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Aggression: A Sociological Perspective

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This chapter draws on the Kampala Amendments in order to examine some critical questions from a sociological perspective with respect to how ‘acts’ and ‘crimes of aggression’ can best be defined. At the center of the analysis lies the concept of aggression. This concept has a long history in everyday language, but it is less firmly and very differently established in academic disciplines such as psychology. Clearly, the term is difficult to deploy. Even in disciplines such as social psychology, where the term is often used, there are some obvious issues. It will be argued here that the concept of aggression is not particularly helpful for explaining individual and/or collective violence. Indeed, this is precisely why sociologists usually refrain from using it.


  • Crime of Aggression
  • Intention
  • International Law
  • Kampala Amendments
  • Motive
  • Violence

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  3. 3.

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  4. 4.

    Dreist 2014, p. 10 (‘The existence of a state act of aggression that violates international law therefore does not automatically result in the individual criminal liability of the persons involved in such an act; on the contrary, this liability must be determined separately, which had not yet been recognized in the proceedings before the IMT in Nuremberg.’—translation by WK).

  5. 5.

    See for a short history of the UN’s futile attempts to define ‘aggression’: Leanza 2004.

  6. 6.

    Neither in the Treaty of Versailles nor in the UN-Charter of 1945 was the term aggression mentioned, cf. Ganser 2016, pp. 38 et seq.

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    Hummrich 2001, p. 172 (emphasis by WK. ‘The main structural feature of the definition of aggression is the purpose pursued by the state. It is necessary to determine the motive behind the aggressive act, which is the basis and main justification for the imposition of a criminal conviction and the ethical condemnation expressed therewith’—translation by WK).

  14. 14.

    I owe this insight to Stefanie Bock.

  15. 15.

    Dreist 2014, p. 12.

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For helpful comments and support I would like to thank the editors of this volume, particularly Stefanie Bock, and Christoph Fuchs at the library of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

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Correspondence to Wolfgang Knöbl .

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Knöbl, W. (2022). Aggression: A Sociological Perspective. In: Bock, S., Conze, E. (eds) Rethinking the Crime of Aggression. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague.

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