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Violence is a form of power. It is really power in action, ”action-power,” as Popitz (1999: 43) says, a way of action based on the power physically and materially to hurt other creatures or to be harmed. Violence means to kill, to harm, to destroy, to rob, and to expel. These are the five basic forms of violence. All varieties of violence are variants and hybrids of these forms.

Among the basic forms of violence, killing stands out especially. It represents the extreme limit of violence. With killing there is absolute violence, an extreme limit of all social conflict, the end of dominance, power, and sociation. As power over life and death, absolute violence is the experiential area for the idea of complete power, the source of absolute impotence – and the source of absolute freedom. Deadly action-power constitutes the antinomy of absolute power and the fact that all power of human beings over one another is imperfect. Both can become the trigger for fundamental legitimations: for the god-like superiority of the killer and for unconditional opposition.

Like all power, violence needs legitimation, which comes up again in the debate about the concept of violence. The idea of what violence is is historically, interculturally, and intraculturally highly variable. The concept is loaded with value judgments and normative expectations and routinely becomes part of symbolic struggles. In the controversies about the concept of violence one discovers the fundamental ambivalence of violence and power as the guarantors and gravediggers of freedom and order.


  1. Popitz, H. (1999) Phanomene der Macht. Mohr, Tubingen.
  2. Collins, R. (2008) Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

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