Research Group Macro-Violence

The work of the research group focuses on phenomena of violence that have immediate repercussions on the structure of entire political and social systems—this is what is meant by the concept of macro-violence. The group investigates empirical and theoretical issues and considers different regions of the world, sometimes comparatively. The goal is to examine different aspects of macro-violence, including violence from below as well as (state) violence from above, violence in war, and violence that is detached from a paradigm of conflict.                                

The group continues the focus on research on violence that has shaped work at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research to date but also sets new priorities, particularly in theory building.

International research on violence has developed rapidly in recent decades, in particular with work that examines phenomena of violence and theorizes the specific situation in which violence occurs. However, it is nonetheless obvious that this development has meant that issues related to the self-reinforcing tendencies of violent processes, their representation, and the spatial and temporal contextualization of violent situations have been overshadowed. The research group primarily addresses these latter questions and explores the following topics:

a) The self-reinforcing tendencies of violence

Although academic literature refers, with striking frequency, to the self-reinforcing tendencies of violence and characterizes violent occurrences as processes, theoretical analyses of these concepts are nevertheless rare. The following general questions can be framed: Why do some violent conflicts continue for decades, while other conflicts end after a short time, and yet others seem to pass into a stop-and-go mode? Which factors stabilize or disrupt such self-reinforcing phenomena of violence? In the investigation of violence, do we find special conditions that trigger self-reinforcing tendencies—conditions that are not found in non-violent forms of social behavior?

b) The typology of forms of violence

If we assume that violence is self-reinforcing in some but not all forms, then it is important to accurately identify types of violence and their specific characteristics. The research group examines terrorist violence as well as sexual violence and analyzes violent acts perpetrated by unstructured masses as well as those committed by organizations and (state) institutions, past and present.

c) Violence and the state

In recent research on genocide—but not only in this area—researchers have increasingly noted that both the presence and absence of certain state structures can create special conditions that foster the occurrence of excessive violence. The research group explores—not least from the perspective of cultural comparisons—the various manifestations of the functioning of state monopoly on the use of force, for it seems likely that the original definition of this monopoly, which goes back to Max Weber, is no longer adequate for analyzing different forms that facilitate or curtail violence.

d) The end of violence

Making a sharp distinction between war and peace can be problematic, not only when peace agreements are not accepted by all parties to a conflict, as is often the case, for example, in civil wars. How do post-conflict societies deal with continuing violence if some parties fail to comply with a ban on violence? Which forms of violence shift to other spheres or arise only after the conflict? Which forms of violence are simply ignored? What are the effects of all this on “peaceful” everyday life and conceptualizations of normality?

Projects by members of the Research Group on Macro-Violence at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research include f.e. sociologist Dr. Stefan Malthaner’s postdoctoral project The Dynamics of Escalation and Different Forms of Violence in Militant Conflicts and social scientist Laura Wolters’ dissertation project Gang Rape.

Bastien Dratwa, M.A.

The Production of Collective Violence against African Migrants in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Dr. Thomas Hoebel

Prof. Dr. Stefan Malthaner

Dynamics of Political Violence. The Variance, Transformation, and Hybridity of Forms of Violence in Armed Conflict

Dr. Laura Wolters



Associated and visiting researchers

Dorte Fischer

External Member of the Research Group on Macro-Violence

Tobias Hauffe

External Member of the Research Group on Macro-Violence

Prof. Dr. Teresa Koloma Beck

External Member of the Research Group on Macro-Violence

Priv.-Doz. Dr. Frithjof Nungesser

Visiting Researcher der Forschungsgruppe Makrogewalt