Acts of hostility, injury, violence, or extreme self-assertion. There are several competing theories as to why people may become aggressive. Many of these are biological or instinctual in tenor. Thus, for example, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that people were by nature violent-and avoided a ‘war of all against all’ only by considerable ingenuity and effort. Many schools of psychology share this assumption, and argue that aggression is obviated by exhaustive processes of education or socialization , combined with a generous measure of social control . That is, socialization itself is not sufficient, and people must be continually rewarded for their civilized behaviour and punished for unacceptably aggressive conduct.
However, most sociological theories of aggression root it not in the biological substructure or psychological superstructure of the individual, but in his or her relationship to the social environment. Probably the most popular of these is the so-called frustration-aggression hypothesis or theory, which states that aggressive behaviour results when purposeful activity is interrupted (see the classic statement in, Frustration and Aggression, 1939). Thus, for example, children may attack other children who take their toys from them. This theory has, however, been criticized for its inability to explain the circumstances under which frustration leads to outcomes other than aggression. (Some children may simply sulk quietly under these circumstances.) The frustration-aggression thesis has also been identified with the earlier work of Sigmund Freud , who argued that frustration-the blocking of pleasure-seeking or pain-avoiding activities-always leads to aggression, either towards the perceived source of interference, or (if inhibited) displaced on to another object. (Freud later postulated that aggression was the product of the death instinct-Thanatos.)
A third group of theories-learning theories-view violence as the result of successful socialization and social control. That is, aggressive behaviour in general and violent behaviour in particular occur where they are expected, even in the absence of frustration. For example, members of a subculture may learn to behave in accordance with norms of violence which have been presented to them as socially desirable, as in cases where the use of force (such as fist-fighting) is associated with masculinity. Similarly, soldiers at the front and teenagers in a gang may feel violence is acceptable and the done thing, because they have been brought up to believe this to be the case, expect to win approval and prestige if they fight well, and wish to avoid censure should they ‘chicken out’. See also differential association.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.


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