Cultural Approaches to Understanding School Violence



In terms of research on school violence, criminologists have dominated the field; yet, this work has narrowly centered on crime as an indicator of violence. Although cultural sociologists have done noteworthy research on schooling and education, much of the focus has been on academic achievement. Yet, some cultural scholars have analyzed the expressions and practices of school violence, and in this paper, I argue that this approach reveals a rich, complex understanding of aggression and violence that is needed in sociological research on school violence. This includes looking at not only crime and more traditional, physical expression of violence, but also taking seriously verbal, emotion, sexual, or racial forms of violence, in addition to violence that is perpetuated by institutions. This paper reviews some of the more conventional studies on school violence and then looks at how cultural sociologists have begun to broaden this perspective. I use Swidler's ‘cultural toolkit’ as a framework for analyzing school violence, focusing on symbolic violence, cultural scripts, cultural resources and ideology as some of the cultural tools that prove useful to expanding our understanding of schooling and violence.