Assaulting the Past: Violence and Civilization in Historical Context
Editor: Katherine D. Watson
Date Of Publication: Apr 2007
This book offers an important contribution to the comparative history of interpersonal violence since the early modern period, a subject of great contemporary and historical importance. Its overarching theme is Norbert Elias’s theory of the civilizing process, and the chapters in the book recognise, as he did, that changes in human behaviour are related to transformations of both social and personality structures. Drawing on a vast range of archival and written records from five countries, the contributors explore the usefulness of the theory—the subject of much debate over the past two decades—to explaining long-term patterns in violence, but also point to the need for further empirical and comparative studies, to reflect current thinking and developments within historical, criminological, and sociological methodologies.
In approaching the subject from a variety of perspectives, Assaulting the Past: Violence and Civilization in Historical Context presents a comparative and qualitative assessment of violent behaviour and the experience of violence. Approaches used include the empirical and the theoretical, and the book is strongly interdisciplinary, drawing on the history of crime, history of medicine, criminology and legal history. The volume seeks to offer new insights on violence, the individual and society, to further illuminate the links between state formation, social interdependency and self-discipline that are so integral to the theory of the civilizing process.
Katherine D. Watson lectures in the Department of History and manages the research of the School of Arts and Humanities at Oxford Brookes University. She is the author of Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims (2004).
"Watson is mostly sympathetic to Elias...[and has] consistently turned her volume into an engagement with the theory of civilising processes.
One of the most interesting contributions to the Watson volume, the closing one by the editor herself, does provide a creative elaboration of the theory of civilisation. She discusses serial murder, asking whether its apparently growing prevalence since the 1960s is due to its being a feature of an increasingly interdependent society or, conversely, it is an example of a decivilising spurt."
Pieter Spierenburg, Erasmus University in 'Crime, History and Societies 2008 vol. 12 No. 1
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