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Reading: Identity-Driven Violence: Reclaiming Civil Society


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Identity-Driven Violence: Reclaiming Civil Society


Kenneth R. Hoover ,

Western Washington University, US
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Vernon D. Johnson

Western Washington University, US
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The increase in identity-based violence both domestically and internationally is focusing attention on the need for proactive approaches to reconciliation. The rise of militia movements, and the associated phenomenon of malicious racial harassment in the Pacific Northwest, demonstrates the dangers arising from identity-driven violence. The broad scale success of an anti-affirmative action initiative illustrates the wider significance of discriminatory attitudes. This article addresses those dangers by illustrating the convergence of two kinds of theories about identity-based violence. We will demonstrate how individual- level explanation taken from empirical work in the field of developmental psychology fits with social movement theory to provide a powerful analysis of the causes, and the cure, for identity-based violence and racial discrimination. Specifically, we focus on the relationship between identity formation and political violence, on the one hand, and residual racism among economically and culturally dispossessed whites on the other.

Social movement theory tells us that there are dispossessed whites who are likely to seek status by targeting minorities. Identity theory tells us that it is the disjunction between the certainties of identity socialization for this group, and their present sense of dispossession, that transforms group "interest" into authoritarianism and potential violence. The key empirical link is between identity "foreclosure" and forms of authoritarianism that rationalize violence.

In using the analysis as a guide to solutions to racial violence, we highlight the actions that can be taken to pre-empt violent behavior through a political emphasis on developing constructive developmental choices. We examine the requirements for the development of democratic personalities that avoid the pathologies of violence associated with interpersonal domination and authoritarianism. The direction given by social movement theory points toward solutions based on democratic discourse around objectives derived from identity theory: namely, the recognition and validation of community worth, the improvement and affirmation of participatory competence, and practical steps toward sustaining commitments on an interpersonal basis. These kinds of communication have to be worked out at the non-elite level, and in practical steps that build confidence between communities.

The article builds on the work reported in Hoover's recent book, The Power of Identity: Politics in a New Key (Chatham House 1997), and on work by Johnson on race and American national identity.

How to Cite: Hoover, K.R. and Johnson, V.D., 2004. Identity-Driven Violence: Reclaiming Civil Society. Journal of Hate Studies, 3(1), pp.83–94. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2004.
Peer Reviewed


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