Class issues are factors in violent behavior

Background A hundred years ago a sociologist became famous for showing that the individual act of taking one’s own life was influenced by surrounding social structures. His name was Emile Durkheim, and he was to became the forefather of the modern science of Sociology. He also said that protestants had higher rates of suicide than catholics ( ), but arguably he didn’t have enough proof for his claim that this was because of the lower social integration within the protestant communities.
Several times this year I have been questioned when I have said that there are more cases of physical abuse in low income areas than in higher income areas. This I will show, is not much different than what Durkheim proved so many years ago. I can understand that from an individualistic perspective a personal act seems to be based on Free Will, and I can understand that from a politically correct viewpoint people are no different whether they are from poorer areas or from richer areas, but we can’t close our eyes to the causes behind the violence that is out there.

6% unemployment 2008
180 thousand SEK average income 2006
27% are on social welfare 2007
31% doesn’t have higher education than middle school 2008
39% have a gainful employment 2006
86% have a background from a foreign country [Iran, Pakistan, etc] 2008
22 thousand inhabitants 2008
(Statistics from Department for Strategic Development at Malmö City Office)

1% unemployment 2008
357 thousand SEK average income 2006
1% are on social welfare 2007
9% doesn’t have higher education than middle school 2008
77% have a gainful employment 2006
17% have a background from a foreign country [Denmark, Poland, etc] 2008
37 thousand inhabitants 2008
(Statistics from Department for Strategic Development at Malmö City Office)

Reported crimes (Year 2009)
Malmö municipality

Limhamn, Physical abuse, Towards woman 18 yrs or older
Indoors, familiarity and close relationship between victim and assailant
48 cases

Rosengård, Physical abuse, Towards woman 18yrs or older
Indoors, familiarity and close relationship between victim and assailant
63 cases

(Numbers from BRÅ, Brottssförebyggande Rådet. The council for crime prevention)

I took physical abuse between people who know eachother, in their own home, because that is what has been said to me, that most cases of physical abuse that is prevalent in richer areas are those between couples. And here we can see that the area with lower income, Rosengård, still has more cases of physical abuse than the area with higher income, Limhamn.

What must also be said is that Limhamn has been getting more cases of physical abuse over recent years, closing the gap to Rosengård. The gap used to be wider. And when we look at all kinds of physical abuse, not just towards women in their homes, we get the number 334 for Rosengård and 314 for Limhamn, in 2009. In 2002 it was 257 for Rosengård and 91 for Limhamn.

This is in correlation with world-systems theory, that states that the economical hegemony has been in a decline since 1968. Sweden is no exception, and Sweden as a whole is affected. The gap between rich and poor is increasing, the middle-class is disappearing. The only difference between Limhamn and Rosengård in this sense, is that an unstable economy affects poorer people more than it affects richer people, hence the higher frequency of physical abuse in Rosengård compared to Limhamn.

Who are the most affected?
(Three paragraphs gleaned from
The european poverty is often widespread in groups of immigrants. They are met by unfortunate circumstances by not having access to those networks that those that are native to the country has, plus that racism and discrimination makes it more difficult to get at job. The jobs that immigrants from countries outside Western Europe get are often low status jobs with low income salaries. At the same time the growing divide in Europe is about much more than an immigration-problem or a problem that is about some people being “outside” society”.
These big divides strikes hardest on those who stands at the bottom in the social hierarchy – people with roots in a different country, handicapped, older people with minimum retirement pension plans, and so on. Women are more effected than men when the public sector is being dismantled and privatized. Workers with low education are the ones who has the biggest problem getting new jobs when the factories downsizes, outsources and move to countries that have lower salaries.
But the worst conditions on the european job market are for those migrants without documents that does physical labor for low salaries and long hours without any form of security. The migrants without documents that cleaned Swedish hamburger restaurants at night seven days a week without vacation for 7000 SEK [1000 USD] without being registered with the state, and those that cleaned stores at NK in Stockholm under similar conditions, are just the tip of an iceberg. As Per Wirtén writes, ”They work painfully in the fruitgardens of Italy, grows cucumbers in Dutch greenhouses, cleans all night long in London’s Underground and are being shipped between construction sites in suburbs and big cities across the whole of Europe.”

