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Homicide as Conflict Resolution

NCJ Number
Deviant Behavior Volume: 1 Issue: 3-4 Dated: (April-September 1980) Pages: 281-307
K Levi
Date Published
27 pages
A model of homicide as a form of conflict resolution is demonstrated through interviews with a random sample of 35 adjudicated killers. It responds to the fact that homicide research at societal, subcultural, and interaction levels of analysis has not produced a comprehensive model for the killer-victim transaction.
This research examines the dynamics of the homicide process, variations within that process, symbolic and existential components of the working agreement (or trap) that precipitate the motive to kill, and the organization of the killer's response in terms of its phenomenological, existential, and behavioral components. Killers are classified as adversaries, lovers, and strangers. The model divides the game of homicide into six stages: the victim's opening move, the offender's interpretation of that move, the offender's retaliation, a 'working agreement' to use violence, the combat, and the killer's departure from the scene. Stage five combat is greatly expanded in the present study; it cover what amounts to an additional three stages and presents the killer's existential and phenomenological view of his own role. The scope of the present study is also expanded in terms of events prior to the situated transaction ending in murder, as well as events constituting the killer's response. The stage four 'working agreement' took the form of the victim apparently blocking other alternatives and 'trapping' the killer into making a violent response. The function of the trap is to heighten the relevance of one type of unity, with the killer and victim seeming (from the killer's point of view) to focus more and more on a single issue. In stage five, the homicide, almost all of the 35 subjects' responses were consistent with 'resolving a divergent dualism.' The lovers killed in order to stay together, the adversaries killed in order to obtain dominance, and the strangers killed in order to obtain decisively an objective interest. Killers are not only mindful of their relation to the victim but are fixated upon that relation to the exclusion of all other matters. The lover acts with total emotional abandon, the adversary with total mastery, and the stranger with total objectivity. Although the Detroit study did not question respondents about events after the homicide, many of them volunteered information which partially confirms the study's observations. When victim and offender were intimately related, the offender typically remained at the scene or returned after a brief departure. Adversaries and stranger both attempted to flee. Lovers expressed regret for their actions, strangers were frightened and glad to be alive, and adversaries typically felt satisfaction. Tabular data, 35 references, and footnotes are appended.