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Michael Ovens
The University of Western Australia
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Andrew Lynch
The University of Western Australia
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Danijela Kambaskovic
The University of Western Australia
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Robert White
The University of Western Australia
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The Nonviolence of Violence

What would happen if we were to stop thinking of violence as a phenomenon and start thinking of violence as a forceful transgression of social norms?

The Nonviolence of Violence

Image: Courtesy of Royal Armouries, Catalogue No (RAR.0033)


What is violence? Although most people have a ‘gut sense’ of what violence is, both public polling and reviews of scholarly literature reveal an incredibly diffuse understanding of the word which extends from physical and psychological injury, to systemic injustice, to modes of interpersonal relations. The lack of any kind of general consensus about what we mean by the word ‘violence’ makes it extremely difficult to sustain a clear and consistent examination of the subject across individuals, institutions and movements.

This project explores a new method of understanding violence in the modern world by looking to the period of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, a time often imagined to be particularly ‘violent’ by today’s standards. The project will apply some of the latest sociological research into the relationship between violence and normative frameworks to an historical and literary analysis of a number of texts from the period 1150–1600 in order to explore whether we might be able to conceive of violence not as a phenomenon ‘out there’ in the world but as a judgment arising from the perception of a forceful transgression of social norms.

The primary output of this project will be a dissertation on the frameworks of violence in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. This dissertation will explore how we can use representations of emotions in literary texts to trace the contours of violence in the period 1150–1600, with the eventual goal of applying these insights to the problem of violence in the twenty-first century.