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The concept of symbolic violence was first introduced by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to account for the tacit almost unconscious modes of cultural/social domination occurring within the every-day social habits maintained over conscious subjects.

Also referred to as "soft" violence, symbolic violence includes actions that have discriminatory or injurious meaning or implications, such as gender dominance and racism. Symbolic violence maintains its effect through the mis-recognition of power relations situated in the social matrix of a given field.

Symbolic violence is fundamentally the imposition of categories of thought and perception upon dominated social agents who then take the social order to be just. It is the incorporation of unconscious structures that tend to perpetuate the structures of action of the dominant. The dominated then take their position to be "right." Symbolic violence is in some senses much more powerful than physical violence in that it is embedded in the very modes of action and structures of cognition of individuals, and imposes the specter of legitimacy of the social order.

One scholar calls the verdict in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991), an example of symbolic violence, complete with its rituals of the jury.[1]

Rehnquist's reliance on this image of the perpetrator as a rabid animal that is foaming at the mouth helps to justify the violence of Payne's death sentence while it also obscures that violence. The majority opinion in Payne, like the prosecutor's arguments before the jury, hinges on contrasting little Nicholas to Pervis Payne, juxtaposing Nicholas's smallness and vulnerability to Payne's murderous and inhuman power. The smaller and more innocent the victim, the stronger and more guilty the defendant appears.... A jury reaches a death sentence, for example, only after a series of ritual events that distinguishes a sentence of death from an act of murder against a citizen.
Jennifer K. Wood [1]

See also


  1. ^ a b Wood, Jennifer K, "Refined raw: The symbolic violence of victims' rights reforms," College Literature, Winter 1999, found at BNet Retrieved September 22, 2008.

External links



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