Violence is a pervasive and enduring aspect of all societies and takes many forms from politically motivated violence (terrorism) to ‘common’ assault or rape, and can be directed against the person or property. In Britain, political violence has taken and takes different forms, from the bombing campaigns of the Provisional IRA and the street violence of the fascist British National Party to the violent clashes between strikers and police during the miners’ strike of 1984–5. Other forms of violence include collective forms such as football hooliganism or riots, and individual ones such as muggings, rape and murder and the violence associated with ‘gang culture’ and the illegal drugs trade. A less commonly acknowledged form of violence is the legitimate institutionalized organization of violence by the state in the form of the police and the armed forces. In common with all states, the British state claims, in the words of Max Weber, a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, and it is the latter which constitutes the ultimate authority of the state and its agencies.
   A simple way of analysing violence, useful for distinguishing ‘political’ from ‘ordinary’ violence, is to determine who or what is the perpetrator, who or what is the victim and what is the reason for the violence. However, the distinction between political and ordinary violence is extremely porous; for example, many feminists have claimed that rape is a form of political violence since it is the ultimate means by which women are exploited and subjugated in a sexist, patriarchal society. A similar argument is often used to explain racial violence on ethnic minorities and the past violent reaction of black and Asian communities to perceived police racism and harassment in the inner city riots of Brixton and Liverpool in the early 1980s. Violent crimes have been on the increase in Britain over the past decade, and recently there has been a good deal of support for the argument that socio-economic inequality, unemployment and deprivation are the major cause of crime and violence. However, the strict regulation of personal firearms makes Britain a less violent society than others, such as the USA.
   Just as important as violence itself is the threat of violence, and on this measure many people feel that Britain is a more violent society. For some, this is due to a ‘culture of risk’ in which people in advanced societies feel increasingly insecure, unsafe and fearful, as a result of the decline in community and solidarity and the rise of a materialistic and individualistic culture which, in the context of an absence of sufficient means to take part in this consumerist lifestyle (without enough jobs or money to go round), explains the rise in violence.
   Further reading
    Burton, J.W. (1997) Violence Explained: The Sources of Conflict, Violence and Crime and their Prevention, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
    Honderich, T. (1977) Three Essays on Political Violence, Oxford: Blackwell.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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