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(cover picture) Anderson, Myrdene (ed.)
2004 Cultural Shaping of Violence: Victimization, Escalation, Response. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.

Notes: 330 p.; 24 cm. ISBN: 1557533733
Reviewed 14 Sep 2005 by:
Susan Wurtzburg <>
Gender Studies Program, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Medium: Written Literature
Violence - Cross-cultural studies

ABSTRACT:    This wonderful contribution to the literature dealing with violence ˘includes 27 chapters from 28 scholars of 7 nationalities÷ who ˘examine violence in 22 distinct cultural settings in 17 nation-states on 5 continents÷ (back jacket). A cohesive cultural context by anthropologists as well as scholars and practitioners from other fields.

<i>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. 22).

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. RogerĂs discussion is truly insightful, and also anticipates little future improvement in the context of most schoolsĂ 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 womenĂs 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. MackeyĂs 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 MackeyĂs thesis is correct, then there is hope that many of the worldĂs social problems can presumably be solved simply with an adequate infusion of fathers.

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). SaultĂs 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., Chi▒as, 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. FonsecaĂs 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 Bogot▀ citizensĂ experiences and explanations for violence, in the early 1990s. Myriam JimenoĂs 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 menĂs 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 ŠThe PalestinianĂ 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 WomenĂs Crisis Centre web site).

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. TrappeyĂs discussion of Taiwanese gangs. He investigates the puzzle of why TaiwanĂs 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 AfflittoĂs analysis does not provide much new ethnographic insight to supplement the insider accounts already available (e.g., Menchö, 1984; Montejo, 1987, Wilkinson, 2002).

Glen A. PericeĂs 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 Šre-educationĂ and ŠrehabilitationĂ 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.


Chi▒as, Beverly 1973 The Isthmus Zapotecs: WomenĂs 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 WomenĂs Crisis Centre

Menchö, Rigoberta 1984 I, Rigoberta Menchö: 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 WomenĂs Issues and Knowledge, Vol. 1, edited by Charis Kramarae and Dale Spender, pp. 101-103. Routledge, New York.