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CRM 681: Violence & Society


Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology

This website originated as a class project for the Violence & Society seminar, This page contains a description of the class, the reading and activities in trying to build this website. 

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Fall 1999, Th 5:30 – 8:10, 415 PH

Dr P. S. Leighton

Office: 712 Pray Harrold, x 0194 Hours: M Th 3:30 – 5:30 & by appointment

Please feel free to approach me & ask a question when I am in the Mudd House coffee shop, or drop me an e-mail


This class was designed to provide a forum for starting to discuss many of the issues concerning high levels of violence in society in a way that will not foster student alienation, cynicism or depression. In fact, many profess the belief that social change begins with yourself, so the first task is to examine the morality of inflicting suffering and death in a wide variety of contexts from abortion to poverty to the environment. (Students are not required to believe any specific positions on these issues; the exercise is to discuss personal ethics and reason through a consistent position.) Since one recurring response to violence is increased use of capital punishment, this seminar will address whether we should respond to violence by taking another life and the justice of how we do so. A third set of topics relate to violence as entertainment, including the effects of media violence and what – other than censorship – can be done. Given the closeness of this seminar to the year 2000, we will also be examining apocalyptic violence and millennium rage, which could provide an unfortunate backdrop to the semester. Lastly, the seminar will review a wide range of possible constructive responses to mass violence – from truth commissions to war crime trials.


Sister Helen Prejean. Dead Man Walking. Vintage. 0679751319
Peter Singer. Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. Cambridge U Press. 052143971X
Phil Lamy. Millennium Rage. Plenum. 0306454092.
Sissela Bok. Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment. Perseus Books. 0738201456.
Martha Minnow. Between vengeance & Forgiveness. Beacon. 0807045063.
Grossman. On Killing. Little, Brown & Co. 0316330116.
Diaz. Making A Killing: The Business of Guns. New Press. 156584470X.
Moeller. Compassion Fatigue. Routledge. 0415920973.


30% Attendance & Participation (including regular papers)
10% Paper on Singer
10% Death Penalty paper
50% Term Project
    20% Links
    5% Commentary
    25% Storyboard

Regular papers should be about one full typewritten page that contains two or three of the quotes from the reading you found most provocative along with several sentences of commentary about that quote that interested you. The narrative with the quote can also include any questions you had as you were reading. The idea of this paper is to ensure students have done the reading and some level of reflection on it as preparation for class. Thus, it is important to have them ready at the start of class and turn them in ON TIME. As the quality of this seminar rests on participation and everyone is expected to be a co-teacher, attendance is crucial.

Paper on Singer should be 3-5 pages on a topic where you found yourself in strongest disagreement with Singer on a major topic. Concisely and accurately state his argument, then review a thoughtful article that takes a similar view, but elaborates on Singer (many of these can be found in the Notes, references & Further Reading at the end of the book). State your principled disagreement with their position, making sure to provide supporting arguments and evidence where necessary (and drawing on additional research to support your position if you would like). The idea is to challenge yourself to learn the other side of an important moral question that involves violence, suffering and death.

Death penalty paper: You are the head of a Pardons Board hearing the clemency petition of a condemned man. This will be your last case before you set down, so you feel total freedom to speak your mind and do what you believe is right. In the first two pages, lay down your opinion about what should be done in the Robert Willie case and why. Make sure to deal with the basic issue of the legitimacy of capital punishment as laid out in Dead Man Walking: "if we believe that murder is wrong and not admissible in our society, then it has to be wrong for everyone, not just individuals but governments as well… subject as [they are] to every imaginable form of inefficiency and corruption" (p 130). In the next 3-4 pages, invent questions from people at the hearing and answer them. Question come from: Sister Helen Prejean, the District Attorney, the Defense Attorney, the victim’s family and the condemned man’s family. There are no shortage of difficult and penetrating questions with respect to murder and capital punishment – make sure they are reflected in your paper rather than fluff questions with easy answers.

The term project is put to together a packet of information about violence that can be used to build an web page – one that I will take final responsibility for assembling with the appropriate software, but for which the class will be identified as contributing the work. There will be several stages to this final project.

