Event and Structure: A Phenomenological Approach of Irreducible Violence


Violence is signaled by a mark of discontinuity, interruption, rupture. The tripartite temporality of violence, with its strong focus on the present, points to the originary violence. Moreover, the violent event is structuring the order of the action sequences in an actual violent (embodied) interaction. The interactional dynamics in violent encounters between co-present actors shapes the specific forms of the experiencing in (and of) the violent interaction. Based on how violence is experienced in an interactive situation, the phenomenon of violence articulates itself according to three coordinates: directedness, co-performativity and de-capabilisation. The outlining of the structure of the lived experience of violence is revealing something irreducible in it. To understand the experience of violence as such, I propose that we accept the idea of violence per se and depart from the idea that the acts of violence are essentially moral actions. The core of the ethical-moral discussion concerning violence should be grounded instead on the moment of conversion identifiable when we take into account the reaction to violence.

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  1. 1.

    Other divides refer to normative vs. non-normative, micro vs. macro approaches on violence (see Hartmann 2017: 5f.).

  2. 2.

    Two thematic dossiers, edited by Endress and Rampp in Human Studies (Springer) in 2013 and respectively Ciocan and Marinescu in Studia Phaenomenologica in 2019, deserve special mention here, as well as the contributions of Staudigl (2013a), Waldenfels (2003), Dodd (2017), Mensch (2008, 2017) and Lawlor (2016). A remarkable collection of phenomenological studies can be found in Staudigl (2014).

  3. 3.

    This is an attempt to provide some conceptual tools that might capture the act itself of violence, the unbearable moment of present violence and its unfolding, which will make it, in certain aspects, more bearable. This dynamics should not be seen as normative, although it might be seen as a proto-normativity.

  4. 4.

    Dennen (2005) shows that in the poetic tradition of ancient Greeks we can find a distinction between force and violence, personificated as Kratos (Might) and Bia (Violence), servants of divine power. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Kratos and Bia dwell only in the house of Zeus and go only where he directs them. In Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus, they are the first to appear on stage. While Kratos is the first to speak in the play, Bia remains silent throughout the entire play.

  5. 5.

    Salice (2020) speaks of “a commitment for the subject to stick to the hostile attitude”. In describing hate, he insists that it consists primarily in aversively targeting (the other qua this individual person), “where the adverb ‘aversively’ expresses the subject’s desire for the target to be annihilated”.

  6. 6.

    This is obvious in the case of the victim, but, since violence consists in a loss of control (see supra), it is noticeable also in the case of the perpetrator. The witness, in her/his turn, usually finds herself/himselfin the impossibility to act.

  7. 7.

    Staudigl takes the expression from Lorenz (2004).

  8. 8.

    The term “worst violence,” as well as “transcendental violence” or “fundamental violence,” has been introduced by Derrida in his famous paper on Levinas see Derrida (1968), in Derrida (1978/1992).

  9. 9.

    For the relationship between violence and affectivity, see Ciocan (2019). Ciocan underlines that “the affectivity constitutes itself each time differently, depending on the various situations of the symmetrical and asymmetrical violence to which the third assists”.

  10. 10.

    Additionally, the type of phenomenological approach that I drafted above will help us to move away from the idea that the subject and subjective experience have to be at the centre of a theory of violence (or, in general, at the centre of any theory).


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Funding was provided by UEFISCDI (Grant No. PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2016–0273).

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Copoeru, I. Event and Structure: A Phenomenological Approach of Irreducible Violence. Hum Stud 43, 257–268 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-020-09550-7

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  • Violence
  • Temporality
  • Event
  • Structure
  • Experience
  • The worst violence
  • Moral acts