Globalization, The State and Violence
– A book edited by Jonathan Friedman
First of all:
“It is important to note that it is not immigration itself that is the basis for ethnification but of the articulation of migration and social integration. In a period of declining hegemony, then, migration leads to ethnification, enclavization and diaspora formation. The two arenas where ethnification is evident is in the public political discourses and struggles for recognition of such groups and in the ethnic formation of underclasses in the different national states. In virtually all western countries of Europe, there has been a significant increase in criminalization within marginalized ethnic groups. In Europe such groups are primarily immigrants. In Canada, the United States and Australia they are primarily black and indigenous populations. The parallels however, are noteworthy.
There is a change in the view and also the activities of minority populations. West Indians in the late 1960s and 1970s were not associated with crime in the United Kingdom.” (Friedman 9:2003)

This opens up for a discussion around the fact that conflicts arises in places where Us and Them meet:
“It might be argued that two kinds of potential violence are generated by the process of double polarization. Both are produced around the fault lines generated by that process. There is the violence of fragmentation that is a violence of differential identities in competition for economic resources and social space. [_ _ _] The dialectic of integration and differentiation accounts for the volatility of the contemporary world arena where violence has become increasingly intrastate and fragmentary. The other form of violence is that produced by vertical polarization in the state units of the world system. It is based on the very destruction of larger identities. Within national states it consists in the separation of the elites from the people, in the cosmopolitanization of the former and the indigenization of the latter. [_ _ _] In Europe it has led to a plethora of ultranationalist movements, some, like the New French Right, quite sophisticated, others like many nationalist and pro-racist movements, less so. Their common denominator is their communitarianism, a reinstatement of the value of the collective. [_ _ _] This ‘rooting’, as we have suggested, produces strange bedfellows as when black nationalists find common cause with Ku Klux Klan. When mountain dwellers of various backgrounds, Christian fundamentalists, hippies and militia folk find common cause against the forces of the state and cosmopolitanism.” (Friedman 25-26:2003)

This is so because:
“States are supposed to provide law enforcement, basic services, and protection over a given territory. [_ _ _] A sovereign state can legitimately appropriate income through taxation and can monopolize the use of violence in the form of police and armies. [_ _ _] A vacuum of order and legitimacy turns such states into ‘trouble spots’. Trouble spots are sites of ‘disorder’ because groups compete to exert the kinds of powers that states normally exercise. Violence is privatized and protection and taxation are carried out by coalitions based on territory, ethnicity, kinship, or political-ideological affiliation.” (Steven Sampson 324:2003)

A soldier or a policeman is allowed to beat and kill, and a civilian is not allowed the same. But when the state doesn’t reciprocate the people, this monopolization of violence is no longer given legitimacy by the people.

Violence in War and Peace
– an anthology edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois
The identity fragmentation created by the declining hegemony in the economic world-system creates horizontal polarization. One such horizontal polarization is gender polarization. When people can’t identify with their nationality because the state is non-existant, when people can’t identify with what they do because the work situation is so unstable, they turn to other ways of identification. Identifying with being a man or being a woman, for example.

“In the worst-case scenario, as males became impotent economic failures in the service economy, they lashed out against the women and children they could no longer support economically or control ideologically. Concretely, this took the form of fists in the face at home and gang rape in the crackhouse. [_ _ _] This offers [. . .] a classic illustration of what Pierre Bourdieu would call the ‘symbolic violence of masculine domination’, whereby victims actively misrecognize and thereby reproduce and naturalize the power relations destroying their lives. Of all the industralized nations, the United States is the most extreme with respect to income in-equality and ethnic segregation. [_ _ _] The violence of the inner city dangles like a Damocles sword over the larger society, condemning its population to murder rates that were 4 to 9 times higher than those of comparable industrial nations. This [. . .] sword, however, remain safely ensconced because the drug dealers, addicts, and street criminals internalize their rage and desperation, converting it into an interpersonal everyday violence that primarily harms them and their loved ones. They direct their brutality against themselves and their immediate community, rather than against their structural oppression.” (from an article called US Inner-City Apartheid by Philippe Bourgois in the book Violence in War and Peace, pages 306-307, published 2004. Edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois)

