theories, particularly in the various ways that they ‘locate’ violence. 'Location’ is also a guiding concern in the second section, which is concerned with the issue of ‘boundaries’ in comparative violence studies. ‘Boundaries’ are examined both in terms of those framing the experiences of historical subjects (e.g., the growth of criminology as a discipline or the relationships between national identity and violence) and those imposed by historians in the course of their work (e.g., in their use of local, regional, national, continental or global contexts). The mobility and permeability of cultures of violence are suggested as necessary considerations in comparative history. Part three concludes with an evaluation of two areas in which comparative studies can helpfully function — violence’s narratives and its practices — and the ways that findings and conceptualisations can be exchanged across disciplines and national categorisations.

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