Constructing Physical Fights: An Interactionist Analysis of Violence among Affluent, Suburban Youth
MetadataShow full item record
Based on more than four years of ethnographic fieldwork and a dataset of 189 violent encounters, this article explores the social phenomenology of physical fights in a novel setting. Although American sociologists have traditionally depicted violence as a distinctively ‘ghetto’ phenomenon, the members of this sample were overwhelmingly white and affluent. Since the usual explanatory background factors—race, poverty, and neighborhood—cannot adequately account for their violent experiences, the dataset is especially valuable for analyzing the generic interactional processes through which physical fights unfold. Furthermore, the article suggests a model that runs counter to the prevailing sociological perspective that violence is universally motivated by independent, preexisting conflicts. Oftentimes, the sample members set out to “get into” fights for their perceived experiential rewards and only later instigated disputes as a means to motivate and justify violent action. Using the method of analytic induction, the article presents 2 a generalizable theory of how fights unfold in interaction. Three stages were necessary for achieving a fight: (1) agreeing to fight as a solution to a challenge to “interpersonal sovereignty,” (2) transcending the ordinary fear of violence, and (3) using competitive techniques of violence.
Subjectinterpersonal conflict in adolescence