In the same book we can also read that “Structural violence – the violence of poverty, hunger, social exclusion and humiliation – inevitably translates into intimate and domestic violence. (Nancy Scheper-Hughes, chapter 33; Philippe Bourgois, chapter 37). [_ _ _] Violence can never be understood solely in terms of its physicality – force, assault or the infliction of pain – alone. Violence also includes assaults on the personhood, dignity, sense of worth or value of the victim. [_ _ _] in the natural and behavioral science classes (biology, psychology, physical anthropology) where violence is addressed, it tends to be subsumed under biologized notions of ‘human aggression’, reduced to a discussion of drives and instincts, the XYY genotype, and the fight/flight response. Alternatively, violence is often individualized and pathologized as ‘deviance’ in psychology and sociology classes (as for example in discussions of the criminally insane). [_ _ _] These ideological approaches misrecognize the extent to which structural inequalities and power relations are naturalized by our categories and conceptions of what violence really is. [_ _ _] how often violent acts consist of conduct that is socially permitted, encouraged, or enjoined as a moral right or duty. Most violence is not deviant behavior, not disapproved of, but to the contrary is defined as virtuous action in the service of generally applauded conventional social, economic and political norms.” (pages 1, 4-5:2004)

“Ultimately, the women ended up turning their violence upon one another instead of the against the rapists. Jackie’s mother assaulted the mother of the boyfriend who had engineered the Jackie’s rape.” Jackie is the 12yr old daughter of a known female drug dealer in the area. “Jackie’s mom bashed the boy’s moms in the mouth, ’cause she said, ‘your daughter’s a ho’. And Jackie’s mom busted her in the lip. The other mother said, ‘OK. I’m going to bring my daughter down, so you can fight me and and fight my daughter, too’. (306-307:2004)

Who to blame?
In Rosengård, ambulances and firetrucks are met by hurled rocks. This doesn’t happen in Limhamn. As representatives for the (failed) state in the area, police are being victims of derogatory remarks. In turn, there was a police in the area that was filmed when he said that the inhabitants of Rosengård are “apes”. The vertical polarization increases the gap between rich and poor, between elite and indigenous, between state and people. The people are fighting the state, for not reciprocating the taxation, for not bringing stability and welfare, and ambulance staff are one kind of scapegoat to all of this. (One ‘positive’ thing out of this, is that the area comes together under a common enemy, bringing integration to the area)

The horizontal polarization brings conflict between ways of identification. This means that a white person can beat up a black person, for “they are stealing our jobs”. This is also a kind of scapegoating for the situation they’re in. The horizontal polarization also means that a man can rape a woman, because she “had herself to blame for dressing so provocatively”, because he is under the impression that it “is manly to perform a sexual act”, because he can assert control over another person (a control he doesn’t feel in the powerless situation of being unemployed). Limhamn doesn’t have the same values, Limhamn doesn’t need people to feel manly, Limhamn doesn’t have as much unemployment and low wages, as Rosengård does.

Today the Swedish crown princess gets married. It’s easy to see the elite being so distanced from the people. But the royal family pays for itself, mostly. It’s maybe 7 SEK [1 USD] per year in taxes to the royal family. And the royal family takes care of castles and land with that money, so it’s not really like there’s a reason to complain. But people do anyway. It’s not so much because the royal family can afford all these things, it’s more that people cannot. And so the royal family gets to become another scapegoat.