1. On 11/4, everyone needs to turn in a list of 10 – 15 quality internet sites. Links to good critical analysis of violence in society is acceptable, but an emphasis on solutions is better still. Good topics include, but are not limited to: conflict resolution, mediation, non-violence education, restorative justice, peacemaking and non-repressive responses to school violence. For each link, your paper should include the address of the site, the title or name of the site, and a one paragraph description of what is in it. (Since you will be discussing what is in a site, please do list the same site more than once.) On this day, you will be responsible for bringing a copy of your paper for each member of class, so everyone has the chance to see what is out there and start to think about how to put it together into a usable web page. If you cannot be here on this day, make sure I receive enough copies of your paper to distribute. Late papers will be penalized.

2. On 11/18, everyone needs to come to class with a 2-3 page paper with enough copies to share with the entire class. This paper should (1) give some thoughts and commentary on the collection of links reported by the class – what seems good, are there some irrelevant links, should we try to expand in certain areas, etc? (2) identify some of the basic issues that need to be considered in designing a web page (eg audience, navigability, etc). I’d suggest consulting some of the information at


3. On 12/16, your part of the final project is due. You should turn in a package to me that includes:

a diskette, labeled with your name, containing a file bearing your last name in which is an electronic copy of the links [address, title and description]. Please do not turn in your entire packet on diskette – just the links.

a paper copy of the file on your diskette

a copy of the 2-3 page paper you wrote for 11/18

a paper addressing your final thoughts on the main considerations about web page design and your conception of how all the information will be arranged. I will share with you a ‘storyboard’ for a web page, but the basic idea is to indicate what the opening page would say and what links it would contain. For each link from page one, describe what information that page will contain and what links, etc. The storyboard is a way of creating an outline and using subheadings to organize information, just in a way that’s appropriate to a web page rather than a linear paper (with pages 1 – 10).

The idea of this final paper is to turn in all the components so that they can be most efficiently turned into a quality web page. So, following the directions above is important and deviations will be penalized. To this end, the links and the commentary on them should be concise, helpful, informative, with proper grammar, spelling and syntax. As passing on a computer virus is both rude and potentially quite destructive, anyone who has a virus on the diskette they give me will be docked a letter grade on their final project. The storyboard will not be graded on graphic design, but on an understanding of the important issues to consider when trying to organize information in non-linear forms and creating a knowledge or information architecture that reflects those principles.

Finally, education involves not just getting a degree but a search for truth, which requires honesty and personal integrity. Thus, students at all times will behave in accordance with EMU’s policy on Academic Integrity forbidding such activities as plagiarism, fraud, cheating and knowingly assisting another student who is engaged in one of these acts. Penalties can affect both your grade in this class and your continued presence at the university.


Sept 2 Introduction & Greeting

Sept 9 Singer 1 – 4

Regular weekly paper due. Make sure to list the interests Singer means when he refers to ‘equal consideration of interests’

Sept 16 Singer 5 - 8

Regular weekly paper due

Sept 23 Singer 9 – 12 & Appendix

Regular weekly paper due ; Singer paper due

Sept 30 Bok, Part 1; Prejean, ch 1 - 2

Regular weekly paper due

Oct 7 Prejean, ch 3 - 5

Regular weekly paper due. In addition, explore the information that interests you at

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/  Write up a page or so about what you found and be prepared to share this information with the class.

Oct 14 Prejean, ch 7 – 10

Regular weekly paper due.

Recommended: United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions


Oct 21 Prejean, finish; Bok, finish

Regular weekly paper due ; Death penalty paper due

Oct 28 Lamy 1 – 3

Regular weekly paper due. In addition, do a search on the internet using a key word like: Revelations, apocalypse, or eschatology (final events in history). Describe what you find, with special attention to what counts as evidence or signs & what’s going to happen.

Nov 4 Lamy 4 - 6

Regular weekly paper due; Stage 1 of term project due (bring enough copies for everyone in the class).

Nov 11 Lamy 7 - 9

Regular weekly paper due

Nov 18 Lamy, finish

Regular weekly paper due; stage 2 of term project due (bring enough copies for everyone in the class).


Dec 2 Minow, ch 1 - 4

Regular weekly paper due

Dec 9 Minow, finish

Regular weekly paper due; visit the Dept of Energy’s Human Radiation Experiment Site. Write up a page or so about the experiments focusing on your reaction to how the Dept of Energy’s openness negotiates the ground between vengeance and forgiveness.

http://tis.eh.doe.gov/ohre/  (I would suggest the ‘roadmap’ as your next stop).


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