Obviously scapegoating isn’t putting the real culprit behind bars, but it does make people experience justness. Like, “the state doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, so there’s no reason to respect it, so there’s justness in throwing that rock on that ambulance, since someone close and dear died because the police weren’t there for the armed robbery”. Give and receive. Reciprocity. When you give, like pay taxes or offer your services to a company, without receiving, like the state closing down that school or that company forcing you to do their work for them, then you feel unjustly treated. A way to balance this out, is by beating someone up. You make them represent all that anguish, and then you beat them up. It makes you feel in control over the situation. In control over your life. Like you have some kind of power what’s happening.

Beating someone up is just a symptom though. If we wanna go to the root of the problem, we have to realize that the real culprit in all of this is you. If you hadn’t bought that washing machine or that tractor, you wouldn’t have shipped your money off to another country, and there wouldn’t be as big of a gap between rich and poor, and there wouldn’t be as big of a gap between ways of identification. If you hadn’t bought that computer, or that car, people would still have jobs in Sweden, people would still be able to be proud over calling themselves Swedish, people wouldn’t feel that Iranian people smell and take our jobs, people wouldn’t feel the same need to beat someone up.

I say “same” need to beat someone up (and I use the word “need” as a metaphor for “desire”), because there are many reasons to beat someone up. A lot of them can find causal correlation to the economical system, since it is a social system in the same build-up as the political and religious social systems. It binds people together, through reciprocal relationships. Creates the basis for what we call a society. But there are other reasons to beat someone up. As we can see in the Limhamn-Rosengård comparison, the difference is not that big. There’s physical abuse in Limhamn as well. The important part to remember, is that the hegemonical decline brings about violence throughout the entire system, not just in the poorer regions. It’s just that it affects the poorer regions more (which can also be seen in that Limhamn also gets poorer, as all of Sweden does). In Rosengård there’s more working class people, more people who define themselves by what they do. When you can rely on your savings, your bonds, your stocks, your inheritance, your abundance in things to sell, there’s not as much of a big deal to fear losing your job. And this difference makes up for more people getting beat up in Rosengård.

There’s more conflicts and violence in the world today compare to how it was 1950. There’s more rapes, more physical abuse, more seemingly random killings. Violence everywhere. Because of the hegemonical decline. It’s logical, that if violent acts increase in times of economical unrest, areas of economical unrest also experiences increased violent acts.

The examples are many, almost too many. A person from the Yugoslavian mafia shot another person from the Yugoslavian mafia, right here in the middle of Sweden, Sundsvall, just last year. A homeless person threw a rock through the window of a random store this winter, just to get a place to sleep. Some guys (that had the ambition of becoming homeless people when they grew up) from the place where I grew up, like to pit their dogs against eachother, watch them fight for their lives. Violence everywhere. Increasing since 1968. And the violence has become more extreme. From simple one on one beatings, to elderly, women and children getting assaulted. Gangs going up on individuals. And fires and rockthrowings.

“Employees feel that they are paying with their jobs, their wages and their labour rights for a crisis for which they bear no responsibility,” declared Francois Chereque, leader of the CFDT union. [_ _ _] “There is a mood of annoyance and fear and a sense of injustice,” said sociologist Michel Wievorka, noting that the French were already one of the peoples made most uncomfortable by the onward march of globalisation. “The government, which didn’t have a penny to spend last year, has suddenly come up with billions to save the banking system,” he said. “Discontent is spreading in all walks of public life; the legal system, education, training, research,” he said, explaining that specific concerns about reforms in each sector were feeding a general resentment. Business consultant Henri Vacquin argued that workers’ anger had been building over years of painful industrial reforms and outsourcing, carried out in the face of fierce opposition. ( )

But we shouldn’t forget that everyone is different. Every conflict is different.


About RobinOberg

M.Sc. Social Anthropology M.A. Applied Cultural Analysis
This entry was posted in friedman, hegemonic decline, limhamn, physical abuse, rosengård, vieworka, violence, world-system. Bookmark the permalink.

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